Thursday, — because, well, there's just something a little goofy about Thursdays — legal eagle blogger Elie Mystal posted a story about how Kevin Reed, a partner at the big, mahogany-redolent law firm Quinn Emanuel, haplessly clicked the fickle "reply all" button on an email in which he said that he "admired" a legal secretary at the firm, especially when said secretary was "wearing a tight dress." Bummer for that guy, I guess, but super bummer for the secretary, — referred to by Mystal as the "Hottietary" — who now gets to have awkward elevator rides or hallway passes with a man she knows is ogling her. For the sake of context, here's the brief email exchange between the two (as editorialized by Mystal), beginning with the secretary:
I am available if anyone needs paralegal/secretarial assistance. I am sitting on floor 24 and can be reached at [redacted].
Then the partner writes:
I admire your gumption, especially when you're in a tight dress.
Kevin S. Reed • Partner
Reed immediately apologized for the gaffe, claiming that the silly little email he accidentally sent to everyone wasn't even about the secretary he'd replied to because that's how bad he is with email — seriously, Reed wielding email is like a chimpanzee wielding a handgun. It's dangerous, you guys, and it's best if everyone just ducks low and waits for the chimp to tire itself out or find out where the banana bread is.
Mystal, however, thinks it's "pretty clear that Reed intended to reply about the Hottietary, even if not ‘to' the Hottietary," and primes his audience for a righteous take down of an unmasked workplace harasser. He dives in, typing fingers first, excoriating the lecherous partner for such a thoughtless email:
Reed's statement was clearly inappropriate, and this temp secretary should not have to work in an office where she feels partners are leering at her. Reed owes the woman a lot more than this hastily written email apology.
Give him hell, Elie! I mean, it's not quite the invective I was hoping for, but it's probably better to start slow and build up steam.
But we've seen pictures of the woman and, just saying, she would look great in a tight dress. That's just a fact. I'm not saying women who look good in tight dresses should be subjected to this kind of talk. I'm not saying she's pretty so she should get used to it. I'm not saying she should take Reed's email as a compliment.
Um, okay, I guess that works, though I can't say it's especially comforting to hear so much commiseration about the secretary's attractiveness. That sounds a little, I don't know, lecherous? Then again, we have Elie's word that he's not condoning this sort of email harassment. He repeats "I'm not saying" three times, you guys — he definitely does not condone any sort of office shenanigans.
What I am saying is that guys email their friends about attractive women they work with ALL THE TIME. That's just what happens. Do you know how many emails I've gotten about my female co-workers from friends asking about their attractiveness? And if they're good friends, f**k it, I'll answer their questions. I don't care. I wouldn't, you know, necessarily want to share my responses to these friends with my colleagues. It's hard to put "Seriously dude, you should see her when she comes in with her hair still wet from the gym" in the appropriate, professional context. But I've said it. Most men have said it. And everybody's thought it.
What. The. Fuck. "With her hair still wet from the gym"? What kind of creepy, sneak-up-behind you-in-the-break-room shit is that? "Aw, bro — you should totally smell her breath after she's eaten a cruller from the cafeteria. So hot." Just when you think Elie's got us on the right track, boom — we're hurtling off the rails to a crazy boom town in New Mexico famous for its gunfights and bordellos.
Mystal falls into the trap of trying to explain (poorly) a man's purported need to ogle attractive women. Though he mildly chides Reed for creating an uncomfortable if not outright hostile work environment, he sanctions the very "typical" male urge that leads to such behavior. What Mystal is really criticizing Reed for is his impropriety, but the real problem with Reed's email is that it betrays a pernicious gender normative attitude that men in positions of power still cling to — women in the office are not peers or colleagues to be respected, rather, they're objects to be sexually evaluated.
Reed's email may have been an "accident," but it's the symptom, not the cause, of workplace harassment. The cause is perfectly illustrated by Mystal's own words:
He revealed himself to be a dude. An aging dude who notices the young, attractive women around him. Trust me, that fantasy only starts with him admiring her "gumption" — let's be happy Reed stopped before we got to the final disposition of the tight dress.
Here's a crazy idea — let's not "be happy" when email cold sores like Reed's flare to the surface and throw everyone socially off-balance. Let's take aim at the culture that permits men to leer and snicker as a way to achieve fraternal validation behind the backs of their female colleagues. Let's make workplaces not just superficially equitable, but actually, thoroughly equitable, right down to everyone's primitive, mate-ogling brain stems. Giving men permission to privately objectify women only creates furtive boys clubs where men can pontificate freely on the sexiness of their female colleagues' wet hair and thereby reduce those women to objects to be viewed and not people to interact with.
A Quinn Emanuel Partner's Lecherous ‘Reply All' [Above the Law]
Image via Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock.