I know a female attorney, who doesn’t do as much work in court as she used to, but she was very good in court when she was there. She’s a lovely and kind person but I know that she can’t always be that person in her job. I know this because of the way her voice and demeanor changes when I hear her take work phone calls, and I know this because of a story she once told me about a potential client who came into her office. This would-be client had apparently seen her in court before, so when the receptionist offered to set her up with a consultation with an attorney in the office, the potential client looked over the receptionist’s shoulder and, pointing to my friend, said, “I want that bitch over there. I saw her in court. She gets shit done.”
I thought that was pretty great, and my friend’s ability to be a “bitch” when the situation calls for it is one of the things I admire most about her (as I am missing that gene, I often recruit my friend in situations that require that it). But I also recognized that in order to be good at her job, she has to be that way. She can’t sleaze and charm her way through her profession because she’s a woman, and she has to be taken seriously as a lawyer. A lot of very good female attorneys are probably thought of as “bitches,” while men who use the same approach are probably thought of as aggressive, tough, and competent.
I suspect that it can often suck to be a competent female attorney, and there’s no better example of that than Marcia Clark. Last night’s episode of The People vs. OJ Simpson gave us a glimpse into what Marcia Clark had to endure for doing her job. It was harrowing.
Most of us know the broad strokes of the O.J. trial — the Bronco chase, the glove, Kato Kaelin, the not guilty verdict — but many of the details have been lost over time. I had no idea what Marcia Clark was up against, nor could I have ever understood without witnessing it on my television how painful it must have been to sprint face-first into a immovable wall of sexism.
Did the things presented in the episode happen in real life? Yup. Did a cashier ringing up her tampons note that she’d probably be a pain in the ass in court the next week? Yes. Did she have to juggle custody hearings and babysitting duties while performing a job that gave very little leeway for family responsibilities? Yes, she did. Was Marcia Clark’s hair and clothing subjected to ridicule in dozens of newspapers, magazines, and tabloids every goddamn day? Uh uh (I even remember that). Did her ex-husband sell 15-year-old topless photos of her to a tabloid for everyone to see while she was prosecuting the Trial of the Century?
Yes, those things happened. And yes, she somehow managed to soldier on in spite of them. I don’t know how.
Meanwhile, Sarah Paulson — who plays Marcia Clark in the series — managed to perfectly capture the resolve, determination, and yes, “ambition” (that is not a dirty word, even when applied to a woman) necessary to continue the hurt that Clark had to swallow every time she saw herself being ridiculed on television, and the quiet devastation she felt when topless photos of her leaked. Nobody deserves that treatment, least of all someone trying to put a man in prison for murdering his ex-wife. But you know what? Marcia Clark put that lawyer face back on, she pushed down the hurt and humiliation, and she became the “bitch” the prosecution needed her to be, only to run up against a man with more fame, more money, more attorneys, better witnesses, and more resources than she had at her disposal.
Marcia Clark deserves an apology, she deserves our admiration, and she deserves our respect. Sarah Paulson, on the other hand, deserves a goddamn Emmy.