I bought my first suit during my second semester of law school. I needed to wear it to make an oral argument before three judges at the Intermediate Court of Appeals for my appellate advocacy class. I waited for my next paycheck and went to Ann Taylor for the first time in my life. I was only going to be able to buy one suit, and our dean told us that for job interviews, women should wear a skirt suit in classic colors like black and gray. So that’s what I bought: a beautiful black skirt suit. I loved it, and I looked amazing in it. I felt powerful and confident. I bought some sheer black nylons and black heels with a pointed toe, as well as a pearl necklace and earrings set (fake, I think? I don’t know a lot about pearls, but I bought the set at Ross).
I spent around $250 for everything, which was a lot for a single mother putting herself through law school, but I felt like a million bucks in that outfit.
My grade in that appellate advocacy course would be determined by the quality of the brief I wrote in support of my client and by the quality of my oral argument. I did not do well on the first draft of my brief. Law school writing is hard, especially when you have a background in journalism and creative writing. But I worked at mastering the structure of legal writing and improved my brief. I practiced my oral arguments multiple times in front of multiple people.
On the day of the oral argument, I felt prepared. I felt confident. I had done the work. I was ready, and I looked professional and polished.
I don’t remember anything about being in that courtroom, except that at the end of our arguments, one of the male judges told me I sounded like a “Valley girl,” and then I tried unsuccessfully not to cry. I was prepared for any question about the case, but I was not prepared for that. It was incredibly painful to work so hard and to be so proud of myself, only to have my intelligence and preparation reduced to a stereotype.
I heard a lot about how I shouldn’t take it personally — that kind of stuff happens all the time to women.
I wish I could tell you that I had some quick comeback. I wish I could tell you that I put him in his place and left the room with dignity, but nope—I stood there unable to speak while tears fell down my cheeks. I felt completely diminished while the other judges and the professor scolded him and assured me I didn’t deserve that.
After the moment passed, I came up with all the best retorts. Talking about it with friends and family, I heard a lot of, “You should have said…” and lots of advice about how I shouldn’t take it personally—they told me that kind of stuff happens all the time to women.
My mom said that women with blonde hair have to wear their hair back in a bun to be taken seriously. So that’s what I did from then on.