The advertisement, which declares “a custom-tailored suit is a natural aphrodisiac” caused a ruckus in the home of the Pilgrims, this Thanksgiving week, after appearing in the usually staid Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. (see Boston Globe, “Many fume over hot ad in lawyers newspaper,” Nov. 22, 2006) At the front of those attacking the ad is the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association, whose President, Kathleen M. O’Connor, wrote to MLWeekly that “As lawyers, we are obligated to fight against gender discrimination, in whatever form it may take,” and that “We expect more from this newspaper.”
MWL‘s Editor-in-Chief, David Yas, first called the complainers a “bunch of self-important prudes,” but later decided to pull the ads, explaining that “in listening to our readers, we learned that the ad was offensive to many of them.” In a necessarily unscientific online poll, the Boston Globe asked “Is this ad too risque?” and over 78% of the respondents said “no”.
During a slow-news holiday period, the story has rippled across the online lawyer community. (See, e.g., the WSJ Law Blog) The weblog and “legal tabloid” Above the Law, ran its own poll, asking if running the ad was “appropriate” or “inappropriate” in the newspaper for lawyers. 77.5% of ATL‘s respondents said “appropriate”. On the other hand, the venerable weblogger and legal-website guru Robert Ambrogi, a former editor at Mass. Lawyers Weekly, opined that “this dust-up has nothing to do with prudishness and has everything to do with knowing your readers.” (LawSites, “Call me a prude, but. .“, Nov. 22, 2006)
In a piece titled “Jurisprudes,” self-proclaimed feminist, Dahlia Lithwick at Slate, couldn’t understand the fuss, and wouldn’t call the ad’s opponents prudes, but concluded:
“Shouting about this ad reinforces the dangerous lesson that there is no place for sex or flirtation or anything naughty in the law and that all sex must be sexism, because when it happens to us, it’s rare and mysterious good fortune.”
We’ve been waiting to see what Feminist Law Professors might have to say about the controversy. This evening (Nov. 25, 2006), Bridget Crawford wrote “Lawyers at their Desks,” and (surprisingly) pointed out that perhaps the Mass. WBA “shouldn’t throw stones too quickly or too hard. Its website features a slideshow of photos — many captioned ‘scent-sational women attorneys’ – from a recent membership event held at a store that sells ‘natural perfume and cologne.’ Seems to me that the Women’s Bar Association relies on stereotypes, too. ” [We’d like to point out that the perfumist, Nawtucket Natural Oils, brags at its website that “Some of the store’s most satisfied customers include Madonna and Steven Tyler (Aerosmith)”.]
The entire affair is enough to get Prof. Yabut off his La-Z-Boy and to get dagosan to pull out a little poetry:
opposing counsel crosses
sua sponte —
catches me staring
. . . by dagosan
If you’re a regular at f/k/a, you know The Gang doesn’t believe that neo-puritanism is the answer to the battle of the sexes. As we said in September, differing with the folk at Feminist Law Professors about an Above the Law “hottie” contest:
We are tempted to point out, yet again, our belief, that the neo-feminist penchant for humorless, picky, puritanical censorship does far more harm to their cause than the materials and the (atavistic, often purposely and obviously puerile) attitudes they are deriding.
There are a few other points worth making, in response to those who rant that the advertisements are “insulting,” tasteless,” and “demeaning”:
- A Jiwani FAQ says: “Do you make women’s clothing? Yes, we provide a full range of corporate suiting for women.” This makes me wonder just who is doing the stereotyping when jumping to the conclusion that an ad for suits in a publication for lawyers is selling its product only to men (especially when it is the women in the ad who is wearing the suit).
- Like Dahlia Lithwick, we have to wonder just how the President of the Mass. WBA concluded that the advertisement amounts to “gender discrimination.” This calls into question the lawyering skills and legal analysis of the complainants. Every mention of a sexual topic is not sexism, nor sexual discrimination. For lawyers, making distinctions and seeing differences is rather important.
- Those who worry about the continuation of old stereotypes need to pay very close attention to the new stereotypes they may be creating by their actions and positions. Being seen as thin-skinned, humorless proponents of iffy legal analysis and bad attitudes is scarcely the way to win over the hearts or the minds of those who might still want to perpetuate the unwarranted stereotypes. Indeed, it might just lose you a few allies or make them wary to come to your assistance every time you “cry wolf.” Even the most open-minded and fair people can find it rather difficult to think of whiners as equals.
- Bob Ambrogi may be right that a publication “has to respect its readers,” but the readers need to respect themselves enough to withhold their sense of insult and outrage for matters that really matter.
in the clerk’s blouse I let her
steal my change
. . . by George Swede – from Almost Unseen (2000)
Update (Dec. 30, 2008): See our posting “a sparkingly Savage year,” which discusses the Boston Magazine article “Counsel Requests the Right to Appeal: Smokin’-hot lawyer Wendy Savage defends her buzzy turn as a pinup” (by Alyssa Giacobbe, January 2009), and the issue of professional women posing in sexy pictures.
In the community of haijin (haiku poets), there have also been many taboos and much tsk-tsking over the centuries. Last year, with the publication of Taboo Haiku: An International Selection (Richard Krawiec, ed., Avisson Press, Greensboro, 2005), a group of poets tried to overcome some of those inhibitions. Here are some examples of haiku and senryu by a few of f/k/a‘s Honored Guests
from Taboo Haiku:
After the abortion she weeds the garden
the widow’s black lace panties
covered with frost
back up the open eyes
of the suicide
the colt’s erection nuzzles
. . . . . by George Swede
me in one hand
a belt in the other
dads sings a lullaby
smell of old shoes
in the locked closet
. . by roberta beary
the most popular
swim teacher at the Y
– his tight speedo
. . . by tom clausen
the shape her hands make
at the end of Lent the taste of you
. . . . by jim kacian
figure drawing class —
in the model’s deepest shadow
a thin white string
between the folds
. . . by lee gurga
lost love —
I turn back from the tracks
going up her arm
. . . by andrew riutta
an entire generation
drips down her thigh
. . . by ed markowski