Welcome to R/V October 2011: The Legal Issue

Welcome to the R/V LEGAL ISSUE! We are beyond thrilled with the response and popularity of last month’s POP CULTURE ISSUE—we’ve been linked, quoted, and shared from NYC to Beirut—and readership has grown to numbers that exceeded even our highest hopes! Most importantly, we are having so much fun conceptualizing and creating a dialogue that appeals to a WIDE RANGE OF FEMINISMS and the issues that affect us both historically and everyday.

At RE/VISIONIST, we strive to encompass feminism in its most complex form and appreciate it for what it truly is: multi-faceted, diverse, frequently political, sometimes superficial, often hostile, at-times humorous, and above all, the good fight.  WE [as feminists] are just as variable and diverse as feminism itself and our readers are no exception. Just as there is no single most-important feminist argument, there is no one-way to write about feminism.

This month brings us to the litigious-side of inequality, or rather, institutionalized racism and sexism. Law is arguably the most powerful vehicle for social change—and that can work both ways. Revisiting monumental Civil Rights cases such as Loving v. Virginia, while celebrating New York’s legalization of gay marriage, can make it even harder to comprehend present-day (yet seemingly archaic) legal battles. Even more upsetting is the actuality that gendered and racial inequality exists WITHIN the legal framework—and that a lot of those serving to preserve “justice” are some of the most bigoted-people out there—making it even harder to know whose side the law is really on.

That being said–R/V is proud to feature a law review from co-Editor, Amanda Seybold! We’re also proud to welcome Brianna Leone and Emma Staffaroni to the R/V family as web-editors and columnists–you can see from the weekly links, this month’s articles, and the gorgeous editorial pics why we’re thrilled to have them!

Sexism, like any inequality, has several faces—from Pat Robertson to Britney Spears. Sometimes, it’s as blatant as pay inequity and other times it is so embedded in our understanding of how things are that we don’t even notice. This is why we have to work to cover as many bases as possible; we have to include—not exclude—to keep fighting the good fight.

 

{. . . and it IS the good fight.}

xx

Caroline

The Legal Issue:

{ENJOY!}

Reproductive Justice: A Timeline by Emma Staffaroni

Emma Staffaroni is a first-year Master’s candidate in SLC’s Women’s History program. A ruthless feminist, she slays haters with her pen and then eats them for dinner, covered in cheese. She also enjoys basset hounds, trains, and red wine.

Full disclosure: I am 23. That means that up until the last couple of years, most of the fighting for women’s reproductive rights in the United States took place before my time. When I first learned about Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case affirming a woman’s right to choose, I was exactly the same age that my mom was in 1973: fifteen. Fifteen is a big age; it is a tempestuous time. It is, in my opinion, a bit too late for a young woman to be learning about the right to choose. Unfortunately, 2003 was right smack in the heart of the “Bush years”, so even though my Connecticut public high school dodged most of the abstinence-only education craziness, our health class still shimmered with overtones of SEX IS DIRTY AND WRONG. My mom and I are thirty years apart, but as fifteen-year-old women we got similar messages from our public education system.

For me in 2003, learning about some court case that legalized abortion thirty years ago might as well have been ancient history. “Cool,” my simple, teenage brain thought. Glad they took care of that! Of course it wouldn’t be until my Women’s Studies classes in college that I’d understand why abortion had been illegal in the first place. Up until around 1930, abortion practices were often crude and dangerous, leading to thousands of deaths. (For that reason, many prominent feminists and suffragists were against the practice – not for any kind of religious reason, but because it was a dirty, scary thing that killed women.) When practices started to improve in the 30s and 40s, mortality rates dropped significantly.  Sure enough, the Supreme Court justices who ruled on Roe in 1973 reasoned that with modern medicine’s advances, legal barriers were no longer appropriate or relevant.

My mom was in college when the Hyde Amendment barred all federal funding for abortions. I was in college when, in the midst of health care reform debates, Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Representative Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) tacked onto the healthcare bill an amendment in their names that would have blocked any federal funds from covering a health plan that includes abortions. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment passed in the House but was shot down in the Senate. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of an onslaught against women’s choice starting with the mid-term elections in 2010. The parallels of history are uncanny – I can almost hear “The Circle of Life” playing.

For lots of women’s rights activists, the politics of the reproductive justice movement feel like a nauseating merry-go-round – in part because it rests on a paradoxical notion of freedom. Roe v. Wade granted the right to choose based on the Constitutional right to privacy. “Privacy,” of course, gets redefined and circumscribed anew with the changing demands of society, technology, and the state. The 1992 ruling of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey is a lesson in this; by evoking language of public health, the court created space for state intervention in women’s experience of reproductive freedom and autonomy. The Casey ruling, while affirming the right to an abortion, also created cracks in the foundation through which state regulation and limitation could seep.

But this tension between individual freedom and state intervention is problematic for many feminists because it vilifies the state’s role in protecting women. Indeed, the entire Bill of Rights is about keeping the government’s nose out of the individual’s business. And yet in so many ways, this view of freedom – the hands-off kind – is precisely that which has eroded the welfare state and placed barriers to President Obama’s full vision of universal health care.

Nevertheless, bodily autonomy is the most fundamental and basic of all rights for a woman. It recognizes her personhood and separates her childbearing capacity from any child-rearing imperative. By isolating the act of abortion from its context, i.e. the woman involved, the anti-choice movement “keep[s] women slaves to their biology,” in the words of Ellen Willis. “They do not concede women the right to an active human existence that transcends their reproductive function,” she writes.

Gloria Steinem takes it even further. In an interview in 2004 before Bush was re-elected, Steinem presaged the destructive effects of another four years of right-wing government. When asked about Bush’s evocation of Christian law, Steinem responded that “pro-life” is not really about religion.

I think the deep reasoning here… is to control women’s bodies as the most fundamental means of production. Because unless you control that process, you can’t make the decisions about how many workers a country needs, how many soldiers, what races should reproduce more than others. The ability to control reproduction is one of the two pillars of nationalism. The other is the ability to control territory. I think this goes very deep and really does not have that much to do with religion. …The cloaking of political imperatives in religious language is the problem.

What the right to bodily autonomy ultimately represents, then, is women’s full participation in democracy. If we don’t own our bodies, then we don’t own our lives. It’s as simple as that.

No matter how far we’ve come (or haven’t) it is crucial for women of my generation to know what women of my mother’s generation witnessed firsthand. It is vital that we see the links between the kinds of attacks on women’s autonomy that followed Roe in the late 70s and early 80s, and the rehashed attacks on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers we face today. If we want to prevent the current anti-choice movement from pulling the historical rug out from under us, we need to remember our history and keep fighting for it. We must understand why we have the rights we have, and also why they are still in jeopardy.

So, with a little help from the Historical and Multicultural Encyclopedia of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States, I’ve put together a timeline of some of the cornerstones of the reproductive justice movement since the 1960s. Starting with Griswold v. Connecticut and leading up to the aforementioned Casey ruling, this will hopefully provide a longer-view of the circuitous route of justice for women in this country. If we want current fifteen-year-old young women to, thirty years from now, still hold the same status as women do today, we best know our history.

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) – This case came about when Estelle Griswold, the executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, opened a birth control clinic. Three days later she was arrested for dispensing contraceptives to a married couple. The Supreme Court invalidated this law by a majority of seven to two, ruling that a constitutional right to privacy protected the right of married couples to use contraceptives. Many amendments in the Constitution created “zones of privacy” that protect one’s home, one’s person, and one’s possessions. These zones would be key for the eventual Roe ruling.

Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) – This was the step between Griswold and Roe that further articulated privacy. It affirmed the reproductive autonomy of every individual, married or not. This meant that the individual was to be “free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

Roe vs. Wade (1973) - In this ruling, the Supreme Court stated that the rights recognized in Griswold and Eisenstadt are “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” This decriminalized abortion in all U.S. states. With developments in modern medicine the laws against the procedure, which had been in place to protect women, were no longer necessary. This decision also established the trimester principle.

Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth (1976) – This was the first Supreme Court ruling on a state law that attempted to restrict and discourage abortions in the years after Roe. The restrictions in this law will sound familiar, as many states have rehashed similar and more draconian laws today. Danforth succeeded in defining viability of the fetus as “when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life-support systems”; the case also succeeded in requiring abortion providers to keep records for public health officials. Aside from that, the Supreme Court struck down Danforth’s demands that married women must receive the consent of their husbands, which is a term that has held since.

Hyde Amendment (1976)- This amendment prohibits the use of federal funding for abortions. This affects Medicaid recipients, federal employees (1983), disabled women on Medicare (1988), military personnel & Peace Corp volunteers (1979), Native American women (1988), residents in D.C. (1977), and women in federal prisons (1987). There were a few exceptions: when the woman’s life was in danger, when two physicians certified that the woman would suffer long-term damage, and when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. In 1981 this changed to only include exceptions for preserving the woman’s life. In 1993 it expanded to include pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Some states fund abortions beyond the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas City v. Ashcroft (1983) – This case reaffirmed the fundamental right for a woman to obtain an abortion but also clarified the boundaries of that right. The Supreme Court ruled against the Missouri statute that all second-trimester abortions had to be performed in a hospital; six out of nine justices found this unconstitutional. However, the Court ruled in favor of Missouri’s other restrictions, including the most highly contested “two-physician rule.” Missouri did not even require two physicians to be present for childbirth, yet this rule was seen as an “accepted medical practice,” so the Court upheld it. A similar setback was the parental consent ruling, which the Court upheld. Minors would be forced to get parental consent unless they could prove maturity and receive a “judicial bypass.” Ashcroft is seen as both a victory and a setback for reproductive rights. It granted a lot of latitude for states to impose restrictions on the abortion process.

Global Gag Rule (1984)- Ronald Reagan instated the Global Gag Rule or “GGR” which denies family planning funds to any foreign NGO that – with its own non-U.S. money – provides legal abortion services and counseling, gives information or referrals about safe abortion, or even takes part in a public debate that improves access to services.  This has been overturned and reinstated, back and forth, between conservative and liberal presidencies. Most recently, Obama overturned the GGR in 2009.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) – Many believed that this would be the case that would overturn Roe, but it did not. Instead the conservative majority in the Supreme Court weakened the ruling but kept it in place. Southeastern Pennsylvania had instated the 24-hour waiting period, as well as the mandated counseling services. For the first time, the Court accepted the notion that the state had an interest in protecting “the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.” This limited the scope of the Roe rights by introducing the “undue burden” standard. Put simply, as long as the state’s intervention does not burden the woman’s right, it is legitimate. (Of course this can be interpreted in myriad ways!) This opened the door for a number of state regulations, most recently the “TRAP” laws or Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers – laws which actively target abortion-providing clinics with regulations that block their funding and force them to jump through hoops.

 {Battles on the horizon} – Since the 2010 mid-term elections, abortion providers in states like South Dakota and Indiana have faced unprecedented opposition. Women in those states may know that their right to an abortion exists at the national level, but it doesn’t seem that way in their own backyards. For an up-to-date and thorough look at the full extent of regulations across the United States today, check out this comprehensive graph. It is organized by type of regulation: from parental consent requirements, to waiting periods, to mandatory counseling and ultrasounds, to blocked insurance funding. These attacks not only degrade women’s basic healthcare access but they also undermine the legal system. As citizens we want to have faith in the courts, but more often than not individuals with power (e.g. conservative governors) get the last word. What’s next for the reproductive justice movement? What will this graph look like thirty years from now?

Ten Questions with Caroline Biggs

{This month features pioneering attorney and politician, Sissy Farenthold.  The first official female Vice-Presidential Candidate for the United States and notably included on President Nixon’s Enemies List—Ms. Farenthold is a renowned feminist-icon, educator, and heroine of the Second Wave Movement. }

  1. Describe yourself in one word.

Remote.

  1. To date, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Surviving.

  1. What or whom has been your greatest source of inspiration?

Pain. 

  1. What quality in others do you find the most admirable?

Forgiveness.

  1. What quality in others do you find the most deplorable?

Unwillingness to forgive.

  1. What is your favorite text?

Cry, the Beloved Country [by Alan Paton].

  1. If you could spend one day in history, when and where would it be?

. . . with Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

  1. Finish the thought: “Feminism is . . .”

Equality.

  1. What is something about you others would be surprised to know?

Suppressed gaiety.

  1.  What are your words to live by?

Hope.

{photo courtesy of texaslegacy.org}

Miscegenation: A Law Review

Until the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, interracial marriage was legally banned in a few states in this country.  Although we may look back and say to ourselves how can that be? That was so recent! the changes in legal thinking that made eradicating all miscegenation laws from the books were actually quite remarkable.  Rather, it was not so much that the legal arguments changed, it’s that the opinions of the Justices in charge of making the decisions changed, and luckily for the better. On the brink of the Court’s landmark Loving decision, two law professors wrote companion pieces of sorts, which were published in the Virginia Law Review.  Alfred Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent” takes a strong stand in defense of banning marriage between the races, while Walter Wadlington’s “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” argues that anti-miscegenation laws violate the Constitution and should be struck down.

An issue found in both articles is the lack of attention given to black female agency, in the sense of a black woman’s autonomy over her own fate, particularly as it comes to marital choices.  This is an aspect of analysis that is largely ignored by the authors, who choose instead to write about the laws from the perspective of the white male.  This may stem from a number of factors—including the professions of the authors (lawyers), the drafters of the laws (white men) and a general lack of case law brought to the courts by black women.  These constraints should not automatically yield an assumption that female agency may be ignored, however.   Unfortunately, the professors do not approach the issue of miscegenation law from the position to view it as an inability for a black woman to maintain a certain status in her life.  Rather, they approach it from the male dominated stance, which, while not necessarily lessening the importance of the analysis, does limit it in some respects. 

Alfred Avins, “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”

One of the best parts about being a student of history is stumbling across that one document that really makes the reader stop, sometimes gape, and really say “huh.” [The one piece that unlocks not only the writer’s personal beliefs, but also the sentiments of the era.]  That, for this reader, was Professor Alfred Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent,” which was published in the Virginia Law Review in 1966.[1]  Not only does the article offer incredible insights, albeit one-sided, into the Congressional debates over miscegenation law during Reconstruction and the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—but it also serves as an invaluable insight into the legal world during the 1960s at a time when conservatives were doing everything they could to preserve the racism that was so prevalent in the South. This racism was ultimately eliminated, at least as far as marriage was concerned, only one year later with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia.[2]  In many respects, the article serves as both a primary and secondary source, making it a true gem among the scholarship about miscegenation law.

The article itself was written and published while Loving v. Virginia was making its way up to the Supreme Court.  On July 29, 1966 lawyers for the Loving’s had submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court asking for the Court’s intervention on a Constitutional question.  Professor Avins’ article was published in the November 1966 issue of the Virginia Law Review, and the state of Virginia filed its response briefs with the Supreme Court on November 18, 1966.  The Court announced that it would hear the case on December 12, 1966 and oral arguments were scheduled for April 10, 1967.  Given these factual circumstances, it is no wonder that Professor Avins, a law professor at Memphis State University, used such strong language in the opening paragraph as “it requires no special perspicacity to see that anti-miscegenation laws are in jeopardy.”[3]  Right from the start Avins makes it clear that the article, published in the very state whose anti-miscegenation law was coming under attack, was a vehement defense of the states’ right “to draw distinctions between the races.”[4]  Despite the fact that it is nearly impossible for Avins to have researched and written the entire article in the amount of time it took for the Lovings’ case to get from the Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court, it is clear that there was enough discussion surrounding the Lovings’ case that Avins article, while not necessarily a direct attack on the Lovings’ case, was in many ways a response to the potential change in the legal and political environments.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) was groundbreaking for its representation of interracial marriage

Avins’ main argument is that the Fourteenth Amendment was never meant to cover marriage between the races.  After chiding the Supreme Court for overstepping its boundaries and noting that the Court should not have the final say on the scope of a Constitutional provision, he turns to the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, arguing that “once the original understanding and intent of the framers is ascertained” any further questions about the scope of the Amendment should be laid to rest.[5] Avins looks to transcripts from the Congressional debates over the Reconstruction amendments in order to reach his conclusion about the true scope of the Fourteenth Amendment.  He also notes that “present day attacks on these laws involved no new constitutional principle, and it cannot be said that they involve any questions to which the framers did not in fact address themselves in 1866.”[6]  If that’s not a blatant criticism of the Lovings’ case and potential threats to miscegenation law, what is?

In order to make his case, Avins uses block quotes from many of the Senators and Congressmen who were debating just how many rights to extend to the newly freed slaves after the conclusion of the Civil War.  These quotations themselves are invaluable, particularly as they pertain to female agency, to the study of U.S. miscegenation law as a whole.  Avins argues that miscegenation was only even considered because it was a rhetorical tool used to try to stir up trouble around the proposed extensions of rights to the African-Americans in the 1860s.  One of the arguments against the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection was the fear among Democrats that enfranchising black men would lead to more interracial marriages.[7] Along that same line, the Congressmen argued that the Fourteenth Amendment would not touch state miscegenation laws because “the white person [is] equally denied the right to marry the negro.”[8]  This logic is precisely what the state of Virginia relied on, and the Court rejected, in the arguments in Loving; Avins’ intention is clear: don’t rock the boat.

Looking at the combination of current events and historical analysis, Avins’ article becomes much more than merely a descriptive assessment of the Fourteenth Amendment.  It becomes an insight into a world that was on the brink of change and one law professor’s last minute attempt to maintain the status quo.

Walter Wadlington, “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” 

From the opining lines of Professor Walter Wadlington’s 1966 article “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” it is clear where Wadlington stands on the pending miscegenation issue.[9]  He calls Virginia a state “which regularly recalls with glowing sentiment the story of how one of her early white sons married an Indian princess” and notes that it is “with symbolic irony” that the state’s highest court reaffirmed Virginia’s commitment to strict legal codes against racial intermarriage.[10]  In what can only be considered the companion piece to Professor Alvin Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”, Wadlington examines the historical background of the law that was at issue in Loving, namely the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, as well as the ideologies that contributed to the changes in the law.

Wadlington starts his analysis as far back as he possibly could in Virginia law, looking at statutory law from what he calls the colonial period, noting that the first statutory ban on interracial marriage was probably recorded in 1691.[11]  He notes that the punishment for being found guilty of sleeping with a slave was banishment from the colony, but he does not push the idea further ideologically.  He does not include an analysis of why banishment was the favored punishment or even why there was a punishment at all. He does not mention that, as Barbara Fields would note, the act of sleeping with a slave essentially rendered the white partner a slave as well, thus blurring the line between slave and free, and between the races.  Perhaps as a law professor that never occurred to Wadlington.  It may also have to do with the fact that at the time of the article’s publication many still believed race to be immutable.

Wadlington’s historical journey continues through the “present” miscegenation statute, which was enacted in 1924 with very little fanfare.  He does spend a great deal of time contemplating what he calls “the Pocahontas Exception” to the bar on interracial marriage and relationships.  He points out that there was an actual exception to the 1924 Racial Integrity Act, which permitted marriages between white people and those who were “no other mixture of blood than white and American Indian.”[12]  He posits that this exception was meant to protect the descendents of Pocahontas and John Rolfe and leaves it at that.  What he does not do is make a connection between the somewhat privileged and troublesome position that the Native Americans have occupied in much of American law and race politics.  He sees no connection between this exception and the section of the Dred Scott case in which Chief Justice Taney directly addresses the issue of whether or not Native Americans are analogous to African Americans.  In Dred Scott Native Americans are held to not be citizens of the United States, but for different reasons than the African Americans, based on logic that essentially stems from class rather than race.  The same could be argued of this exception to the Racial Integrity Act, that where the act seeks to protect race, it is contradictory and really seeking to protect a privileged class.

After all the historical legwork, Wadlington finally gets to a discussion of the Loving case, which had been scheduled for oral arguments at the time of this article’s publication.  Not only does Wadlington put forth the arguments that would support overturning the miscegenation bans, he also debunks the pro-miscegenation statute arguments, most of which were set forth by Professor Adkins in the same issue of the journal.  In fact, he actually cites Avins’ article in his own footnotes.  If ever there was an illustration of the conversational nature of academia, it is with the two articles.  It almost seems that Wadlington is speaking directly to Avins with a tone one would reserve for a child who declares her intention to dig a hole in the back yard all the way to China.

This is most clear in the brief but elegant conclusion, in which Wadlington states that while “it is possible that the original miscegenation bans served a legitimate purpose at a time when Negroes were essentially an alien part of the community…neither can we justifiably perpetuate those laws under the changed circumstances of our world.”[13]  He clearly seeks to lay to rest the originalist argument that the framers of the 14th Amendment could not have meant for it to apply to interracial marriage and to further the belief in a breathing and adaptable Constitution.  He closes with a powerful call to the Judiciary, with what is perhaps the best line in the essay: “…the Supreme Court should not make it clear that bans on interracial marriage have no place in a nation dedicated to the equality of man.”[14]

{Loving photo courtesy of harpyness.com}
{Pocahontas photo courtesy of williamsburgprivatetours.com}

[1] Alfred Avins, “Anti-Miscegenation Law and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”, Virginia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 7, (Nov 1966), pp. 1224 – 1255

[2] Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

[3] Avins, 1224.

[4] Avins, 1224.

[5] Avins, 1225.

[6] Avins, 1226.

[7] Avins, 1230.

[8] Avins, 1232.

[9] Walter Wadlington, “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective”, Virginia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 7 (Nov 1966), pp. 1189 – 1123

[10] Wadlington, 1189.

[11] Wadlington, 1191.

[12] Wadlington, 1202.

[13] Wadlington, 1222.

[14] Wadlington, 1223.

Law, Order, and Sexism: Testimonials from the Law Firm

Emma Staffaroni is a first-year Master’s candidate in SLC’s Women’s History program. A ruthless feminist, she slays haters with her pen and then eats them for dinner, covered in cheese. She also enjoys basset hounds, trains, and red wine.

 

 

Behold, a great irony: sexism in the profession of justice. Re/Visionist asked a few women to share their stories of experiencing sexism within the legal profession. The anonymous women below have given their testimonies in order to raise consciousness about the complex (but straightforward) ways sexism can pervade the legal workplace.

I.

I worked in a law firm in Manhattan dedicated to women’s rights in employment. However, it was run by two men – that’s right – two men. All interns, administrative assistants, office managers, and attorneys at the firm were women. Although there were many women working at the law firm, the two head lawyers never allowed any of the hard-working female attorneys to be a partner in the firm.  They also treated their employees poorly – sometimes yelling and speaking condescendingly to the females. One of the attorneys started a blog and wanted those who contributed to use pictures of themselves at the beginning of each post. One intern felt compelled to participate but albeit uncomfortable about providing a photo because she felt her writing should stand alone. When she gave a photo of herself, he sent it back and requested a close up of her face because the photo was taken of her from “too far away.”

After about a year, I left my position as an administrative assistant after an argument between the head attorney and me about my disappointment in him not fulfilling in what he alleged to be.  He purported to be a feminist attorney trying to help women, but he treated his employees and his clients terribly and underneath his feminist mask he was just a patriarchal male attorney in lower Manhattan.

II.

When I worked at the firm there was (and still is) a dress code that was especially enforced for us underlings. The girls always got lectured if a skirt or pants were too tight, whereas the boys could pretty much do whatever they wanted. They would look all wrinkled and messy, and they never got chastised. Also tasks were delegated to us [based on gender]: girls were generally asked to do most of the filing (unless there was a huge amount and then the boys would help). Guys did more of the physical or technological stuff. Also some of our fellow couriers/service techs who were male would just expect us to do certain tasks, like copy jobs.

III.

We were at trial in New Jersey.  All of the attorneys and litigation support staff stay in the same hotel.  We had a holiday weekend and a few of the attorneys and staff went to the hotel bar for some drinks and appetizers.  Everyone had a little bit too much to drink, and on our way up the elevator back to our rooms, the lead attorney on our case grabbed my ass walking out of the elevator.

IV.

After graduating from college I decided to paralegal at a Manhattan law firm hoping to reach a decision on whether or not I wanted to attend law school. I found it interesting that a vast majority of the paralegals at my firm were women in their early-twenties who had recently graduated from top colleges. All of the attorneys, except one, were men. I once asked the head unit attorney why he only hired women and he answered that women were smarter and “more able” to get the job done correctly and efficiently. There is no doubt in my mind that women are smarter (kidding), but I took this to mean that women are non-threatening, especially when it came to prepping for court motions or depositions, and it made him feel superior.

During my first year at the firm I started to notice that younger women who dressed in tighter, shorter, more provocative clothing received bigger cases and more important tasks within the office. This translated into these paralegals traveling with attorneys to depositions and motion proceedings. Women were clearly not valued for their mind or their talents alone, but rather for their bodies and how they looked.

After rebelling against this stereotype for about a year and not receiving anything of great importance in terms of work, I realized that in order to get the leading cases or recommendations that I needed for school, or even just to have attorneys know who I was, I needed to step it up with my outfit choices and start taking pride in my appearance. I basically realized that I would need to work within this patriarchical system – something that I was taught NOT to do in my past Feminist Political Theory classes – to get what I needed out of my stint at the law firm.

As I started to confidently strut the hallways wearing more shoulder-baring tops, shorter and tighter skirts, and heels (ALWAYS heels- never flats), I was noticed by more attorneys in the office. Not long after I was placed on trial team and given more important and serious work to do. I was given more opportunities to travel with different attorneys and work on different cases. Despite the fact that I knew using my sexuality or gender to get ahead was ultimately wrong and against my beliefs, I figured I was only staying at this male-centric law firm for a couple years I would try to get what I needed out of this position. My lesson from this job is that no matter how many women are graduating from law school these days, the legal field is still very male dominated and misogynistic. Women are not valued for their minds alone, but most importantly, their looks. My intellectual capabilities were secondary to my attractiveness and appearance.

V.

Sometimes less really is more. On my first day of observations as a legal intern I had the opportunity to view a custody case in Family Court. Before the proceedings, the Judge asked me to introduce myself and describe my legal interests. At recess, opposing counsel approached and congratulated me, seemingly intrigued by my interests. After uncomfortably staring in silence when every facet of Small Talk was exhausted, he finally commented, “I hope to see more of you… and even less of your skirt.” That single sentence possessed more power than he could have envisioned. In several words, it undermined my past, present and future abilities. More importantly, it solidified my decision to pursue law.

 

We invite you to share your stories below in our comments. Let women know that they are not dealing with this alone.

intercontinental musings X kelly banbury

Kelly Banbury is a visualist, culturalist, and globe-trotter. She will be sharing personal photos from her side of the world exclusively for RE/Visionist every month. 

Preparation for opening day of Oktoberfest 2011.  I’m warmed up, well informed, and most importantly (in)appropriately dressed for the occasion!

Inside the Festzelt Tradition Tent in the historical portion of the Wiesn.  There are over 30 tents at the Oktoberfest, which can hold over 100,000 people at any given time.  Fest beer is served by the liter, and is brewed especially (strong) for the occasion.  You can also indulge in a variety of delicious traditional dishes and sweets (none of that deep fried twinkie/bubble gum/kool-aid ish), roller-coasters and rides.  In short, (the real) Oktoberfest is everything you expect it to be, but better.  And worse.

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(still) MUNICH 2011