Monday, September 7, 2009

Panting for Equality

When I was a law student I worked as a summer clerk (now called summer associate) at a large LA law firm.  One of the senior partners there was a bastion of Democrat politics but also liked his women lawyers in skirts, not pants.  I was told to wear skirts to the office when he was going to be there and since I never knew when that would be I wore skirt suits all summer.  

That was 1983.  At some point during my career as a lawyer it became completely acceptable to go to work and eventually to court in pants suits.  At first, you could only wear them in state court but eventually you could also wear them in federal court.  Some judges in NY still prefer their women lawyers in skirts, I learned last summer when I went to NY for a state court trial and my outside counsel (both women) wore skirts to court. Ironically they were both partners in the same firm where I was advised in 1983 not to wear pants to work.  These women typically did wear pants and were amused by my story but nevertheless thought it prudent to wear skirts to court for the particular judge trying our case.

I get a bit of a chill when I see women wearing abayat, chadors and burkas because I fear that the attitude about how visible women should be in society will overtake western countries as well as those who follow Sharia.  So today I was appalled to read that the Sudan sent a woman to jail for wearing pants as a violation of Sharia law there.  I mourn for my sisters in those countries and hope that the progress we women have made here in the US and other countries (I remember German Chancellor Angela Merkel cringing and pushing W off when he inappropriately tried to massage her shoulders at a G-8 meeting) will not be lost. I cheer for the Forbes list of 100 most powerful women (with a special hoorah for our own Amy Pascal at number 60) and Diane Sawyer  (at 63!) becoming the anchor of ABC Nightly News, notwithstanding the skeptics of my gender who see the glass as half empty (or perhaps 97% empty in terms of media clout). I worry because people sometimes do not even see that women are the object of discrimination and have been historically in this country.  For example, all MEN were constitutionally guaranteed the right to vote in this country almost 140 years ago in 1870.  Women did not win the right to vote until 50 years later in 1920.  

The woman in Sudan today chose to go to jail rather than pay a fine for wearing pants.    She wanted to make a statement that she could honor her religion and her womanhood too by dressing in a manner that was modest, appropriate and her choice.  I hope we do not go back to those days when men tell us how to dress and what to wear so that we may move about in society that they run.  I feel we all need to be vigilant about these issues even though they seem trivial on the surface because they are symptomatic of a larger more dangerous view about the inequality of women to men.

No comments: