Saturday, September 11, 2010

One for All and All for One?

Since our class discussion of whether pushing the equality of men and women was a correct strategy, I have continued to ponder the wisdom of this route. Reflecting upon much of what we have discussed about women in the legal profession, I can barely imagine what it would have been like being a woman in any profession 40-50 years ago. Nonetheless while many things continue to stay the same, I also think we fail to sometimes see how far we have come.

A good example of this is found in the show Mad Men (which I truly love). Perhaps it is the clothes, the characters, or the dialogue; but for me, the real draw of the show is seeing how much has changed but also how much has stayed the same. It should come as no surprise that last weekend, as I sat on my couch with a glass of wine watching Peggy Olsen being degraded by her boss Don Draper, that I started yelling at the screen fuming that he dared to speak to a woman that way. What might surprise you, however, is that a few minutes later I cried as Peggy and Don, both individuals cornered into a box that barely contains them, found a mutual understanding in the innocuous gesture of holding each other’s hand after a long night of defeat.

The two characters have much to lose - one is a man who is pretending to be someone else, and the other is a woman trying to balance her femininity with a masculine career. But the commonality struck between the two of them in the final scene is perhaps indicative of what we seek as feminists– an understanding and way to have equal standing. Much has been said about what equality actually means, but in essence isn’t it something that requires mutual understanding?

My contention isn’t so much that things are perfect and that women are on an equal footing, but rather that putting down what we have achieved so far only limits the movement. The law is an gauge of how our society evolves, and in the case of gender equality, the mere fact that legislation like the Fair Housing Act or the Equal Pay Act exists serves as a reminder – whether prescient or not – that our society does value this type of equality. Moreover, if we didn’t have judges and lawyers – both women and men – deciding cases like Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, I believe that the Peggy Olsen of today would still be a secretary forced to listen to sexual insults without much choice. Denying the work that women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg did in the past de-legitimizes what equality women do have right now. To me, it fails to capture the many rights that I have today that people like Peggy Olsen did not.

Laws such as Civil Rights Act are pieces of paper, but they are pieces of paper with force that reflect this concept of mutual understanding. We might not yet have come to the point where there is absolute understanding (reflected in the fact that some court precedent does exist to deny our equality), but it is enough to demonstrate that men and women are on a more equal standing than any other time in our short history. Nevertheless, I maintain that this is not necessarily a time to rest, but since we are on a more equal footing a time to push for laws to intertwine with the societal value of equality in a more tangible way.

1 comment:

Bijorn Turock said...

This is definitely not the time to rest. I do believe that we must push for stronger recognition when it comes to equality in both the public and private spheres. The Courts have taken steps in the right direction; however the current standard of review, intermediate review, I find to be insufficient. I think having a standard of Strict Scrutiny would be a better way to close the gap between men and women. Perhaps with the changes on the bench recently, there will be some hope in changing the standard of review.