Wednesday, December 9, 2009


  1. I caught the tail-end of Barbara Berg on cspan books this morning, and will definitely buy her book. I'm so thrilled to hear that I'm not the only female in America who is aware of the gross inequality in work, wages and opportunity that still crushes American women and denied them the ability to be self-supporting.

    I have been an attorney for almost 28 years, graduating magna cum laude and working primarily in business and real estate litigation. When I first got out of law school, women in law were still a relatively new development. The firm I clerked in, for example, told me that they had only had one female clerk before me, and she didn't work out because she burst into tears in some business meeting with a client. I always heard these types of urban myths, about women who burst into tears. Yet in 28 years of practice, I have never seen a woman lawyer (or a male one) cry in a meeting or in court.

    These urban myths were embraced by the so-called progressive males along with the conservative. For example, there was one large labor law firm in San Francisco that represented unions, and the head of the firm openly bragged that he never hired any women attorneys -- they just weren't tough enough.

  2. In the community where I now practice, women are systematically excluded from the practice of law unless they work in family law (divorce), elder or poverty law (where you can't make a living).

    On the bench, women are held at between 15-18% of the positions, and that has remained steady for at l4east 15 years. Last year they hired 6 new commissions (baby judges) -- 5 white males, one female. By continuing the exclusion from women in equal numbers on the bench, the judges are essentially signalling to the local law firms that it is OK that they do not retain or promote women.

    Women are also excluded from the male breakfast groups, lunch groups, golf outings, and poker games held by judges at their homes, to which only male attorneys are invited. These social associations give rise to countless referrals and business opportunities from which women are excluded. Needless to say most women trying to work as attorneys will either starve, marry well and leave the field, or leave law and go into some other line of work.

    In response to the "disappearance" of women from law after about 5 years out of school, popular magazines write articles claiming there is some compulsion among women to stay home and bake cookies, decorate and nest. When men are excluded from work, nobody claims it's because they wanted to stay home and bake cookies.

    In the political sphere, women have been reduced to reproductive rights and child rearing issues. The fact that women continue to be denied opportunity, and to be paid significantly less than men in the same jobs, is simply not an "issue" in our politics today. When I was first hired out of law school, I was thrilled to have the job and opportunity, and the salary sounded fine to me. But within about 4 months I got a 20% raise with no explanation. It turns out that I had been paid 20% less than the male new-attorneys were paid, and when the office manager found out she told the partners they had to raise my salary or they might get sued. I was not told any of this at the time. I was the best-qualified candidate with the highest GPA, but because I was female I was automatically paid less.

    I don't know what the answer is. I don't know why the Senate and House aren't half female. I think women have been bludgeoned during the past 20-30 years, beaten down, and violence and threats against women have become daily occurrence. The younger women see the often dismal outcome of their mother's efforts to have a "career," and they elect to try to avoid the same struggle by marrying somebody with money so they don't have to work, or by going into a traditional "female" job so they can avoid the attacks from men.

    I guess the feminist movement from the 70s failed to inspire working class women, or to embrace their daily concerns, so never grew to gain national power. And of course they were ridiculed and demonized. I think that underneath it all, most women understand that they are second class citizens. But they need leadership and support to assert their rights. When even their own husbands or partners and children do not support them, it's tough to take a stand against the world.