Sat in my office, reeling at my own weakness at having said yes to a drink offered by the middle aged lawyer, I now have to run haphazardly in my stilettos and pencil skirt to the local Hull County Court in order to deal with a Protection from Harassment matter (how very apt)!
Waiting outside the District Judge’s room I sit there quietly and stare; prowling legal alpha males, strutting around with one hand in their pocket and the other protecting their briefs (barristers, that is) while their young, female clerks are running around after them in mild panic that they are missing an order being thrown at them.
I sit and laugh to myself at the sight of the young male lawyer, standing upright, brand new garish tie and pinstripe suit (to fit in) who in turn, are looking down their noses at the clerks, male or female.
All alpha male dominance being played out in the waiting area is soon dismissed as a look of stalked baby deer fall on their faces as they are called in to see the king of the legal jungle, the Judge.
I’m next to be called up and opposite me in the court room is the local swaggering legal eagle, partner of a local firm, slightly overweight, slightly shiny faced and overtly flirtatious in his behaviour towards the female lawyer.
Wondering if he will actually talk to my face and not my chest this time, I am pleased to get the appointment over with and head off back to my office and away from the claustrophobic confines of the small court room. Typically, shiny face loiters, opens the door for me and practically pushing me out shuts the door behind him with a “oh Judge, are you going to the cricket……” leaving me stood alone in the corridor, looking at the closed door and the muffled jovial laughter erupting from behind it. I realise the Old Boys Club is open for business…..
Page 3 really is a vile concept isnt it? I mean, dehumanising woman to just a pair of breasts. I seem to remember when I was little a countdown to, I think it was Samantha Fox turning 16 years of age so she could go topless to the seedy, dirty old men who wanted to look at a teenagers body over their mug of tea. Disgusting and feeding into that The Sun stood proud.
A man has recently said to me that as he has watched pornography he cannot really say anything about Page 3 but I would dispute this; the two are completely different. I have never watched pornography (by choice) but I have seen Page 3 (not by choice). The latter is easier accessible for a few pence on a public newstand or a left over torn and dirty newspaper on a train. Young boys seeing their fathers leering at Page 3 over their Sugar Puffs before school must go to school with a different view of their fellow female classmates. These boys must have a different image of their mums. Young girls must have a different view of their own worth, their own bodies and their own place in the family and in society.
Anybody who reads The Sun are not after any intellectual commentary on news or politics of course; when I was going to write for a well known newspaper I was told to aim my writing so a 12 year old could understand it, or an average man in the local pub. Nothing too highbrow. Still, The Sun still appears to be a much read paper (I hesitate to call it a newspaper) but Murdoch’s silly little tweet this week hinting at removing Page 3 was a wonderful hint at a brave new world where women’s naked breasts may not be consumed over the cornflakes. Alas, that is not the case given today’s horrendous sexualisation of a murder victim.
Sitting opposite the prowling male lawyer in the small confines of my office I try desperately to stop imitating their body language and fighting the impulse to twirl my hair (body experts say that evidences attraction). There certainly is no attraction and I don’t want to encourage what I know is to come next; the obligatory “we should go for a drink after work to discuss…..” whatever office politics are going on that particular day. I am already thinking up my excuse not to go and leave my female office pack.
The middle aged male lawyer predictably asks me to go to the bar; the bait is set and now it’s my job to wriggle off the line. Many times, I can hear the young, blonde office junior giggle with frenzy in the dominant male lawyer’s office but then as she walks passed her fellow juniors raises her eyes and sticks her finger jokingly down her throat. The male lawyers of a certain age are sussed straight away even by the younger members. The alpha male flirts with the juniors so that they get their work done before the older females in the office (me) and so that they can have their mandatory coffee placed on their desk in time for when they come into the office. Us ‘lesser’ staff members have to put the kettle on ourselves; a strong coffee being the main diet in the office.
Once the bait is cast, the male lawyer swaggers from my office and quietly shuts the door behind him, leaving me to quietly laugh to myself at how predictable men are; it would be terrible if they weren’t so predictable but then I stop laughing when I realise I have actually said “yes” to the drink and at any point after work this week I will actually have to go….
“Alpha female is pretty exceptional,” says columnist Polly Toynbee. “There are not a whole lot of people trying to be like her, whereas there are a lot of men behaving in the same way, clambering over each other to reach the top of the tree. Those women who do get to the top are mavericks, hybrids and deny that they are like other women. Women do not like alpha female very much, nor do they want to be like her. Women want to be liked, which holds them back.
Working as a family lawyer in a northern law firm at the time our Principal’s husband had a sex change to become a woman wasn’t one of our firms most defining moments…nor was it when the press camped outside our offices and our orders to run past them at full speed when dashing for our lunchtime sarnies at Marks and Spencer. The most defining moment for me was having to fight through the sexual male behaviour as a 30 something female fee earner in an office full of middle aged men; even more difficult was to kick open with my stiletto heels the door to the ‘boys club’ where members consisted of the male Judge and the subservient male lawyers and their after court appointment chit chats.
Middle aged male lawyers, I have found, seem to have only two set channels when dealing with their female colleagues of any age…..the channel of utter contempt for you should you hold a position higher, lower or equal to them (so basically all working women) or the office sleaze; either channels I wanted to turn off and unplug as quickly as I could, but whichever way they were programmed was akin to the Discovery channel and a day in the law office became the survival of the fittest!
Whether the male fee earner does this to subdue the female is a mystery, but it was a case of fight or flight for me; usually it the first course of action.
Usually the male fee earner marks his territory quickly in the law office, walking and pacing around whilst talking loudly on the telephone, or dictating his letters onto the Dictaphone in full auditory view of everyone in the office; such action perhaps to stamp their authority and seniority over the females. Next was to show their colours by wearing the gaudiest ties they could find, or at least their wives could find them.
Moving on from their predatory prowl and colourful ensemble would be them gliding into my office, shutting the door quietly behind them, sat opposite me astride a chair. Not knowing where to look for the best I was usually forced to make eye with them, which would be to my favour, dismissing their forced masculinities in a second.
Why when unthinkingly I ask some parents about their part in their children “reaching their full potential” it sometimes brings back hasty comments of “I don’t care what they do so long as they are happy”. Is this a defence mechanism for parents who believe their children will never reach their full potential? I believe so and this is why….these parents vehemently presume or believe, in such a knee-jerk reaction, that happiness is not equated with reaching one’s individual and full potential, for example, academic success and a good, ambitious attitude to life? Is this a lazy attitude to parenting and a backwards passive aggressive reaction to me as a parent; it has been levied at me that I am a mother who applies a stereotypically Jewish (s)mothering parenting technique to her own daughter. Is that a bad thing?
To my recollection in A Level sociology and psychology, there is an iceberg theme to life in order to obtain happiness; these include things such as health, education, good work balance and friendships and love. All the elements listed provide the individual with security. Security in one’s life can include practical elements such as money and shelter and emotional elements such as friendships and partnerships. Surely ticking all of the boxes will give security, peace of mind and is a way of fulfilling our child’s potential. Is this not what I mean? To want a child to reach their full potential based on one element of life, that being academic success and professional achievements is not a dirty concept of a pushy parent with a harsh conditional love for her child. We all love our chidlren unconditionally and only want our children to be happy and to reach their full educational potential as we see the correlation between education and a good job that affords individual freedom from financial constraints, liberty and personal choices; it takes a parent who sees what their child can achieve, to begin the process.
As parents, we all remember that amazing day when our child brings home an almost unrecognisable painting that we proudly put on the fridge door, (or even frame, as I did) or when they can write their own name. Is this not reaching their full potential?
A child cannot find their way in life without somebody who believes in them but reaching full potential by academic success and taking part in society by virtue of helping others surely is not a bad thing? This is what I mean to reach full potential; not merely obtaining cold, hard cash for a day’s work in a job that they begrudge and hate.
Full potential is the iceberg and it is hoped my daughter can tick every box in her future. If not, as a Jewish (s)mother Ill presumably tick those boxes for her with her hands tied behind her back! If we do not believe in our own children’s potential, then nobody else, including they, will do.