Legal Magazine

Sorry, American Bar Association, I Am Not My Hair

Posted on the 26 July 2012 by Jslubinski @jslubinski

Today the American Bar Association’s online news site brings us a hard-hitting piece of journalism on . . . . women’s hair.

Well, not just any women’s hair, thank goodness. The ABA has not transformed overnight into an In Style knock off.


In an article entitled, “Is Long Hair a Bad Choice for Older Career Women,” Debra Cassens Weiss suggests that women over forty who wear their hair long “are making a mistake.”

Admittedly Weiss is quoting from a post at The Careerist, an American Lawyer Media site featuring today, directly beneath the hair post, an article called “Corporate Lawyer Pens Cookbook About Weeds.” Weiss goes on to quote the author of The Careerist hair piece, writing that Hillary Clinton’s hair has been “growing like an unruly potted plant” and that she looks “haggard and rumpled.” According to Weiss, The Careerist spoke with “a California entertainment lawyer and a law firm consultant” for further information. The lawyer – who, for the love of God, should be outed and immediately shunned – said that for older women, “[e]ven if the hair is long, glossy, and well-maintained, the juxtaposition of aging or—to be politically correct—’mature’ facial features and youthful hairstyle doesn’t work[.]”

Yes, Weiss is only highlighting a post featured in another online publication. But Weiss is also writing for the American Bar Association. And she should know better.

I’d be less thoroughly pissed off if Weiss offered some response to this ludicrously vapid piece of reporting. Surely there is someone out there capable of offering a more reasoned commentary on the current Secretary of State for the United States than that her hair has gone vegetative. But if there is, the ABA is not interested in finding him or her. He or she will remain, alas, forever unquoted.

And I point this out because it follows rather closely on the heels of another, admittedly more local, journalistic gaffe here in Maryland. Last week, the local legal paper, The Maryland Daily Record, published a piece on its online blog, On The Record, which discussed opportunities for women on the bench. I can’t link to the article itself because it has been summarily pulled from the site in response to a wave of criticism from women lawyers and judges, and to the paper’s credit it has since apologized. The objectionable material included the use of a photo of the Spice Girls. I am fairly certain – but correct me if I’m wrong, certainly – that if United States Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm is formally elevated to the bench of the United States District Court for Maryland, the Daily Record will not illustrate its coverage of the event with a photograph of Justin Beiber.

I attended a bar association meeting recently and the Spice Girls conundrum was the topic of conversation in a way it really hasn’t been since Posh became Victoria Beckham. And one of the points I heard made repeatedly was that there is a real disconnect between older women lawyers and their younger, Gen Y counterparts when it comes to issues like these. The author of the Spice Girls post appears to be a member of the Gen Y camp. And she is not a lawyer, although she wrote her article under the Maryland Daily Record masthead, so presumably she had some oversight. I have heard some calling for “sensitivity training” for younger women, as if to be a woman demanding respectful treatment is to have a disability. Sensitivity isn’t really the issue. Real world experience, and familiarity with history, is.

Perhaps these younger women have never experienced the pleasure of appearing at opposing counsel’s office for a deposition, only to be invited to set up their court reporting equipment in the conference room. Or of being called “sweetheart” or “hon” (an old Baltimore favorite) or “babe.” But I worry that in fact they have, and that instead of being taken aback they take it in stride. As if being condescended to is a cost of doing business as a female.

Is it? Should it be?

Is there a point at which the members of a traditionally disadvantaged class are expected to put down their weapons – assuming they ever wielded any to begin with – and make nice? Is that what is happening here?

I contemplated closing this post with a reference to the Lady Gaga song, “Hair,” in which she chants repeatedly that she is “as free as [her] hair.” And that would be cute, possibly, and would give me the opportunity to include a Lady Gaga picture, which might just drive some traffic to this page. And screw that, because the willingness to do and say anything in the name of driving traffic is quite possibly a major part of the heretofore described disconnect. Attention is not self-justifying.

I sincerely hope that in the race to appear on the first page of Google, we are not sacrificing what we learned in other, older, and less virtual contexts.

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