I am one of the Boomer Women Who Personally Experienced Discrimination “On The Basis of Sex”

feature_ArtI just saw the movie,“On the Basis of Sex,” and cannot share the “wow” moment in the movie for me without spoiling the movie for you. I am one of the Boomer women who personally experienced discrimination “on the basis of sex.” I know in my heart there are millions of us, with as many different stories. Here is mine.

I grew up believing I could be anything I wanted, except President of the United States.  My Father would remind me that I was not born in America, so was disqualified from being able to serve.

In 1966, third year in college was the first time I experienced being disqualified from my dream and aspirations, “on the basis of sex.” My Father asked me how many women were in that class in the law school I was interested in attending, I answered it was probably around one to three women. My Father, who, from the time I was ten years old, said that I would have the opportunity to become the judge I wanted to be when I grew up, told me “women do not do that now. You will only be hired as a legal secretary.”

My Father was unfortunately right. You only have to see the movie to understand. In my long legal career, I met many legal secretaries, who, when the culture and climate were more accepting, went to law school. Most became outstanding lawyers,  joyful to have the ability to fulfill their aspirations, thanks to the lawyers, who with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, pioneered and paved the way.

So, when was I able to go to law school? I again wanted to apply after college, but circumstances and climate were not conducive to me personally. I was able to begin law school in 1981. Circumstances in my life, and culture and climate were right then. Seeing a newspaper article that law schools were enrolling fifty percent women precipitated my applying. My Father, who saw the same article, asked me, the next time we were together, if I was going to apply to law school now, as he and my mother would help with the children and anything else I needed. With gratitude and pride, I told him that I already applied.

Our law school dean met with each first year student. He asked me why I was in law school. I replied that I was going to be a judge, and I must complete law school first. He laughed and asked the real reason I was in law school. I told him that my previous answer is the real reason. My investiture as a judge was in January, 1997.

As a woman lawyer, I felt I was treated differently than and by male lawyers in and out of court. Women litigators (Lawyers to go to court as opposed to transactional lawyers who do not) were few when I started practicing family law. I dressed manly and even wore white shirts, a dark skirted suit mid calf, and a form of tie.

There is one incident I will never forget when I was a fairly new lawyer, mid 1980’s. I was appearing before a wonderful male judge with an outstanding reputation. The room was filled with male lawyers, probably numbering around high teens to twenty, and I was the only woman. We moved up until it was my turn to sit first chair to argue my case. As I was about to sit, the judge said, “Dear, aren’t you with the man who just left?” I responded, “Does that mean all of these men are together?” That elicited a chuckle from the men. I won my argument.

Up to when I mandatorily retired from the bench in 2016, I felt I was treated differently as a female judge. As a woman litigator and judge, one had to work harder and be thick skinned. In my opinion, the climate and culture have not changed enough.

I am not sorry I am retired in this time of contentiousness everywhere. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I taught a litigation course in my alma mater, in addition to my private practice, and still mentor new lawyers and judges. I worked hard to develop an expertise, in my case, family law. I am appreciative that I was able to remain on the bench and serve in the family division for almost twenty years, serving my community and saying thank you to the country that accepted me as a naturalized citizen.

I admire and respect Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s initiative and accomplishments. I know that many of my opportunities were created by her and the other lawyers who worked hard, through challenging the law, on my and other Boomer women’s behalf. I thank her for paving the way for me through the law and the legal system so that I and other Boomer women could ultimately have the opportunity to strive for our dreams. The movie has done more than share Ruth Bader and Martin Ginsburg’s life together. It is raising awareness nationally, so culture and climate may move forward for our children and grandchildren.

I say there is much more to do.

 

Wish it were with more joy,

 

Mema

 

P.S. It is time more of us shared our stories.  Consider doing so.

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