Diversity - Law Firms Martha Stewart: Just Desserts Or Gender Souffle

Thursday, April 1, 2004 - 01:00



When Martha Stewart was indicted, she imperiously dismissed the "ridiculousness" of the government's case.The jury soundly disagreed, finding her guilty on four counts of criminal obstruction of justice and lying to government investigators.


But I can't help but wonder whether the jury was judging Martha's personality as much as her conduct.Was her arrogance as offensive to the jury as the underlying wrongs for which she was indicted?


If so, would the jury have been as offended if we were talking about Marty rather than Martha?Did gender affect, consciously or unconsciously, how Martha's arrogance was perceived?


We live in a world in which there is still a double standard.What is seen as laudably assertive in men is often judged as unacceptably aggressive in women.


The Donald is very aggressive on The Apprentice, and he is loved for it.Would the ratings be as high were we talking about The Martha?


When a man takes control, he is in control.When a woman takes control, she is controlling.


But Martha is more than just controlling.She is emotionally cold.


To some, this makes her an "ice princess."But is it fair to expect everyone to be as warm and effusive asKen Lay?


Perhaps the jury would have been more sympathetic if Martha were more sympathetic.What if the jury saw Martha as more like a mom and less like a man?


But if Martha were more nurturing, would she have gotten as far as she did?Wouldn't she have been seen as too nurturing to rise to the top?


Men who nakedly embrace power tend to be revered. Women who exhibit the same qualities are often vilified, a lesson which Marie Antoinette and Leona Helmsley learned the hard way.


Of course, it's not just about gender.It's also about celebrity.But what society celebrates in men is different from what it celebrates in women.


All of this is not to defend what the jury found Martha did. There is no defense to the indefensible, if the jury was right.


But that is not mutually exclusive from feeling ambivalent about the outcome. When the jury described their verdict as a victory for the little guy, I can't help but focus a little on the "guy."


Martha Stewartdid what almost no other woman has been able to do.She created a billion dollar empire based on her own personal brand.


I don't like Martha Stewart's personal brand.I never did.


But I am sad that she fell.I am even sadder that so many seem to delight in her fall.

Jonathan A. Segal is a Partner in WolfBlock's Philadelphia office.
Author's Note: This article should not be construed as legal advice or as pertainingto specific factual situations.