Gender Policing at Work

Lavender Law,  presented by the National LGBT Bar, is right around the corner. It will be held in Washington, D.C. August 4-6, 2016.

I presented a workshop,  “Butch Dress-for-Success,” at last year’s  conference during which I spoke to people who, like me, must navigate their careers while presenting gender expressions that do not conform to society’s norms. Like me, they have to decide every day just how much of themselves they will allow the world to see while being prepared to suffer the consequences and reap the rewards of doing so.


During our discussion, we had a pretty charged conversation about gender policing  on the job. An air of bittersweet affirmation permeated the room as time and again, a workshop participant related tales of how she or he bravely presented a  nonconforming gender expression in their daily lives while also confronting insults and discrimination because of their bravery. For instance, one masculine-of-center woman (women who transgress traditional notions of femininity) explained how mock jurors told her that she was not feminine enough and admonished her to do “something” with her hair, wear more feminine suits and shoes, and that she would be taken more seriously if she were prettier. 
We also tackled the difficult issue of balancing our own need, and right, to be just who we are, while also zealously advocating on behalf of our clients. What do you when a judge has a known policy of kicking lawyers out of his courtroom because they fail to adhere to his arcane and misogynist dress code? There is no single solution for us because our experiences and jobs are all so different. One thing was clear, however: as a lawyer representing a client in that judge’s courtroom, you must put your client’s interests first. That could mean that when appearing in that judge’s courtroom, you wear the required black skirt suit. It could also mean that you send a colleague in your place to appear before the judge so as not to compromise your own identity and ideals. It could also mean that you seek to have the judge recuse himself or that you request a change of judge. All of these options have consequences. How you choose to proceed, how you balance your own interests against those of your clients (which should come first), and against the political and social landscape that you may be trying to change require each of us to do the hard work of figuring out what works best for our own lives and careers.We agreed on two things that afternoon: (1) we must discern responses to gender policing that make sense for our individual lives and (2) the legal profession and society’s notions of gender, including how gender and professionalism intersect, must change. Inclusion at Work proudly promotes and pushes that shift. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and to sign up for our newsletter so that you’ll always how we are promoting and pushing change.

A version of this post originally appeared on Takeia Johnson’s personal blog, The TJ Way.