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James Comey: Feminist du Jour?

Vivia Chen

June 13, 2017

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James Comey is making me feel much better about being a woman.

I mean, isn't it refreshing that a 6-foot, 8-inch hunk of a guy can be reduced to a girly-girl?

I'm talking, of course, about how helpless and confused he seemed when Donald Trump kept hitting him up for some one-on-one time. During his recent Senate testimony, Comey revealed his dread about being alone with the most powerful man in the world—like how he implored Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave his side at the White House, and how his heart sank when he learned that Trump had arranged to dine alone with him. And then there was his catatonic response to Trump's demand for loyalty: "I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed."

Like women all over America, my reaction was, "Hey, I know that drill." Still, it was weirdly comforting that a big, strong guy like Comey is no better at handling a manipulative, slimy guy in power than we women are. So score one for gender equality!

What's more, he's getting the third degree, just like women who've publicly accused the boss of bad behavior. Members of Congress and pundits jumped on him, pummeling him with questions—like why he didn't rebuke Trump immediately or report Trump's actions to the Attorney General? And why did Comey take Trump's calls if he found the president's actions so offensive.

To women who've worked in law firms, companies or any other institution dominated by men, those questions are awfully silly. If you're being harassed or bullied by some muckety-muck (probably male), does anyone believe that the tables will be turned by calling him out? As for running to the management committee or HR, hah! Especially if the abusive boss is a big rainmaker or key exec, it doesn't take a genius to figure out who's expendable. And, yes, the hapless employee will continue to take the boss's calls because, well, he's the boss. (In Comey's case, that boss happens to be the president of the United States.)

I love it that Comey has shown his damsel-in-distress side. It should make everyone much more empathetic about the power inequities in the work place and how women are often caught between a rock and a hard place.

But there are limits to the Comey/woman analogy. Being a male (and white) gives him credibility and dignity that's often denied to women in similar situations.

For one thing, no one is suggesting that Comey is nutty and slutty—which is what happened to Anita Hill and the women who've charged Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and Trump of sexual assault. (Okay, Trump did call Comey a "nut job" but at least he didn't mock Comey's anatomical parts.)

Granted, I don't think there were sexual sparks between Comey and Trump (though it did seem like Trump was out to seduce him with a romantic dinner in the Green Room). But even when sex isn't at the heart of a complaint, there's always a sexual element involved when the threat comes from a woman. In fact, the fastest way to knock down a woman who jeopardizes male authority is to paint her as a woman scorned. (Remember how Bridget Anne Kelly was portrayed as an unhinged, jilted woman by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher's controversial investigation report on Governor Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal?)

Make no mistake Comey will get slammed—hard—by Trump and his surrogates. He'll be brutalized and he'll be called a liar, a coward and a leaker.

At least he won't be labeled a crazy bitch.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist

 

 

Comments

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I think Mr. Comey, on a level playing field where he is not subordinate to anyone, can hold his own.

He will be fine; he showed a human side to the FBI that we never see (remember the FBI TV show starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. back in the '70s; his character did not come across as a touch feely type of person).

Bravo! Excellent analogy.

This post is inspired!

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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