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by Cathy Vandewater | October 31, 2013


Sometimes, the most sexist and oppressive environments for women are created by, well, other women.

Though this memo from a women's committee that recently circulated a top law firm does not enforce rules against vests or wearing a color other than pink on Wednesdays, its insulting level of micromanagement feels just as extreme.

A few choice excerpts:

-"Wear a suit, not your party outfit"

-"Don't dress like a mortician; if wearing a black suit, wear something bright."

-"Make sure you can stand in your heels, not trip, don't rock back on them."

-Vocally, "Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe"

-"Pretend you're in moot court, not the high school cafeteria"

Since the memo, entitled "Presentation Tips for Women" reads like a catty sorority email, it's hard to remember who the intended audience is here: educated, professional, adults.

So what's worse? The assumption that grown women are incapable of dressing themselves and speaking intelligently? Or the fact that those sexist assumptions come from Women's Committee? Presumably made up of women?

Many of these "tips" are in fact technically unisex, albeit painfully obvious, and a recipient of the email wrote that "[F]emale associates are very upset by not only the elementary nature of the tips themselves, but the suggestion that these would only apply to women. We have never been a very female friendly firm, but this is beyond the pale."

The parts of the memo that are specially female-related only serve to underscore that traits associated with womanhood (a high voice, visible female form) are at odds with competence--but also that it's wrong to mimic men (your clothes should be "bright" and you shouldn't repeat outfits).

So basically… these are our takeaways. Ladies, take notes:

1. There's no way you can possibly dress correctly

All black and covered up? Stop being so dowdy and out of touch! Shorter and fitted? No one's going to pay attention to your presentation if your body is showing! And if you magically found the outfit that walks the impossible line between "with it" and "too attractive," if better not be one you took your program photo in.

2. Your voice is wrong

Don't giggle or sounds girlish, but have some sexuality in your voice, ie: the Lauren Bacall suggestion. You can't look old or masculine, but you must sound it. (The memo helpfully informs that "your voice is higher than you hear," which is evidently a bad thing). Also, women are problematically nasally. Who knew!

3. You sound dumb

Is it crazy to assume that a woman who made it through law school and landed a job at a major firm probably won't say things like "dunno"? Also, is it just us, or are "like, um, uh, you know, ok," are all words that men occasionally use? Their gender clearly protects them from sounding like Valley Girls, but Biglaw women are in grave danger.

4. You have no idea how to carry yourself as an adult

Don't "squirm, giggle, tilt your head, waves your arms"… wait, I think we confused this memo with the one meant for toddlers. Whoops!

Do you think this memo is necessary or over the top? Can you imagine a mixed audience receiving similar tips? Can we all just take a moment, as we worry that women can't dress themselves, to remember how incompetent men can be? Weigh in below!

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
Biglaw Memo From Top Firm Advises That Women ‘Don’t Giggle,’ Don’t ‘Show Cleavage’
Worst Follow-Up Email of All Time?
Court is Back in Session: Law School Advice from the Pros


Filed Under: Law|Workplace Issues