Picturing Justice, the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture

Megan Terrell
is a 2nd year student at Louisiana State University Law Center

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When is the last time a man is depicted as lacking in confidence and questioning his abilities in his role as an attorney? I personally cannot think of such a thing ever happening. Male attorneys are instead depicted as having the utmost confidence in their abilities; I might even go so far as to call it a "God-like" complex, although this is usually seen as heroic.

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by Megan Terrell

As if the depiction of women lawyers in the media hasn't been bad enough, Fox recently introduced a new series into the mix, Girls Club. This hour long drama, although only one episode into its first season, which is hopefully its last, is morally repulsive to say the least. I was not only deeply offended by the show, but also extremely disappointed. The executive producer/writer turned what could have potentially been a great topic and television show into a professional women's worst nightmare. The amount of respect women attorneys get now, which is often times very little, has been amazingly lessened in the mind of any male who happened to watch the show.

Girls Club attempts to tackle the trials and tribulations of three up-and-coming female associates in what is perceived to be a medium-sized law firm. Jeanne, Lynn, and Sarah, the three main characters, are roommates who attended law school together and most recently work together. The first episode tackles several hurdles that women professionals often must jump during their careers, most of which are handled inappropriately by the show.

First, Jeanne is sexually harassed by one of the male partners in the firm. She is hugged, touched, fondled, asked out, and treated in an altogether demeaning fashion. The partner's initial advances are shrugged off by the character, who by the end of the show is extremely distraught and in tears. The partner is of course a married man. Although sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality women must sometimes face, television shows have a tendency to play down the seriousness of the crime. It will be interesting to see how Girls Club deals with the situation during the next few episodes. I can only hope it will be handled in a more tasteful and serious manner than the encounters of the first episode were; I personally won't know as I doubt I will tune in to Girls Club next week.

Second, Lynn is portrayed as a somewhat incompetent lawyer who lacks confidence in her professional abilities. For instance, she is seen at the beginning of the show writing and rewriting her opening statement, and then practicing repeatedly for her roommates/colleagues. She appears nervous and unsure of herself. Later, we see her practicing again in front of the bathroom mirror, and again looking flustered and frustrated. I do recognize that attorneys, both women and men, are often nervous before courtroom appearances, especially their first courtroom experience, and that these routines are commonplace. As a second year law student myself, I can usually be found in front of a mirror the day before I am due to give an oral argument. However, male attorneys are rarely, if ever, shown second guessing themselves. When is the last time a man is depicted as lacking in confidence and questioning his abilities in his role as an attorney? I personally cannot think of such a thing ever happening. Male attorneys are instead depicted as having the utmost confidence in their abilities; I might even go so far as to call it a "God-like" complex, although this is usually seen as heroic. Lynn's goal in the first episode is apparently to not let the men get the best of her and is made clear by her dialogue with a male partner, "If you want to make me cry, it won't work". She says this on the verge of tears after getting lectured on her courtroom mistakes.

Finally, and most appalling, the women are seen throughout the show gossiping, bickering, and complaining about their fellow employees. This is often done in an office or room with the door wide open so that everyone can be made aware of their unprofessional conduct as if it is expected. They refer to the male partners as "dicks" and the female partner as a "praying mantis". It is as if women cannot accept the hierarchy of the workplace and must find a way to belittle others in a higher position in order to make themselves feel better. In fact, the women are supposed to be lower on the totem pole because they are newly hired associates, fresh out of law school. Everyone must start somewhere, but in order to climb the ladder of success one must work hard and be professional, not bitch and complain. And I should point out that most women are quite capable of climbing that ladder, as capable as their male counterparts, but one would not know this if their only encounter with women attorneys was the portrayal of them on television and elsewhere in the media spotlight.

In Girls Club Sarah is shown whining and squabbling with another female associate, not one of the three main characters. She is upset because the partner chose the other woman to take the lead in handling a new case, a case that Sarah claims she deserves because she brought in the client. The partners see the other associates as the better attorney for the job; however, Sarah is convinced she was tricked and swindled out of the job. This portrays women as petty and unable to accept when others have proved themselves to be more capable than they are.

In fact, the most disturbing part of the show comes when Sarah confronts the other associate about her suspicions of being sabotaged out of the job. She rants and raves for a minute or two and then shockingly calls the associate a name-[a negative slang which is unfortunately used by some when referring to a lesbian, but which I have more respect than to use myself]. She quickly apologizes, "I'm so sorry. I don't know where that came from. I mean, I love homosexuals." This is a poor attempt at a punch line and an extremely insensitive way to handle a delicate topic. The use of this word during the show, which has hateful and violent connotations in the real world, is used in such a way to show that professional women are unable to accept defeat. Although the writer may have intended other messages from this dialogue, it was done in a much too disgusting way that it portrayed nothing but stupidity and ignorance. In reality and in spite of what some may think, women are not this immature. But is does suit the media to portray us as such for ratings, while at the same time portraying professional males as heroes and people to be respected.

In sum, Girls Club portrays women as bickering, incompetent, emotion-driven sex symbols who can't keep their personal attitudes outside of the office. When defeated, women must resort to name calling and "bitching". This, I hate to inform the general public, is not the way most women handle themselves professionally. We are every bit as capable as out male counterparts to function civilly in a professional environment, despite how the media likes to depict us. I would dare to challenge writers and producers to create a show in which reality might actually become truthful on television.

Posted November 26, 2002

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