BY SARAH ISGUR
In a year when the first female Supreme Court Justice retired from service, women in law schools face choices and trade-offs far different than those Justice O’Connor faced when she graduated from Stanford Law School in 1952. Today’s law schools enroll as many women as men, undergraduates read the Feminine Mystique in survey history courses, and the ‘seven sister schools’ are no longer the only choices for a woman to approximate an Ivy League education. Yet, as more doors open, the debate over what women want from their careers, families, men, and political activism grows more fierce.
Last Wednesday, the Alliance of Independent Feminists and the Federalist Society hosted a discussion with ’94 HLS graduate Jennifer Braceras on “What Women Really Want: How the Far Left and Far Right Betray Feminism.” Introduced by her former professor, Mary Ann Glendon, Braceras spoke to over 60 men and women about the inadequacy of the political debate for women and the challenges faced by women in the legal workforce
Although the origins of feminism may have been founded on a basic doctrine of fairness, Braceras argued that the culture of modern feminism has betrayed mainstream women’s interests. She pointed to a debate dominated by two extreme positions, neither of which adequately addresses what women really want and need to discuss in the public forum. The left, Braceras posited, marginalizes mothers who choose to stay at home and “views the world through the lens of discrimination.” The right, on the other hand, refuses to recognize that some women either enjoy working or must work for financial reasons, and instead these “radical traditionalists” choose to view the world “through a lens of Christianity.” These groups dictate a debate that largely ignores the vast expanse of political ground that polling data shows the majority of women think is most important. Braceras described it as a difference between “issues that affect women” and “women’s issues.” The former would include tax policy and domestic security, while the latter centers itself around an agenda of abortion, equal pay, and sexual harassment.
As a mother of four young children who holds both a position with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and with the Independent Women’s Forum in D.C., Braceras also spoke at length about the difficulty of balancing a legal career with a family. She criticized ABA studies which only looked at the percentage of female partners as a measure of discrimination. She argued that these numbers tell only a very small part of the story because many women choose not to become partner. A better survey would concentrate on how to entice mothers to stay at firms by creating more single client positions, contract-based partners, or permanent part-time associates.
In the end, however, Braceras was clear to point out that it will never be easy to be a lawyer and a mother. So, what advice does Braceras offer to women looking to balance a legal career with a family life? “Plan ahead. Think ahead. So it doesn’t hit you in the face.”