Stories to Solutions: Post #1
It was just two years ago. I was a law clerk for a seasoned male attorney in San Diego. I was actually getting paid (!), finishing law school, and succeeding at a job that I hoped to return to after the bar exam. That was, until, the sexual harassment began. It happened multiple times, over a span of about two weeks. There was the joke about whether or not I was wearing underwear. There was the time he attributed the fact I was single to being insubordinate because I dared to have an opinion contrary to his. The last straw came when, after I spent hours researching and writing an important brief, he reduced my likelihood of success down to whether or not the judge hearing the case would find me sexually attractive.
I remember slowly walking back to my desk after that last one. I sat down, and I realized I was shaking. My mind raced with questions, “How did I get into this situation? Why didn’t I see this coming? And how did I let this get so far?” I instantly stopped myself. I refused to let my mind spiral into a million thoughts of self-blame. This happened because my boss was a privileged misogynist who felt he could say whatever he wanted to his younger female employee.
I waited until the shaking stopped, gathered myself up and walked back into his office. I told him I would be ending my clerkship the following week. He asked if it had to do with the comment he just made, and I replied, “yes,” and walked out. Luckily, it was a Friday afternoon. As a cherry on top of my day, when exiting the lobby of the building, the security guard told me I should SMILE because it was Friday. I wanted to punch him in the face.
The second I got to my car, I began sobbing uncontrollably. While I was proud of standing up for myself, I had the awful realization that not all women can just pick up and leave the way I did. They might have families to feed, or might not have the education or experience to easily find another position in a difficult job market. There are women (and men) who put up with this type of harassment every single day. My heart hurts for anyone living in that hell.
On my last day, the attorney stopped by my office on his way out and apologized. He told me that I did great work, and he was sorry I was leaving. He then said something that really stuck with me. He said that he didn’t mean to “weird me out.” I let him know that the things he said didn’t just “weird me out.” It wasn’t just the fact that his comments were vulgar, crude or inappropriate. It was the way in which he viewed my work and my self-worth, and reduced my intellect down to my relationship status, my sexuality and my appearance.
I share my story of sexual harassment to point out the consequences of a man that uses his position of power to say or do whatever he feels like doing, without any consideration for the consent, respect or boundaries of others. What this translates into for women in the workplace is that our work and our intellect are not given the appreciation and respect they deserve. This can cost a woman a raise, a promotion or just the simple recognition she deserves. Nobody should have to deal with these preventable barriers to success.
I encourage you to speak up you for yourself. Inform those who think they may have merely “weirded you out” that it goes much deeper than that. The first step is dialogue - with your friends, your community or even your boss.
I am proud to stand with Lawyers Club of San Diego, whose members lead our community in the fight against sexual harassment.
Mehry Mohseni is a family law attorney with Cage & Miles, LLP and co-chair of the Reproductive Justice Committee.