On ‘being a dirty old man’ and a federal judge

I have found the commentaries following the recent post on Slate, “Female Lawyers Who Dress Too “Sexy” Are Apparently a “Huge Problem” in the Courtroom” to be distressing. They remind me of the many times that students have commented on dresses I have worn to teach in (but not their male professors), and the time I appeared before a panel of federal judges for a moot court argument and was chastised for wearing a pantsuit. I was counseled to apologize to the bench and explain that while I would ordinarily appear before them in a skirt, I had a terrible case of poison ivy on my legs (true, but why exactly did they need to know that?).

I find the newest commentary on the issue deeply troubling, inappropriate, and unsettling. Judge Richard Kopf has posted on his blog: “On being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress,” and has included advice such as:

“…in my continuing effort to educate the bar, I have three rules that young women lawyers should follow when considering how to dress for court:

1. You can’t win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.

2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.

3. Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down.”

You can’t win? Get over it? I can’t. Can you?

Nita Farahany is Prof. of Law & Philosophy, Director of Science & Society, Director MA in Bioethics & Science Policy, Duke University; Member, President'l Comm'n for the Study of Bioethical Issues; Board Member, Internat'l Neuroethics Society; Co-Editor-in-Chief Journal of Law & the Biosciences; Editorial Board Member AJOB Neuroscience.
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