Women in the Legal Profession
Are female legal eagles the victims of discrimination? Despite the fact that women today are the majority of law students, feminist groups continue to claim that they are the victims of discrimination in the legal profession. Earlier this year, for example, the New York-based group Catalyst released a report called “Women in the Law: Making the Case,” which lamented that “women represent 15.6 percent of law partners and only 13.7 percent of Fortune 500 general counsels.” Adding to the chorus was the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women, headed by feminist law professor Deborah Rhode, which issued its own report charging that female lawyers are paid less, on average, than their male counterparts. And last week, similar sentiments were aired by members of the Women and Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association. As reported by Women’s E-News, the report claims that “women lack access to informal networks and key clients who can help them advance, the number of women in high positions such as firm partners is still low, their commitment to the profession is questioned, and they earn less than men.”
But a closer look at some of these reports’ findings suggest that individual choice — not sex discrimination — explains the leaking pipeline in the legal profession. Buried in the media’s uncritical reporting on the studies were observations about women’s decisions about work and family life that better explain the disparity in rates of male and female advancement. More than two-thirds of the women lawyers surveyed by Catalyst cited “commitment to family responsibilities” as a reason for cutting back on their hours worked; the New York City Bar Association reported similar findings. These personal choices — not sex discrimination — explain women’s slower pace of advancement.
Pay or Pandering in Maine?
Several news outlets reported last week that the University of Maine gave pay raises to 200 female professors “after a statistical analysis turned up salary inequities between male and female professors,” as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The pay raises were the recommendation of a joint committee of administrators and unionized faculty members, formed in the wake of a collective-bargaining agreement in 1999, and the expert brought in to aid the committee in their analysis, Lois Haignere, works closely with the American Association of University Professors, the faculty union. The report claims to have compared male and female faculty with similar qualifications and experience — granting raises only when gender appeared to be the only explanation for pay disparities. Yet in the wake of methodologically unsound “studies” on women’s pay and advancement in higher education, such as the report issued by M.I.T. in 2000, Maine’s decision warrants close scrutiny. Equal pay is a worthy goal; political pandering meant to satisfy misguided feminist notions of equality is not.
One Woman’s Bold Stand Against…Lipstick?
From the land of frivolous lawsuits: last week, the Christian Science Monitor recounted the tale of Darlene Jespersen, long-time cocktail waitress in Reno, Nevada. Ms. Jespersen is suing her employer, Harrah’s gambling establishment, in federal court, claiming gender discrimination because she is required to wear “mascara, lipstick, blush, and face powder.” Jespersen called these requirements “humiliating.”
Those of us who have endured the often-unpleasant experience of wearing a uniform to work feel some sympathy for Jespersen. After reading her story I flashed back to my days as a concession girl at my local movie theater, where I sported a bulky black polyester uniform, complete with vest, bow tie, and long-sleeved tuxedo-style shirt. Despite my entreaties for more comfortable and feminine attire (I argued unsuccessfully that polyester’s proximity to the popcorn popper was a fire hazard) my boss merely gave me a quelling look, noting — correctly — that employers had the right to require a certain uniform appearance of employees; even he had to wear a company-issued blazer with the theater’s logo emblazoned on the breast pocket. A little conformity is a good thing — even if it requires us occasionally to suppress our individualism. The same principle holds true for jobs, such as Ms. Jespersen’s, that require us to accentuate our feminine side. In a free-market society, women who dislike this requirement (standard in the entertainment and gambling industries) can find work elsewhere. Jespersen’s silly crusade against cosmetics is an example of the excesses of our country’s love affair with individualism and free expression. Hopefully, this trend will not gain the sanction of the courts.