Post Script to yesterday’s (infamous) post

Yesterday, I touched the third rail. I wrote about women, apparel and courtroom attire.  It has generated a fair amount of perfectly fair criticism.

In the Omaha paper today there is piece about my post that I urge folks to read. It is written by Erin Grace, and Ms. Grace’s prose is powerful and, at times, beautiful and insightful. (By the way, Ms. Grace tried to call me yesterday afternoon while she was on a short deadline to get my views. I was home and asleep and missed her call. I thank her for the professional courtesy.)

At the end of the article, Ms. Grace writes:

I’m largely a conformist when it comes to office attire — perhaps fallout from years of wearing Catholic school uniforms. And I’ll say for the record right now: Mom, you were right about slips.

But if law students should be remembered for what they say, not how they dress, then that should apply to judges.

The judge has said a lot of good things in the past on his blog. He writes tenderly about his grandchildren. He worries about a seventh-grader recovering from a heart transplant.

And he raises important issues. I want to remember him for those things.

Not for his latest reflections, on being a dirty old man.

I wish to respond but only briefly.

Erin:

I honestly don’t care how you (or others) remember me.* I do care passionately that federal trial judges be seen as individuals with all the strengths and weakness (baggage) that everyone else carries around.

If, on balance, you think the post was harmful to the image of the federal judiciary and truly treated women as objects, I am very, very, very sorry for that, but I would ask you to pause and reread it. I hope you will find upon objective reflection that the mockery I make of myself and the hyperbole and somewhat mordant tone I employed, made a point worth considering.

In the rough and tumble world of a federal trial practice, it is sometimes necessary to see and react to that world as it is rather than as we wish it would be.

RGK

*Here’s an irony:  If I am remembered for anything, it will be because I wrote two opinions striking down state and federal “partial-birth” abortion statutes.

54 responses

  1. It’s true that there is still a double standard, which there should not be. That goes for men as well as women–think of an attorney with excessively long hair, one who wears a bolo tie in court in, say, New York, Boston or even San Francisco, or one who (unless he’s Racehorse Haynes) wears cowboy boots in court anywhere east of the Mississippi. But, of course, women are judged by stricter standards–if they dress conservatively they aren’t feminine enough, if they dress in the opposite fashion they are “too sexy.”

    That doesn’t apply only to lawyers–I represented a librarian who claimed (and was probably right) that an important factor in her failure to win promotion was that she was too attractive.

    But we lawyers are in a different situation: we are in court not for ourselves, but for our clients. And the first rule has to be not to offend the sensibilities of those before whom we appear (judges and jurors, and perhaps clerks as well). If I go into court for myself and choose to appear in a dirty T-shirt, so be it. But when I go in for a client, I am not doing my job if I dress in a way that excites adverse comment. And, to me, that means that if I err, it must be on the side of being nondescript. (Well, I do have an American-flag tie that I sometimes wear to open to juries, but I use it to explain the uniqueness of the jury system.) So, before starting a trial, or even a motion, I make sure that my hair has not grown into the bushy state that it reaches a few weeks after the barber has last taken the hedge trimmer to it.

    • Jon: This reminds me of the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision affirming (and then upholding its decision affirming) summary judgment for a dentist who fired his dental assistant because she was too attractive and his wife saw her as a threat to their marriage. The Iowa Supreme Court concluded that this is not sex discrimination because the issue was specific to Ms. Nelson. (I’m from Iowa originally, and the state regularly vacillates between making me proud and embarrassing me).

      • I’m not from Iowa (though I did proudly attend law school there), but amen to your last parenthetical.

      • Chocolatetort–I just saw your response, which is why I am late in responding. The attorney for that dental assistant is a good friend of mine (and a terrific lawyer). I don’t think the cases are at all the same. The dental assistant in question was not representing a client–she was not even accused of representing the dentist to his patients in a bad light. And the issue was SUMMARY JUDGMENT–a jury did not even get a chance to decide. One of the worst decisions of the past 25 years. Maybe the last 50.

  2. I share Ms. Grace’s ambivalence about the infamous post, and I sincerely empathize with people who feel offended by it. Like Ms. Grace, I was actually most taken aback by what read like meanness on the part of the female law clerks, although Judge Kopf’s comment in response shed a somewhat different light on it. I appreciate comments like Jon Margolis’s recognizing that the line between too dowdy and too sexy can feel more like a tightrope.

    Obviously, Judge Kopf’s frank discussion of some of the female attorneys he’s seen before him would be out of place in the courtroom or in a decision. But as personal musings and particularly as musings from the other side of the bench, here’s what I take away. Judge Kopf is a self-described “dirty old man,” and surely he’s not the only one on the bench. In fact, he’s a “dirty old man” who struck down partial-birth abortion bans — and who has shared a lot on this blog that leads me to conclude that on the whole he’s a good egg. So he’s a good egg and a self-described dirty old man.

    This is legal realism, albeit in a different context than the phrase usually appears, at its most stark. This is how one judge sees counsel who come before him. If I appeared in court much, and if my courtroom attire weren’t as boring as it is (I like scarves, personally, to keep things interesting), it might make me more self-conscious, but it’s definitely edifying.

  3. I fear that we suffer greatly by both taking ourselves and the righteousness of our views too seriously. The offending blog entry apparently has the capacity to offend but I did not read it that way. While I am very sympathetic to the feminist view and problems inherent in the objectification of women in the profession, it seems an overreaction to take the author to task for insensitivity. Is it better to pretend observations like these are not a subtext in any human interaction? That judges (and lawyers, and law clerks, and staff, etc. etc.) are immune from ordinary human impulse, just because they work in an ivory tower? Or is it better to acknowledge it as reality, even in the federal judicial system and have constructive dialogue about it? I think hand wringing is a waste of time and judicial resources!

    • High Plains Lawyer,
      I agree with what you said. I am sympathetic as well, but angry posts make it impossible to have a decent discussion on the issue.

      I know I’m only a law student, but the previousy post has conclusively demonstrated to me that the law profession is not ready to sit down around a table and discuss this problem. I will refrain from discussing this issue with anyone for at least a decade, since I do not believe it is a point on which a reasonable debate can occur.

      • To clarify, I refer to Judge Kopf’s post and the immediate, negative response to it, not your post itself. I firmly believe in equality within the judicial system.

        But I don’t think we’re at the point we can talk about this inequality yet.

      • What is the kind of debate that you think should be happening? What do you consider to be the problem?

        To me, the problem is that unlike judges who wear the same robes regardless of gender, lawyers don’t have a neutral dress code. If a woman dressed exactly as her male colleagues do — dark pants, matching jacket, white button down shirt, tie, dark loafers — I’m guessing the same people who say the goal is to avoid “distraction” would fault her for being too distractingly gender-neutral.

        I personally think that there is appropriate dress for different situations. Having been raised in the south as well, I avoid both black and white at weddings and do not wear anything revealing in church (I was once horrified to see two young women in tube top dresses at a Baptist church wedding). weddings.

        But that is social life, which explicitly contains many outdated gender prescriptions (like at wedding receptions, “please welcome Mr and Mrs His Name” even if the bride is actually keeping her name). “What Not to Wear” discussions in professional life should be conscious of the prohibition on gender discrimination in the workplace. As a member of the bar, though not currently working as an attorney, I always wear a suit when I enter a courthouse.

        This entire discussion actually could have been fruitful if the judge had opted to address the subject of inappropriate dress by both sexes. Surely at some time in his long career, he has seen a male lawyer whose attire was unprofessional or distracting. (Not just for a specific case, as with his comments about not wearing flashy jewelry when defending drug cartel defendants, but in general, as his comments were about the composite female attorney.)

        Unfortunately, it is difficult to make progress against what I see as the problems (the old one of sexism, and the new one of people’s — not just women, but people — not having been raised right to know how to dress appropriately) if instead the problem is framed as “women lawyers who dress so sluttily that unnamed female law clerks criticize them.”

        I’d note that lower level people in a hierarchy who want to advance tend to adopt at least superficially the views of their superiors, so judges might want to be conscious about how the tone they set for a workplace is likely to affect the views expressed there. I’ve never told my hipster boss what I actually think about bicyclists and people who drink PBR.

        • lawyers don’t have a neutral dress code.

          Really? Lawyers don’t have the common sense of how to dress appropriately for their environment and so arrive at a functional, commonly understood style? They need an explicit, written-down rule to know how to dress? Seems rather insulting to lawyers.

          social life, which explicitly contains many outdated gender prescriptions (like at wedding receptions, “please welcome Mr and Mrs His Name” even if the bride is actually keeping her name).

          Talk about outdated (and stereotyping, which you seem to be doing, albeit unconsciously). When my wife and I were married almost 40 years ago–in our Mess Dress uniforms, and in a staid Methodist church–we were introduced as Lt and Lt My Name, since she insisted in taking my name. Our daughter was married in a church ceremony on a beach, and the whole thing was written by her and her then husband-to-be.

          This entire discussion actually could have been fruitful if the judge had opted to address the subject of inappropriate dress by both sexes.

          Yeah. Because if there isn’t a moral equivalence and a measure of symmetry present in the argument, it cannot possibly be valid.

          …it is difficult to make progress…if instead the problem is framed as “women lawyers who dress so sluttily that unnamed female law clerks criticize them.”

          The matter was clearly framed as “for example, this woman lawyer dressed…,” even if the “for example” was left unsaid–because for most of us it didn’t need explicitness (see above in this comment). Like I said elsewhere, there are those who think it more important to find offense than to listen to the message–and so such niceties get elided.

          Eric Hines

        • NY Non-Practitioner,
          As this thread continues to prove, it is not possible to have a reasonable discussion on the subject.

          But as an aside, I don’t think I have ever stared at a lawyer’s attire and thought to myself ‘gosh that’s boring’

          I try not to notice dress at all and just talk with the person.

  4. Pingback: Judge Refers To Himself As ‘A Dirty Old Man,’ Says Women Should Dress More Conservatively In Court « CBS Cleveland

  5. My comment in the Herald:

    Article: Poser, like Beadle, criticized Kopf for singling out an attorney. “He objectified women, women lawyers,” she said. “And that’s not good for the profession.”

    Memo to the ladies: Yeah, we do look. Well, maybe not so much at Erin Grace, but we do look. It’s kind-of hard-wired.

    Judge Kopf: “In the rough and tumble world of a federal trial practice, it is sometimes necessary to see and react to that world as it is rather than as we wish it would be.”

    Having a trial judge admit that he is a dirty old man is like an appellate judge confessing that he routinely ignores binding precedent in his courtroom. Both statements are as demonstrably true as they are impolitic, and while candor is expected of attorneys, it is actively discouraged in our jurists.

    But every once in a while, an occasional ray of truth breaks through the robe. When you know the truth about our judicial system, you can at least try to adapt to it. If judges reacting like men to the presence of a weatherbabe-quality attorney was the worst of the judiciary’s sins, I would be a happy man.

  6. While the concept of “chilling effect” is usually articulated in first amendment context and the government – in practice, it happens, as here – with a mixture of dogpiling, uncharitable reading and ring-fencing some topics from a variety of approaches. To Grace’s credit, she refrains to some extent from reducing the character of the writer to a short piece, ignoring lifelong actions. I wonder if you will write a similar post again?

    On the plus side, you don’t have to go through a confirmation hearing again. You will be Borked by your blog.

    • Dear TF,

      I haven’t forgotten your question. Indeed,it is nearly 4:00 AM here in the Home of the Brave and I am still thinking about it. I don’t have an answer now, but it may come to me later.

      As for being “Borked by [my own] blog,” that is a wonderful line on so many levels. I now appropriate it as my own. I will pay you later.

      All the best.

      RGK

  7. A lot of what I’m seeing in the criticisms (as opposed to critiques) of Judge Kopf’s post seem to center on variations of “double standard! Men do it, too!”

    Yeah, and? The point of the post was to advise against dressing inappropriately, especially if the subject you’re presenting isn’t your own, but that of someone who’s paying you to argue for them.

    Is a female lawyer dressing sexily, let’s say, for a court room any less inappropriate because her male opponent in the case dresses, what–dowdily? Is the inappropriateness of attire derived solely from the way someone else dresses, or does that standard have its own intrinsic merit, keyed to what the intended audience finds suitable?

    Eric Hines

  8. Judge Kopf,

    As a female third year law student preparing to graduate, I just wanted to express my thanks for your honest approach. I think the main conflict may be between those who desire to pretend that our behavior (dress, etc.) should be modeled after society as we wish it was, rather than as it actually is. Your note identifying yourself as a “dirty old man” I took to be what you considered the requisite self-flagellation of a member of the male gender daring to comment upon female dress. But the reality is that what you noted as three rules to consider are tremendously wise – perhaps point number two being the most insightful. My generation demands that it always be about me, me, me. If anyone dare tell me what to wear, they are hideously stifling my identity, my rights, my very being, etc. But the profession of law actually carries some aspect of duty to those other than myself. As an advocate for either a client or the state (and more largely, society) I should be cognizant that I need to operate in the world as it is, and get over myself long enough to dress like a professional in order to care more for those I represent, than in winning some sort of philosophical fashion argument. My overly sensitive id can get over itself long enough to don a staid black suit and argue cogently and persuasively as an advocate, and then get back to wearing the monkey footie pajamas.

  9. Dear Judge Kopf,

    Imagine I am a sitting federal judge who writes a blog clearly identifying me as such. I am also a 60-something-year-old woman. I write the following:

    In candor, I have been a dirty old cougar ever since I was a very young woman. Except, that is, when it comes to my sons (and other young men that I care deeply about). And that brings me to the amusing debate about how (mostly) young male lawyers dress these days.

    True story. Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very handsome male lawyer who is in his late twenties. He is brilliant, he writes well, he speaks eloquently, he is zealous but not overly so, he is always prepared, he treats others, including his opponents, with civility and respect, he wears very tight pants that highlight his ample penis. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.

    From the foregoing, and in my continuing effort to educate the bar, I have three rules that young male lawyers should follow when considering how to dress for court:

    1. You can’t win. Women are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.

    2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.

    3. Think about the male law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtain, an ignorant male slut behind your back, tone it down.

    Judge Kopf, I take you at your word that you didn’t intend the offense you gave by your post, but your surprise that it did is what troubles me. Maybe what I have written above will help you “get it.”

    Respectfully,

    Jill Wichlens, Esq.

    • Dear Jill,

      You have used (and misued) an excellent rhetorical device. If you are going to use the substitution trick effectively you must use the whole post including the introduction and the citation to the Slate article. Without doing so, you recast my post amusingly but not accurately (contextually). In so doing, you also overlook the hyperbole and self-mockery of the original post.

      The foregoing is a quibble. I get your broader point. I return to my broader point as well. Sometimes we must see the world as it is rather than the way we wished it would be, particularly when we lawyers hold the lives and treasurer of our clients in our hands. I hope that does not surprise you.

      All the best.

      RGK

    • Ms Wichlens, you seem to be assuming that someone would be offended by the style of your post, coming from a woman. Probably, you’re right–there are always folks who more intent on spending their energy looking for an excuse to be offended, instead of listening to the message.

      What you’re both saying is that lawyers should dress appropriately to their audience, not to their own socio-political aspirations. This is quite clear from the message itself.

      Which is a demonstration that McLuhan wasn’t entirely off base.

      Eric Hines

    • “…he wears very tight pants that highlight his ample penis. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.”

      I am confused. Does this man have two penises?

  10. Dear RGK,

    O.K., I’ll bite. I had condensed your post in the interest of saving myself some typing, but I’ll re-type it, all of it, given your view that I’ve violated the “rule of completeness.”

    More than a decade ago, I freaked out when tall, statuesque, and handsome son Leon showed up at his older sister’s (Marne’s) wedding in a Catholic church (that we “borrowed” out of respect for the groom’s religious preference) in a skin-tight pair of pants. Poor John, at my insistence, and at the last moment, rummaged around in the church’s “lost and found” to locate a demure pair of slacks for Leon to wear instead of his very revealing pants. I was spitting nails. Marne was in tears. The groom had no idea what the fuck had just happened. Leon shot me daggers throughout the ceremony. Once again, John labored under the “evil stepfather” moniker. In short, the last time the Kopf clan entered a church together as a family was one of those memories better left forgotten. And the silly thing about this kerfuffle was that it was all about an old gal’s sense of decorum.

    In candor, I have been a dirty old cougar since I was a very young woman. Except, that is, when it comes to my sons (and other young men that I care deeply about). And that brings me to the amusing debate about how (mostly) young male lawyers dress these days. See e.g. Amanda Hess, Male Lawyers Who Dress Too “Sexy” Are Apparently a “Huge Problem” in the Courtroom (http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx factor/2014/03/21/male lawyers still must dress conservatively to impress judges.html), Slate (March 21, 2014).

    True story. Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very handsome male lawyer who is in his late twenties. He is brilliant, he writes well, he speaks eloquently, he is zealous but not overly so, he is always prepared, he treats others, including his opponents, with civility and respect, he wears very tight pants that show off his ample penis. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.

    In a recent case involving this fine young lawyer every male law clerk in the building slipped in and out of the courtroom to observe him. I am not exaggerating. I later learned that word had gotten around about this lawyer’s dress. Acknowledging that the lawyer was really good, the consensus of the brotherhood was uniformly critical. “Unprofessional” was the word used most often. To a man, the law clerks seethed and sneered. They were truly upset.

    From the foregoing, and in my continuing effort to educate the bar, I have three rules that young male lawyers should follow when considering how to dress for court:

    1. You can’t win. Women are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.

    2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.

    3. Think about the male law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfAC77jWgzs), an ignorant male slut behind your back, tone it down.

    There, rule of completeness satisfied. Now, imagine you are a young, good-looking man who has to appear before this 60-something-year-old female judge, and you have read the post above. Does the thought of appearing before her kind of make you think, “Ick?

    Now imagine you are old and ugly, and a not particularly well-endowed man. Your opponent is a young, good-looking guy with an ample bulge in his very tight pants. You have read the post. How do you feel about appearing before the judge?

    Or suppose that the post was written by a male colleague, and that the buxom, beautiful, inappropriately dressed lawyer was your daughter, Lisa. Would you find your colleague’s public drooling over her amusing?

    What I am trying to help you see, judge, is that, if your broader point is, as you say,that we must see the world as it is rather than as we wished it would be, there is an awful lot of extraneous and offensive material in your post. Sure, some judges are dirty old men, and we wish they weren’t, but why present it as amusing?

    If your point is that lawyers, men and women, should dress appropriately for court, well, as they say, duh. Of course they should. Stipulated. But to post about how you drool over young women who appear before you is unbecoming of your office, in my opinion. You may in fact drool – sure, we’re all human – but keeping it to yourself would be more appropriate.

    Respectfully,

    Jill

  11. this lame excuse about the way the world is instead of how we wish it to be is very convenient if you’re a dirty old man. the world has passed you by sir. thank god.

  12. I think the real issue here is that we have a judge here who is not afraid to be open and honest. I’m sure a lot of the fem-nazis would love to sign up for the witch hunt, but consider this. Would you rather us men be honest with you and express our honest opinions, or would you rather us be the nice, silent, good little bitches that’s very image is the image you seek to destroy? Just curious since there’s a lot of talk about double standards going around on this topic.

    • No, the real issue here is that, like Jill so wonderfully put, the judge’s so-called “honesty” was inappropriate. It would be all well and good if he focused on the attire of both male and female attorneys (it is not difficult to joke about both), but instead he chose to focus on and make a mockery of women, pitting them against each other, and using himself as the once-laughable “dirty old man”.

      That excuse doesn’t fly anymore. Our culture has changed. It is no longer acceptable to ogle women and then excuse yourself by claiming the “dirty old man” status. And you certainly cannot tell women to simply accept the fact that men “are both pigs and prudes”. No, we don’t have to just “get over it”. And no, not all men are like that — or so I’m told, given the large number of men who protest as many feminist articles as they can.

      He also claimed that his example of a “very pretty female lawyer” who “wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest” was a “true story” — yet, in a reply to more than one comment, he maintained that “the example I gave in the post was an amalgam of more than one person and more than one event and did not necessarily relate to the same place or person.”

      One might question his definition of “true”.

      As a side note, I am offended at your usage of the “fem-nazis” slur. I’m sorry that you seem to confuse fighting for gender equality with murdering millions of people, but the only people anyone should be comparing Nazis to are Nazis. By equating passionate women with Nazis, you are not only demeaning them, but also disregarding the struggles of millions of people affected by the Holocaust. Shame on you.

  13. I am a woman who began trying cases in the early ’70s when skirts were also short. The battle we faced then was over whether judges would permit women to wear pant suits — attire that was banned in most courtrooms in the South. I found the demure posture my grandmother unsuccessfully tried to teach me to be inconsistent with providing my client vigorous representation. My argument (which usually prevailed) was that lawyers had enough to keep track of during a trial without being distracted by concerns over whether or not their knees were together.

    • When I was due to appear in the District of Nebraska recently, I asked an experienced local attorney what I needed to know before appearing. The response? Don’t wear a pants suit. I wanted to know about trial practice, not dress code and found it stunning at the time that this piece of advice was deemed the most important to impart. Ms. Dantzler – I think not much has changed here since 1970. With respect to the broader issues (and not specifically responding to Ms. Dantzler), I would also add that I find this highly unusual public discussion between members of the bar who appear before the Court and the Court itself to be thought-provoking, but intensely inappropriate. That folks who will be applying for clerkships in this court, arguing motions in this court, and handling trials in this court would praise the Court’s views and thank the Court for its views is painfully uncomfortable to read. Would someone who is seeking favor from the court really be free to disagree? Would it be wise to do so? I think not. I would question whether judicial and legal ethics are implicated by the discussion, as fascinating as it is.

      • Good point. Only people who agree with you should post; those who don’t are violating ethics rules.

  14. What would be nice is that instead of admitting and glorifying your dirty old man status, you recognized that you have a weakness in objectifying women. Ideally, recognizing that you are not an enlightened males with regard to women, you recuse yourself in cases involving women’s issues/women’s sexuality. If you have female granddaughter’s perhaps you could consider how you would want them to be perceived and treated if they were in the female lawyer’s place.

  15. One major issue I had with your post judge, is the potential for needless intrigue and drama that it presents. If the attorney’s dress was so inappropriate that:

    “every female law clerk in the building slipped in and out of the courtroom to observe her. I am not exaggerating.”; and that:

    “Acknowledging that the lawyer was really good, the consensus of the sisterhood was uniformly critical. “Unprofessional” was the word used most often. To a woman, the law clerks seethed and sneered. They were truly upset.”

    Then her dress was sufficiently inappropriate that you should have brought it up directly to her, preferably in chambers or somewhere else discrete. By posting it on your public blog, you put a number of people in very awkward spots:

    First, this attorney, who probably has a good idea the post is about her and is some combination of mortified and outraged, but also who realizes as a District Judge with power over her for the foreseeable future, that confronting you about it has almost zero upside and a lot of potential downside.

    Second, other female attorneys who are around that age and practice in your courtroom may worry that the post referred to them, and even if they’ve behaved and dressed fully professionally, are going to have a sinking feeling in their stomachs when they walk into your courtroom, which isn’t the best thing for someone about to present a case to a jury.

    Third, the law clerks described here don’t come off very well. What you describe sounds like junior high antics and gossip. “Hey come look how this woman is dressed in courtroom 12″ isn’t exactly professional behavior, and it reflects poorly on the clerks in a public forum about conversations that were appropriately made privately.

    • Peter H,

      All fair points.

      I know this: I should been more accurate in my example by making clear that it was drawn from an amalgam of experiences with young female lawyers. That would have lessened, but perhaps not eliminated, what you describe as the “potential for needless intrigue and drama that it presents.”

      Thanks for writing. All the best.

      RGK

      • Judge,

        If your example was drawn from an amalgam of experiences, perhaps you should not have started your paragraph with “true story”. Or, perhaps, openly stated what your example truly was.

        Regards,

        Lesly

  16. I find it humorous that female professionals think they can dress and behave in overtly sexual ways without consequence.

    Imagine for a moment if male lawyers walked into a courtroom exposing or calling attention to their body parts in the same way that women currently do: Open or see-through shirts showing off their muscular chests; tight shorts made of business suit material that perfectly outline their strong buttocks and fit legs, and thong underwear so as to not show underwear lines through a good-fitting pair of shorts. Those men would likely be drummed out of the profession.

    • Imagine if a male judge publicly admitted to ogling female attorneys who appear before him. Oh wait . . . that’s exactly what the author of this blog did. He defends is comments as humorous and self-deprecating but I fail to see why that makes his comments acceptable. Even if intended humorously, the judge’s portrayal of himself still reinforces the dominant paradigm whereby men’s sexuality is acceptable (boys will be boys) while women’s sexuality is shameful.

      I practice law in the northeast, where I perceive the vast majority of women to dress appropriately. Only once in a blue moon do I see a woman showing more cleavage or leg than seems ideally professional; I note it momentarily and quickly move on to dealing with substance of the professional issue at hand. I have every confidence that my male colleagues can do the same. This tsk-tsking of women who deviate from the ill-defined standard of appropriate women’s dress is of little value and serves primarily to reinforce sexual shame in women, particularly the notion that we are responsible for ensuring that me don’t ogle us in professional settings.

  17. How do you still have a job? It’s an outrage for someone so backward to hold such a position.

  18. As a woman, I’d like to thank you for your post on women’s attire in court. I read about it on the BBC. Bless you! You said what the rest of us think. I believe that women who dress immodestly do a great disservice to all of us women. I DO want to be remembered for who I am, not for how I dress. Even more than your post, I appreciate you voting down Partial-Birth abortion statutes. I suspect that your decision to protect innocent life is why those who hate virtue have been looking for a reason to vilify you. You’re not a dirty old man, you’re a virtuous one. Thank you!

    • Hi Anna,

      It’s unclear from his post, but if my quick research on google is correct, Judge Kopf struck down a BAN on partial birth abortion. Most or all of the feminists who are criticizing the judge now likely applaud his decision on partial birth abortion. These are separate issues.

      I disagree with your belief that “women who dress immodestly do a great disservice to all of us women.” I agree that showing too much skin in the wrong setting is a faux pas. But that’s not a disservice to all women. The disservice to women occurs when people like the judge perpetuate the notion that it is perfectly acceptable for a man to openly ogle a woman in a professional setting, and to brag about it online while simultaneously lecturing the woman on how to dress.

      • Thanks for pointing out my rather embarrassing mistake, Eve. May God have mercy on him for that decision, if your reading is correct. I am praying for him in his illness. I agree that these are separate issues.

        I believe that women who dress immodestly are doing a disservice to all women because more often than not, they do it to gain an unfair advantage – in this case, hoping the judge & jury will ogle them and give them small favors in exchange for a free look at what should be private. Their dress also perpetuates the idea that a woman’s function is to be a s*x object – an idea that I personally don’t care for, but they perpetuate and make me a victim of. Let’s face it, a woman who dresses a certain way does it in order to have men ogle her and give her perceived power – then when they admit that she got her desired result, they feign innocence. I think it is perfectly fair for a man to call their bluff. I don’t think he’s *really* ogling this young women, I think he’s using a (slightly tacky) comedic device to make his point. The Judge admits elsewhere here that he corrects his own daughters for immodest dress – he’s not ogling them, I’m sure – he simply believes that this sort of behaviour is wrong.

        • Hi Anna,

          I tend to disagree with you as to the motivations of women who dress in a particular way, or the significance of such motivations. First, as I mentioned, the vast majority of female lawyers *I* see in my little corner of the northeast are dressed appropriately. Those who (to my mind) seem to be displaying more cleavage or leg than I would be comfortable with often appear to be doing so inadvertently or perhaps have a body type which makes secondary sex attributes more obvious (read ample bosom). A woman’s risk of being perceived in a more sexualized way than she intends is compounded by two factors: (1) women’s bodies are considered in our culture, REGARDLESS of what we do, as inherently sexual in a way that men’s bodies are not; and (2) women do not have a uniform like a suit with set lengths and coverage of the body, so there’s always a judgment call as to necklines and hemlines.

          I also believe that most human beings – male, female, attorney, non-attorney — enjoy being perceived as physically attractive, and physical attractiveness generally includes a component of sexuality; but in the case of us women, this enjoyment is fraught with peril, lest we be perceived as trying to trade unfairly on our sexual attractiveness — a problem physically attractive men do not face. Attractive men never face the degree of censure that attractive women face, often just for existing in their attractive state.

          Second, the problems we women sometimes face, these unfair perceptions of our value, our purpose and our motivations, are not caused by women who sex it up a little bit in their dress (whether on purpose or otherwise). These problems are caused by broader cultural norms, norms that the judge is reinforcing and reveling in. It is the judge who is reinforcing the idea that it is perfectly okay for men in positions of power to leer openly and that it is the woman’s responsibility alone to ensure she does not cause that kind of reaction.

          Consider a place like Saudi Arabia, where women are required by law, at risk of beatings by religious police, to cover most of their bodies. Women there are not displaying cleavage — yet they are still seen primarily as sexual objects who must organize their lives around their culturally required responsibility not to inflame the lusts of men. They are thus sexually objectified far more than any woman in the west could ever be — and that objectification is caused by the patriarchal norms of the culture, not by anything the women there are doing.

          Best, Eve

          • Thanks for a kind reply, Eve.

            I agree that some women’s dress is unintentional. I certainly like to think that some of the young women I know and like have no ill intent when they show up to Church without adequate clothing. And, insisting that we all wearing Saudi attire will not fix anything. But, I don’t think that means that in contrast we can all wear Bikinis everywhere we go with no responsibility for our actions.

            I agree that men are completely responsible for themselves & their reactions. If a man misbehaves, or has a bad thought, it is wrong to blame a woman for that – even if she is not clothed at all. But, it seems to me too often in our culture there has been an assumption that men bear ALL the responsibility for immorality, while women are incapable of bad intentions in their dress or actions. I see this in the pro-abortion arguments all the time – let a women decide what is “right” – as if women were incapable of making an immoral choice. In contrast, no one would dream of giving men (the father of the baby) complete control in this decision – why are we certain that men would make immoral decisions and women moral ones? As a woman myself, I am aware of my own capability to sin, and the necessity of controlling that potential (no more, and no less than any man) and having accountability for my actions.

            To analogize, If I have a friend who is an alcoholic, she is responsible whether she drinks or not – 100%. But, if I know that she has this problem, and I show up to her house with a few bottles of her favorite beverage & try to entice her to drink – I am not without my share of guilt. Similarly, the male is responsible for his response, but if a female goes out of her way to encourage immoral behaviour or thought, she bears some responsibility for that.

            To give the Judge the benefit of the doubt here, no truly lecherous man would point out that a woman was under dressed – rather, he would enjoy the show, and give her a few favors in court to encourage other women to behave similarly. Perhaps he would even ask her for more “favors” out of court. The fact that he made this post seems to me to demonstrate his desire to see a more moral – not less moral – courtroom. For that, I applaud him.

            In some European courts, there IS a uniform – for both male & female attorneys. Perhaps that is what we need to have here.

            I don’t know the answer to the question, but I think it is beneficial for society to discuss it openly.

            • Anna,

              What I was getting at with my Saudi example is that we women excite lustful thoughts just by existing. It doesn’t matter what we wear or how much skin we show — straight men will still be attracted to us. (And we straight women will still be attracted to them.) The notion that women have a responsibility to help men curb lustful thoughts leads directly to the grossest misogyny. It encourages men to blame or disdain women they find attractive.

              Personally, I think lustful thoughts are okay (and indeed one of the great pleasures of life). If a judge on one of my cases is secretly ogling me, it’s no skin off my teeth. I don’t care. I secretly ogle people all the time.. The problem only arises if we publicly express those thoughts, or act on them in inappropriate contexts. (We may have different views on this subject, as I am not religious and do not believe that a thought that is never acted upon can be a sin.) And yes, I know just publicly expressed my lustful thoughts but I’m doing so under a pseudonym and, unlike the judge, none of my actual work colleagues will know about my secret ogling habits.

              You raise the issue of men in authority granting special privileges to professional women who dress in a sexy way. I have no way of proving it, but I find it hard to believe that that ever happens — perhaps because I don’t ever actually see female lawyers sexing it up. I DO see a problem whereby attractive women who rise to positions of prominence are gossiped about as having slept their way to the top; this is, in my opinion, gross sexism that they have done nothing to invite other than existing in an attractive female body.

              The abortion discussion is a bit off topic, but I will say that I don’t think anyone is arguing that women are more capable of making moral decisions than men. Those of us who are pro-choice believe the pregnant woman should be the only one to make a decision whether to continue her pregnancy because it is her body and her health that are affected.

              Thank you for discussing! Regards, Eve

  19. Pingback: Find your Attorneys and Lawyers » Federal Judge Tells Women Lawyers Not To Dress Like ‘An Ignorant Slut’ – ThinkProgress

  20. Just humorless people over-reacting, Judge. A female judge saying similar things about male lawyers (“take that suit out for pressing at least once a year”) might get similar reactionaries barking – but I doubt it.

    They are mostly too young to remember things like the bedroom setup of “The Dick van Dyke” show, two beds with a nightstand between, and compare to “Banshee” with extraneous nudity during sex between [young?] singles. They pretend to think the former is how things should be (while not realising it was supposedly avoiding over-stimulus, not ignoring, of sex), and you and I must be excoriated for admitting appreciation of those bouncing nipples (relevance or no) OR for pointing out that they are irrelevant, BUT ESPECIALLY for noticing them at all.

    They are mostly too young to remember things like the bedroom setup of “The Dick van Dyke” show, two beds with a nightstand between, and compare to “Banshee” with extraneous nudity during sex between [young?] singles. They pretend to think the former is how things should be (while not realising it was supposedly avoiding over-stimulus, not ignoring, of sex), and you and I must be excoriated for admitting appreciation of those bouncing nipples (relevance or no) OR for pointing out that they are irrelevant, BUT ESPECIALLY for noticing them at all.

    And yes, male attorneys could have been included – but the humor would have been largely lost (unless the post was a guest entry from a female judge). Or include the defendants!?! Yikes!

    • Care to explain the joke, John? I fail to see the humor in a judge not only dragging up a family spat that should have remained private, but also inappropriately admitting that he ogles female attorneys, and telling women to “get over it” when men are pigs and prudes. No, we don’t have to “get over it”. We can call them out on it, because if we don’t, things won’t change.

      Most of us don’t believe things should be like “The Dick van Dyke” show, and for you to claim we do is ignorant. What people do in their own bedroom is their business; in the courtroom, however, it should be about the law and the clients. Of course attorneys should dress appropriately. That’s a given. What you apparently fail to realize is that women are judged (pardon the pun) far harsher and easier than men.

      A male attorney has few choices in regards to his wardrobe, as the standard is a suit and tie; a female attorney, however, has to choose whether to dress to fit her body (which may lead people to think she’s advertising herself), or dress to hide her body (which may lead people to think she’s “frumpy” and is under-qualified). A woman has a very fine line to tread when it comes to professional attire, and it would be all too easy for her to be deemed inappropriately dressed.

      But no, let’s ignore the fact that large breasts make it difficult to wear some blouses, leading to men appreciating the view yet later admonish us for distracting them (because obviously we dress for men, not for any other reason). Let’s also ignore the fact that there are male attorneys who appear in court with unpressed trousers, wrinkled shirts, and unkempt hair, because obviously cleavage and calves are far more distracting than messiness. And hell, let’s throw in some stereotypical cattiness from female clerks, because that’s funny, right? Pitting “the sisterhood” against another woman is hilarious. But let’s not mention the fact that the judge should have addressed such behavior (if indeed it took place at all), as the court is a workplace, and should not tolerate any unprofessional remarks.

      The judge has his First Amendment rights like any other citizen, but he is in the public eye, and should therefore be more considerate of what he says outside the courtroom. The judge’s blog post was not about “an old guy’s sense of decorum,” but rather about him exercising his male privilege. Self-deprecation (calling himself a “dirty old man”) does not excuse inappropriateness.

  21. Pingback: Legal Cheek » Judge’s blog telling young women lawyers how to dress sparks global media storm

  22. When I began reading this thread, all I could think was how easily some people get wrapped around the wheel. A story or parable only works if it is believable, and it is only believable if it’s grounded in common experience. An example:

    When I was in law school, one of the professors wore the same outfit every damn day: blue oxford shirt, khaki pants and boat shoes. Even though I worked in bars throughout law school, and was damaged for this 8 a.m. class, I figured something was up by the fourth class. Naturally, I asked around–there were no answers. “That’s what he does,” was the common response.

    That was not satisfactory, I needed an answer. It was unusual behavior that required reason. Being older than the others, and far less demure, I took action, I asked him:

    Me: What’s with the uniform?
    He: UCC?
    Me: No, the clothes.
    He: Oh, I find it’s less distracting for students if I dress the same every day. Think of it this way: if you speak to someone who is wearing a uniform, you typically listen to what they say. You don’t get distracted by their appearance because they always look the same. That is what I try to accomplish.
    Me: I get it.
    He: By the way, I’ve been waiting 20 years for someone to ask.
    Me: Did you ever think they might be wondering why you dress the same every damn day?

    Is that any better? Does the message get through that when people are distracted, they don’t listen? Of course not, because some of you say the professor is a nut, some say he’s a genius, some say I must be telling a fib. Still others say “UCC?” Nothing is common,

    Maybe a literary reference. The basic rule of fiction writing is to suspend disbelief–the author works to make his hand invisible. When done properly, it’s magic; when not, it’s a manual. That’s the role of the trial lawyer. We take ourselves out of the picture as much as possible–we aren’t the story, the story is the story. That’s why we roll to trial wearing one of our half dozen blue or grey suits, each. We do this because we don’t want to distract from our message for our client. We know the guy with the bolo or bow isn’t being heard, as the judge or jury is wondering “who dressed this guy?” And if they are wondering, they aren’t listening.

    For sure, there are those more flamboyant; those that don’t tow the line of conformity. We all know that, except in their mind, they lose.

    So, how can some of you quibble with RGK? Does his story convey the message? Of course, because it has commonality. We have all seen the young, sexy young female attorney trying vainly to press her case. She isn’t heard. It isn’t sexist; it’s human nature.She stands out in a place where success depends on not standing out. She distracts from her message, just like the guy in the bow or bolo.

    Why is the example young? That’s easy-if she’s attractive to distraction, she must be young. By 35, all of us, regardless of gender, look like shit. Maybe it’s the stress of trial work. Personally, I think it’s the faces we make when we ask, “what’s this fucknose talking about, sanctions?” Then again, it could be drinking.

    Don’t believe me? The next time you have a trial, if you try cases, look around. Crappy is how we all look. Crappy is the standard. So, if you are going to do trial work, look like crap, but make sure you have a stack of blue and grey suits. The jury might just listen.

  23. Pingback: The top ten things I learned from being a (fill in epithet of choice) « Hercules and the umpire.

  24. Pingback: Jenny P Andrews | Rule for everyone everywhere: Wear what you want.

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