Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Above the Law" on women in law and law schools

In the past few days, a former student has forwarded me two recent items from Above the Law: A Legal Tabloid. Both are about women in the law--one about law practice, the other about law school.

The first speculates about how the recession may be good for women lawyers, which runs counter to conventional wisdom. Here's a short excerpt, which I love:
The demise of the billable hour. For women, many of whom have worked efficiently for years and been punished by the billable hour system, it means being evaluated on quality and efficiency, rather than time. And that can only help.
The second reports on apparent gender bias at the Cardozo Law Review. Amazingly, not a single female law student was elected to their editorial board this year. One of two women who just lost the election to be editor in chief writes:
I believe the journal does have a problem with gender bias in elections that we should address. It was striking that, for the second year in a row, the executive board does not have a single female member. It also stands out that, of all the editorial board positions with input into the article selection process for both the Law Review and de novo, not a single position is held by a woman.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Women, the Movement & Poetry

I just purchased a book of poetry at the L.A. Times Festival of Books entitled Poems from the Women's Movement.  I anticipate great reading - I've only read one poem so far.

What I'm wondering about is the picture on the cover of the book.  It's a picture of women, arms linked, protesting in the streets for their rights.  First, I wonder, where has that spirit gone?  True, one might say women are now using the rights they've gained by protesting in the streets and protesting in other, perhaps more elegant, ways in boardrooms, on faculties, et al.  That is, the women who protested in the streets remember where they came from and are now taking the next step in moving the movement forward.

I think the problem lies with my generation of women, never having protested in the streets and taking advantage of the rights we now have without understanding that we are part of an ongoing struggle, being comfortable with what we were born to.  It's dangerous because one has only to look at the feminist rifts in society to see that awareness and subscription of my generation to an ideology of struggle is vital to addressing those rifts properly.

The next thing I'm worried about from the picture is that I see primarily white women in the picture.  I can locate one woman of South Asian or Near Eastern descent and one African-American woman with very light-colored skin in the picture.  That seems to be it for minorities.  Aside from my personal issues with race, this, I think is worrisome.  First, I remember when I was growing up middle-class in an upper-class neighborhood with serious developing racial rifts, I personally, though I benefited from the progress made primarily by white American women, thought some, if not all, of those women (through reading sketchily representative articles and encounters with white women of accomplishment I found cold) were racist.  It made me view feminism askance.

I don't think this is as big a problem as it may seem, as I've grown up, attended great schools of learning and realized that those who are part of the feminist movement are actually a multicultural group of women, including myself, brought together more by belief and ideology than the color of our skin.  More specifically, I've found that the feminist movement, as it exists today, if it ever was, is not racist.  That is, those minorities who have an inclination towards feminism will find on exploration that they are welcome to the movement.

It is still a problem though, with respect to those who do not have such an inclination, with those who cleave to tradition or the world as they find it.  I am speaking of the female ethnic minority in America who will see a picture like I see on the cover of my book in a textbook and, wavering between tradition and that first step toward an assertion of progressive womanhood, decide, based on some buried negative experiences with white women, perhaps, that no, the feminist movement is not for me.

Maybe I am just speaking about myself, as is inevitable if one writes long or short enough, and there's not that much to worry about, since I obviously found the women's movement in the end.  Or maybe I am also speaking for the new generation of female, primarily Asian and Latina, immigrants, and this is an issue that should be addressed.  How does one bridge the distance between a feminist movement that is certainly, mostly educated and immigrant women?  How do we rescue the meeker, bitter spirits who will not rise up in indignation without a helping hand?  How do we do that without taking on the guise of that very authority that is offensive?  I have known enough of hatred to say that, yes, if not met on equal ground, I, or one, will bite the hand that feeds.

One way is the academic's way.  One writes books, hopes that eventually the right women will find the articles and books.  But the right women?  Are there wrong women?  Is this a movement that carries the unwilling along in its wake, or is this a movement that requires full-involvement, or at least full subscription, of all women?  

To tell the truth, I don't have the answers to the questions I'm asking regarding how to bridge the gap between an educated movement and its publicly-schooled, if at all, potential participants who are struggling as it is to find a place for themselves in American society.  What does one do?  Picture books?  Feminist grade-school history books?  Seminars for teachers providing interesting curricula?  Is all this happening already as I write?

Admittedly I am getting older by the day, I don't have a lot of room to meet negativity from others in my life, and I am comfortable with the women's movement as I find it.  But I do remember who I was and fathom who I could have been, and there is a part of me unwilling to abandon that child or young woman to the whims of society and personal choice.  I also know as a participant in the women's movement, if only academically, that, yes, this is a movement that ultimately demands full-subscription of all potential participants.

Anyhow, the question of how to reach non-believers is a question I face, in my head, on other fronts besides the feminist front.  Complacency is the killer.  Pamphleting to the curious is the last resort.  Between where we are and where we might end up, there must be more actions than those we are taking.  On this front, as on the other fronts I consider, we have one last thing, when it comes down to it, in our favor.  There is in each of us a seed of indignation in the face of oppression.  My hope lies in the personal knowledge that I always was indignant, as an Asian-American woman.  To reach that seed of indignation and address its rational concerns without becoming, at least too obviously, the oppressor again is, I think, where feminism is headed.  It all comes down to numbers in the end.

You are what you wear?

That seems to be the suggestion of Rachel Swarns' piece in the New York Times, at least when it come to Michelle Obama. The story's headline is "First Lady in Control of Building Her Own Image," and its first several paragraphs are entirely about how Mrs. Obama has asserted herself regarding what she has worn in cover photos for several recent magazine issues. Here's an excerpt:
[Michelle Obama] insisted on choosing her own dress (a sleeveless, magenta silk number) and using her own hair and makeup stylists for the glossy photograph splashed across Vogue’s March cover. This was nothing new for Mrs. Obama, who has pointedly controlled her look on the covers of People, Essence, More and O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. Editors at Essence, who suggested colors, styles and accessories, said her staff did not call to acknowledge their overtures. Editors at More said they were dumbfounded when, after painstaking negotiations, Mrs. Obama showed up at the photo shoot with a different dress from the one she had promised to wear.
Later in the story, Swarns reports on other ways that Mrs. Obama and her staff work at controlling her image. This image control seems largely about putting the First Lady's "domestic foot" forward first. As a student in my Gender and the 2008 Election seminar wrote in a blog post a few months ago, this might be thought of as "strategically taking the beaten path."

I just wish Swarns hadn't led with the clothing thing, but maybe that's what sells papers--even when you're the NYT.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Some women are lonely

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she is, anyway, in the context of the United States Supreme Court. Other women at the top of their professions probably feel that way, too. Glass ceiling and all that ...

Justice Ginsburg's characterization of herself as "lonely" is one part of this piece by Maira Kalman that struck me as worthy of note. The piece is now No. 2 on the NYT most emailed list. It includes many interesting lessons/insights for "baby lawyers" (indeed, all lawyers). It's part philosophy, part art, part practical politics. It's funny, too.

Don't miss the last slide/piece of Kalman, where the author/artist asks her 92-year-old aunt, "What is the most important thing?" The aunt answers, "self-confidence."

Which reminds me of Sarah Palin, and posts here and here. Maybe Sarah came to teach all of us some things. Of course, so did Maira Kalman! And Ms. Kalman makes the learning a lot more fun, with great art, too (but I already said that).

Monday, April 20, 2009

A plea for the United States to help Afghan women, and others persecuted there

Read the op-ed piece by Nader Nadery and Haseeb Humayoon in today's New York Times. It calls for the U.S. government to expect progress toward democratization in Afghanistan, and it begins with examples illustrating the courage of Afghan women:
[C]rowds of women in Kabul this week who protested a new law that restricts their rights ... demonstrate unbending courage and resolve for progress. They don’t fear much — except that the world might abandon them.

That is why President Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan policy speech last month and his administration’s related white paper are worrisome: both avoided any reference to democracy in Afghanistan, while pointedly pushing democratic reforms in Pakistan.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Afghan women fight back

See Dexter Filkins' story, "Afghan Women Protest New Law on Home Life." It appeared on the front page of the New York Times today and follows up on this story about new Afghan laws permitting marital rape. Here's an excerpt from the more recent report:
About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.

It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.
Also, don't miss this editorial from yesterday's New York Times: "Women, Extremism and Two Key States." The two key states are Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Here is a link to an earlier, more heartening news report out of Afghanistan.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bad news re: Afghan family law

Read the New York Times story here, including a report of President Hamid Karzai's commitment to scrutinize the laws, which permit marital rape. Here is a short excerpt:

Human rights officials have criticized the law, in particular for the restrictions it places on when a woman can leave her house, and for stating the circumstances in which she has to have sex with her husband.

A Shiite woman would be allowed to leave home only “for a legitimate purpose,” which the law does not define. The law also says, “Unless the wife is ill, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”