WASH YOUR VAGINA!
I know. It’s so … crass.
Well, here’s the story. I was in court for a sentencing calendar. The same white male heterosexual defense attorney who had once suggested I stand on my head (I was wearing a skirt suit that day, ha-ha) was limping due to an injury. I held the door for him and his white male legal intern on my way out.
“Thanks,” he said. “It’s been difficult getting around.” I made some sort of sympathetic sound. I probably nodded and inquired about his injury.
He explained how he’d been injured and how long recovery was expected to take. “But you know,” he told me, “I’ve been limping around the office, and a colleague finally told me to stop feeling sorry for myself, wash my vagina, and get back to court!”
This particular man self-identifies as a progressive, a committed civil libertarian, and as someone who works tirelessly on behalf of his clients—who are, almost without exception poor, and, often as not, people of color. He truly cares about his clients, about due process and equal protection. But I guess he didn’t realize his comment, in addition to its sheer vulgarity, belied some of his closely held beliefs about half of all people: the ones with the vaginas.
It would have been easy to march back to my office and fume in silence. Instead, I spit out, “When you say things like that, you demean women. You make us out to be less than men.”
Stammering, he apologized. He did look contrite. “Don’t say it again,” I cautioned him. As I walked down the long hallway of the Superior Court, I wondered, Why does he equate female genitalia with weakness? Why does he equate women with weakness? Why did he feel comfortable making that comment to me? In front of his intern?
I didn’t seek out this opportunity to educate a colleague on his unconscious bias. But the occasion presented itself, and despite the obvious discomfort, I am pleased that I spoke, and that he seemingly listened. Maybe he kept on saying things like that; maybe he kept on believing that women are subordinate to men. Dirtier than men. Weaker and more cowardly than men. But perhaps he left court that day a little bit enlightened, and I hope he stops and thinks before using crass, gender-specific and demeaning phrases, particularly in a professional setting.
This blog post was authored by Rebecca Zipp who is a deputy district attorney in San Diego.