Prudish jurisprudence?

A reader of the Soapbox sent me this interesting article about the furore created when a suit company ran a sexy ad in a legal magazine in the US. There are two questions arising from this:

  1. Is it appropriate to run an ad like this in a legal magazine?
  2. Is the ad demeaning to women? (The woman who appears to be seducing the man seems to be wearing nothing more than a suit jacket.)

To be honest, I would be a bit irritated if I had written an article for the magazine, and this ad was placed right next to it. This is because it would take attention away from my very worthy and exceptionally interesting article about resulting trusts and the ways in which they are so special. Many people might not even read my exceptionally interesting article because they had been distracted by this ad, whereas otherwise they may have been converted to the cause of the beautiful resulting trust! But if the magazine had put the ad next to that boring and turgid article on fusion fallacy, well, that’s a different story! I believe lawyers should be distracted from learning about fusion fallacy. What a stupid concept it is.

Other than that, I don’t see the difference between this ad and ones which I see in other kinds of magazines all the time.

Is the ad demeaning to women? First, I’m guessing I’m not a member of the target audience, because it doesn’t make me want to go out and buy a suit. I find the ad a little silly. Why is the lady only wearing a jacket? Isn’t she cold? Why do male models always have jaws like that? Those law books are awfully skimpy, aren’t they? Even skimpier than the lady’s jacket. What kind of law are these people practising where there are such skinny text books? Why did I never practice in that area? Maybe I wouldn’t need glasses if I had only needed to read short text books…

But secondly, what is the ad actually saying? The message is that if you wear this particular brand of suit, a sexy woman will seduce you. Is it such a bad thing to suggest that a sexy woman may seduce a man? It might be a bit naughty to suggest that it happens in the office, but that’s also realistic: such things apparently happen quite often. I was always blissfully unaware of the office scandals and relationships, and would then be shocked when someone enlightened me.

As the article in Slate above notes, it’s not clear who is the lawyer in the ad (maybe they both are, maybe she is, maybe he is). I don’t know that I’d really want my daughter to follow this woman’s example, but then again, if she grows up and seduces a sexy man at her office, I won’t judge her harshly. Such things happen. It seems to me that the woman is the one with the power in the ad, anyway. She’s the one who has the man by the tie – she’s “pulling the strings”.

As the angry bee has pointed out, the reality is that for some women, sex is a very powerful weapon in the workplace. It’s not a weapon I have ever really used. Well, to be perfectly frank, it’s not the best weapon in my armoury. I clearly remember the day when my sister was trying to teach me to flirt. “Look flirtatious!” she commanded. I looked flirtatiously at her and fluttered my eyelids. “Oh dear!” she said. “You look like a horse with a gall stone.” Even if I could flirt, I don’t think I would have done so in the workplace anyway, because as the angry bee also says, it’s a double edged sword which can attract both good and bad attention. I would rather not even open that can of worms, and I personally prefer to keep sex right out of the workplace.

But it is naive to think that sex does not enter into the workplace. Of course it does! Some people use it to gain power and influence, some people fall in love at work. One of my old bosses was telling me that he had met his current partner at work. “I’m a workaholic”, he confessed, “and if you spend so much time at work with a colleague and very little time at home…well, that’s how I fell in love with my partner.”

So although I am a feminist, I don’t think this ad is demeaning to women. In fact, I think it raises topics which should be discussed and considered by lawyers: sex, work and power.

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3 Comments

Filed under feminism, law firms, sex

3 responses to “Prudish jurisprudence?

  1. iain

    Hi LE
    The ad seems quite innocent to me and it has more than just a hint of wit about it . I can tell you that as a bloke the idea of a beautiful woman in just a mans Jacket (or shirt) does have an effect on me. This is an ad in an American magazine and lets be real the yanks are fine with guns and death but sex is like the ultimate taboo. But more than anything the hooha shows that to many female lawyers have no sense of fun or Humour. We all know that every one who is in the public eye will dress to impress and part of that impressing is to present yourself as attractive to the opposite sex.

    There is something that is just a bit schizophrenic about feminist attitudes to explicit or suggestive images. For instance Chrissie runs pictures of naked men in her blog but has also decried adds that have semi naked women in them. I can’t help but wonder what her reaction would be if I was to run pictures of naked women in my blog; some how I think I would be denounced for exploiting women. I am happily married but I am honest enough to admit that I still look at the menu, still for a moment or two vicariously enjoy the idea that an ad like the one in the magazine presents but as I have not worn a suit or tie for about 15 years I can then let it go with a wry smile.

  2. Legal Eagle

    It’s essential to have a bit of a sense of humour – otherwise life is no fun!

    You are right about the Yanks having a funny attitude to sexual images, but being fine about really violent images. I’d prefer my daughter to see a naked woman on telly than someone being blown to bits with a machine gun.

  3. Pingback: Breast is best « The Legal Soapbox

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