I was born in 1972. I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted. My gender was never an issue. The idea that some people would think less of my abilities because I am female was foreign to me. Thankfully, my parents kept me fairly well insulated from people with throwback attitudes. I never encountered the "fear of math and science" that so many girls experience and frankly I was always taken seriously at school because of that. My mother has a degree in math and my father, degrees in physics and computer science. Maybe that had something to do with my educational self-confidence. I don't know. But I do know that, until I reached high school, no one ever even attempted to make me feel unworthy of my intellect or my dreams because of my gender. Yesterday, I had a 1950's flashback that reminded me why I was so lucky to be so insulated during my formative years.
The Partner with whom I work closely, took me to a trade association luncheon. I've been at my current firm for almost two years now and I have been slowly getting to know the local players in my little specialty area of the law. Rubber chicken lunches aren't my favorite way of networking, but I was looking forward to attending with Partner and meeting a few new people. It was a good lunch. I met some people in the industry, made some small talk, listened to an interesting speaker, and generally avoided saying anything stupid. That's a good lunch. The real fun came afterwards. As we were making our way through the crowd, Partner introduced me to several industry players. Everyone seemed pleased to meet me and, while no one ever looks forward to needing to consult their lawyers, I am sure that I will be working with some of them in the future. Then Partner introduced me to an Older Gentleman who placed himself in our path. Partner made some flattering comment about how I generally "keep him out of trouble." Polite chuckling ensued and then Older Gentleman proclaimed that he could use someone like that because he could never "remember how to work that pesky teleconference feature on his phone."
Partner proceeded to explain that I kept him out of trouble with regards to all things legal. I could tell from the look on Partner's face that he understood that a request to me to figure out his phone would result in my possibly inserting said phone into an extremely uncomfortable area of his anatomy. We quickly beat a path to the door. On my drive back to the office I had to call my husband and rant. I explained what had happened and asked if I was overreacting. T seemed confused for a moment and then he got it. He asked incredulously, "You mean the old geezer thought you were Partner's secretary?!?" Yep. You got it, honey. He saw a youngish looking woman with this lawyer he knows at a trade association meeting, and he assumed I was the guy's secretary. Or legal assistant, if you prefer that term.
Now I realize that I'm a little over-fixated on this small incident, but stuff like this rarely happens to me and it pisses me off. While I do look young, people usually assume I'm a braniac within 2 minutes of meeting me. I've been told it's just the way that I talk and the vocabulary I use. Yes, I work in a male dominated field, I'll give the guy that. But I have never been mistaken for a secretary, especially in a professional setting. Hell, I've walked into rooms full of older men, and nothing but older white men, for meetings and court hearings for years and no one has ever assumed I was there to take the lunch orders. For a moment I was willing to give "the old geezer" a pass because of his age but then I realized that, while he may be 65-70, he's still working in the year 2007. If you are going to be in business in the 21st Century, you need to park your antiquated notions about gender roles at the door. Or this little lawyer might shove a teleconference-capable phone up your butt.
Thanks, Mom & Dad.
Folks, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with being a secretary or that secretaries are somehow intellectually inferior to the god-like lawyers. I'm just a little pissed off right now, so bear with me. The context in which this incident happened should have told any but the most dedicated neanderthal that I was a lawyer.