Working for Justice

The Heightened Scrutiny of Hillary

It’s a bit after 9pm on Thursday, October 22, 2015.  I’m still at work.  I’m exhausted.  I’ve been working since about 10 this morning, and I’m feeling the weight of the day.  Even more, I’m marveling that Hillary’s eleven-hour ordeal with the Benghazi and the tedious-email-eyeroll-blah Investigation just wrapped up moments ago.  I’m googling (unsuccessfully), trying to figure out where this ranks in the pantheon of extended days of Congressional interrogation.

As a lawyer who often takes depositions and who also defends clients who are being deposed, I have witnessed first-hand the mental and emotional exhaustion that comes from the demands of an all day interrogation.  I warn my clients about how that exhaustion can lead to confusion, to unwanted and unregulated emotion, and – sometimes – to mistakes, to saying things that they don’t mean.  Hillary is unquestionably exhausted, and undoubtedly far more exhausted than I am.

I listened to the last few hours of her testimony – at least with half an ear, I was, after all, still doing about ten other things at work.  I didn’t hear her fumble.  I didn’t hear the exhaustion.  I didn’t hear unregulated emotion.  I didn’t hear confusion.  I didn’t hear mistakes.  I heard poise.  I heard patience.  I heard graciousness when she was interrupted (over and over and over again).  I heard an astounding mastery of details from long ago, a depth of emotion around the tragedy that was, and a careful focus and precision.  One might say she was downright Presidential.

One might also say she was a professional woman who – like all professional women including Carly Fiorina – is no stranger to the heightened and unfair scrutiny, the interruptions and mansplaining and everything else that comes with the territory.  In far too many workplaces (most), women have to do more, do it better, do it more efficiently, and do it while overcoming more challenges.  They also have to do this all with fewer resources and without taking advantage of the same things that men can rely on.  What a man can do without anyone batting an eyelash becomes an area of “significant concern” when a woman does it.

A classic example of this in workplaces around the country can be found in how men and women are judged differently when working from home.  The man who is not physically present in the office during work hours is assumed to be busy and focused, perhaps even going above and beyond to cultivate clients or build new business.  The woman who is not physically present in the office during work hours is assumed to be distracted by other things (family, children, her beauty regime) and often finds herself described as lacking in commitment or leadership because of her choice to work out of the office.  This is such a common theme in the cases that I litigate that it doesn’t surprise me when I hear it.

Except, it surprised me that I heard it tonight.  In the middle of a Congressional hearing.  No joke – Hillary got criticized for working from home.  Around 7:45pm Republican Representative Roby berated Hillary for working from home over part of the evening of the attack, suggesting that her choice to leave the office at some point that evening suggested a lack of commitment to the job.  Hillary responded by explaining she was working all night long.  She never went to sleep.  She was connected to everything she needed from home.  Because technology.  Nonetheless, the criticism continued.  Her commitment, her leadership, were denigrated.

Hillary had to do what so many women in that situation must do.  She had to hope that the facts would somehow transcend the profoundly unfair framing.  Because all she knew was what she had done.  It fell to Democtratic Represenative Smith to point out later that CIA Director General Petraeous also was at home and that he continued to work from home just as Hillary did.  However, Petraeous’ commitment to the job and the leadership he showed was not subject to the same scrutiny or criticism. Would that all my clients had allies in the office to point out the double standards to which women are so often subjected.

Also, this: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/10/clinton-v-the-benghazi-committee.html.

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP is a nationwide litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville, and Baltimore. We represent individuals against powerful interests. We act as a private attorney general in support of the private and public good. Learn More

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