Sunday, February 19, 2006

Civility Procedure

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If you want to feel better about your life, check out the "Wanna Get Away?" story on today's AOL News and elsewhere about freshly-minted lawyer Dianna Abdala's "bla bla bla" email to a potential employer turning down his job offer. This email, which he circulated to teach her a lesson about the necessity of civility and small communities, has apparently gone around the world, and has even been featured on Nightline. Reading the exchange, I understood why she was initially pissed off at this guy, though I can't condone her incredibly rude and entitled act of dismissing their email exchange with the "bla bla bla" response.

Apparently the guy offered her a job as a criminal litigator, which she accepted, but then he later reneged on the salary offer, claiming he had decided to hire two attorneys instead of just one. She decided to break up with him, er, quit, by email, and he retaliated by calling her immature and unprofessional. Clearly, neither one of them cares much for mediation and alternative dispute resolution, a conclusion made obvious by her strategy of lecturing him about the necessity of contracts, and his retaliatory threat to forward her email to all his friends to teach her a lesson about collegiality in a small community.

Did these guys sleep together? The nastiness on both sides is downright weird. Tired of the exchange, she writes "bla bla bla" when he threatens to expose her, and he forwards her email everywhere. He shook his dick at her and she called his bluff. So he whacked her with it, as hard as he could. Now the world is laughing at her, not him.

Their story is now a parable about professional conduct and email. But it could just as easily be a story about misunderstood sexual and gender dynamics. First, it is about how careful you need to be if you are a woman not to piss men off. Second, it is about how careful you should be if you are a man to remember that women, especially young women, get talked down to all the time, and that it is a sheer effort of will for most of them, every day, not to kick the next man who disses them in the balls. Would he have have cut her salary and expected her not to quit on him if she was a guy? Would he have called her immature and unprofessional? Would she have been so indirect as to quit by voicemail and email? Blown him off with such withering contempt, like he was a geek at a bar who didn't get that she was too cool to date him?

She was young and angry. He was older and angry. She was pretty. He was the boss. She quit. He lectured her. She didn't take it, so he threatened her. She was too stupid to see how the world works. She can't even tell the difference between "sew" and "sow." Now the world is laughing at her, not him.

And there's the lesson.


lil'rumpus said...

I am out of my lurking closet....I saw this email exchange someplace, too. The paranoid side of me immediately began to run over email exchanges that I have had and recalling with grimaces how many of those might be quite unsettling if circulated around the world.

I think that you are spot on with the gender politics (in addition to acknowledging that gender is not the only issue that is problematic) here. Not only do women now have to worry about how parochial judgements about their ephemeral behavior in face-to-face interactions can come back to haunt them (like having evaluations of one's personal relational choices be brought to bear upon hiring decisions), but the chilling effect is also more severe in more permanent versions of communication.

Of course, there were simply bad professional communication choices made in the email exchange, but I take to heart the implicit warning in your post about how the category of the professional obscures the gendering inherent in how civility gets constructed within that context.

btw--i think your blog is excellent.

Sfrajett said...

Thanks for de-lurking! I love your phrase "how the category of the professional obscures the gendering inherent in how civility gets constructed within that context." Well said.

Marg said...

I have to say, as a female attorney myself, I am really shocked at her behavior. I don't know if this really holds her up for ridicule, but she certainly has shown herself to be a terrible employee! I think this firm dodged a bullet by not hiring someone like this.

MaggieMay said...

Great post. The thing I have noticed about altercations over email is how quickly and absurdly they escalate.

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

I almost lost a committee member when I was trying to schedule my defense because he misinterpreted a lighthearted statement as a command. And then, just like in this case, the dick came out.

BTW, this is an excellent reminder of insidious gender dynamics in the professions. I see it all the time in my department, thugh it gets complicated a bit by the additional power dynamics of tenure and disciplinary hierarchies.

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