Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England

When I told my mum about this week’s blog she said she wasn’t going to read it because it sounded too 'woke'. So the bad news is this piece of writing is not even endorsed by my own mother. The good news is I can say anything I like about her. Kids, if you are reading this, Gran is 70, not 21 like she tells you.



I want to talk about legs. Not Zayn Malik’s legs, or Joe Biden’s legs, or Ed Sheeran’s. Those legs mostly get used for things like walking and don’t get talked about much at all, unless they are physically injured. I want to talk about the other kind.

A paralegal - a law graduate looking for a training contract- has recently joined us. Before she started, she asked me about the dress code. Because I was aware that she would have no money, and having been in this position myself, I said something like 'business attire but don’t worry too much'. When she arrived on her first day she was the smartest person in the office. I noticed, because it proved to me that she wanted to make a good impression. Also, as you know, I like work clothes. I wondered where she got her jacket. After day one, I reflected that she had worked hard, asked interesting questions and been polite and articulate. The receptionist’s review of her was simply this:

'Legs up to her armpits!'

Despite, like Bridget Jones, being someone whose legs only come up to here *gestures to hips*, I literally had not noticed her legs. I tried my best to recall them. She was quite tall, so logically her legs would be reasonably long. I think she had been wearing flat shoes and black tights. So why was this the extent of the receptionist’s review of our young, intelligent, smart, ambitious, female member of staff? When I thought about it more, I recalled another colleague talking about a young secretary- our only young secretary- just by reference to her leg length.

The 'everyday sexism' in my office isn’t directed by men towards women. It is directed by women towards other women. Women who may pose a threat. Obviously, when I say 'a threat' I mean a fictitious threat that these women have invented in their own heads. By reviewing someone based not only on their looks but by a specific and inconsequential aspect of their looks that they have little control over, they are reducing them to body parts and (to spectacularly mix my metaphors) keeping them in a box.

You see it in the tabloids all the time. Men, and women currently in favour with the press (read: Kate Middleton), are allowed to 'step out' or simply 'go' somewhere. Everyone else 'flaunts their endless legs' or 'puts on a leggy display' or 'flashes their toned pins'. You may recall the absolutely horrific headline I refuse to repeat that involved the then Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister meeting for talks but being reduced to four legs in sheer black tights. Makes my blood boil.

Why does it matter, my mum said, if you are saying something nice? Because the words you use are important. The receptionist might think that the paralegal was getting to grips with the IT quickly on her first day. The tabloids might all agree that Carol Vorderman is good at maths, or that Taylor Swift is a prolific songwriter. But you need to say it for anyone to know it. And in 2021, in a world where Instagram has £1.3b users but where we use a lot of energy talking about how we want the gender pay gap to close and to have more diverse equity partners, maybe it is time to stop commenting on colleagues’ appearances at all.


*Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article


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