Anthony Weiner’s Women Aren’t Saints, Sluts or Victims

Anthony Weiner‘s recent misadventures in the race for New York City mayor showcase America’s polarized views on women’s agency.

The press coverage of Weinergate II uniformly puts women in a bad light. Some are pictured as volatile out-of-control revenge seekers, others as opportunists. Worse, many are seen as victims. None are portrayed as clear-thinking actors making decisions that suit their values, needs and desires.

Enough. Regardless of what you think of Weiner, Click to continue reading “Anthony Weiner’s Women Aren’t Saints, Sluts or Victims”

The Old Boys’ Network Is Alive and Well

In the next month tens of thousands of women will enroll in graduate school with the goal of being hired in male-dominated professions. They may want to work in finance, engineering or law (to name just a few of these fields). I wonder if these eager students truly understand the ramifications of such a career.

I do.

After graduation from law school, I joined one of the country’s oldest and most well-regarded law firms. Despite having hundreds of lawyers in offices around the world, it had only one female partner at the time. Seven and half years later I, too, joined their ranks. Being a woman in this hard-charging world had consequences large and small. All aspects of appearance became an issue. The advent of scaled-down versions of men’s suits sold in the early 1980s provided a safe haven. The style even included high-collared blouses with “ties” that were inch-wide strips of material that clipped around the neck and were often embellished with a single fabric flower. We women imitated the male norm with the goal of making everyone more comfortable.

However, the popularity of women’s pantsuits triggered a strange backlash in the late 1980s by male rule-makers. They resented women abandoning skirts, the traditional symbol of submission and easy sexual access. I was banned from powerful private clubs where masters of the universe cut deals because I was wearing a pantsuit. In a demented attempt to help misguided women foolish enough to make commit this fashion faux pax, one establishment offered me a wrap-around gingham skirt that I could don over my slacks and thereby gain entrance to the power brokers’ dining room.

While fashion standards have relaxed somewhat, women’s dress is still an issue. Recently, a Tennessee judge imposed a dress code on women appearing in his courts. No bare arms. Sleeveless dresses were verboten despite the heat of summer. After all, a man would never try that. Even women lawyers who work in conference rooms are cautioned about wearing peep-toe shoes or too much cleavage. One expert goes so far as warning, “Cleavage could sidetrack a legal career”.

Deciding what to wear on the job is an issue women confront every day, but the workplace issue that transcends all else is advancement. How is performance measured? Unfortunately, when a woman’s performance is evaluated, she tends to be judged more harshly than her male peers in traditionally male-dominated fields.

In a recent example from Big Law, a major Wall Street law firm commissioned a consultant to evaluate its associate review process, agreeing the results could be disclosed as long as the firm wasn’t identified. The consultant studied 268 written lawyer evaluations and found that men and women whose work quality was described similarly in narratives received different numerical scores with the men ranking higher. Overall, a significantly higher percentage of men (14%) received evaluations in the top category than women (4.76%). Numbers had greater significance than narratives in partnership decisions with the result that males were three times more likely to become partners than females.

In a shocking denouement to this study, the consultant reported that when she presented her conclusions to firm management, they declined to make any of the changes suggested, changes that included training to make the partners more aware of gender bias. According to the consultant, the firm

was getting dinged as one
of the worst places for women to work, [but] their philosophy was that there will always be people who are willing to break their backs to work here.

Even when women succeed, the male norm remains the yardstick. At my Big Law firm, I was the first female partner to be awarded a bonus under a new compensation system that embraced financial rewards. When the male member of the bonus committee told me of this recognition, he said:

We consider you an ideal young partner – not just a female partner. You’re an ideal for any young partner.

Glad for the bonus but furious at the implication, I said, “You aren’t suggesting that there is a different, lesser standard for female partners, are you?” He blanched and waved away my response with muttered denials and more than a touch of umbrage.

This was a classic example of the double-bind dilemma for women. My comment was assertive – the type of comment I think Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement would advocate – but was perceived as too tough. A man would have been applauded for his forthrightness. In a male-dominated field, a woman is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. This is the price of working in the old boys’ clubhouse.

(This article was originally published in The Guardian on August 19, 2013)


Planning an Office Holiday Party? Skip the Mistletoe.

Published in The Huffington Post November 20, 2012

Delighted that his company has had a good year, the boss plans an extravagant holiday party with an open bar. After celebrating with the staff for a couple of hours, he excuses himself and returns dressed as Santa. Employees applaud, but when he invites an attractive analyst to sit in his lap, she declines with a scowl. Feeling festive and a bit tipsy, he tugs her hand and urges her again to take a seat. She stomps off and, within days, files a sexual harassment complaint.

This scenario spawned an actual lawsuit, one of the hundreds arising from office parties. Regardless of where it’s held, a company-sponsored party becomes an extension of the workplace and workplace rules apply. As such, it can be a minefield of employer liability.

The relaxed atmosphere of a holiday celebration coupled with alcohol consumption creates a setting where a party-goer may try to get inappropriately friendly with a co-worker. That pretty woman from accounting might look especially lovely in her holiday outfit and, with alcohol-lowered inhibitions, someone may make a pass. If suggestive words are spoken or offensive gestures are made, there will be a whole roomful of people who can act as witnesses for the plaintiff.

Here are a few suggestions to keep the inhibitions in place and to minimize the risk of liability.
Serve alcohol-free “mocktails” instead of cocktails. Or if that’s too extreme, serve only beer and wine — no distilled liquor. If any alcohol is behind the bar, employers can provide “drink tickets” with a limited number given to each employee. In addition to deterring sexual misconduct, limits on alcohol can also protect the employer from dram shop liability arising from a drunken employee’s actions after leaving the party. Taxi rides should be provided by the company if a guest overindulges.

Employers should also serve substantial food along with any alcohol to lessen the effect. Some believe fatty, starchy food is the most beneficial in this regard. Stay away from salty snacks that will increase the desire to drink.

Although music and dancing can add to the festivities, they also carry the risk for improper and unwelcome touching. Other considerations are the time and location of the party. An evening gala in a flashy locale is more likely to be the setting for sexual harassment. A better choice is low-key and late afternoon when people’s minds are still in a work mode. Another deterrent to sexual harassment is inviting the spouses of employees. Each husband and wife will have a personal enforcer!

A memo circulated the day of the party could also help establish the tone by reminding employees it’s an occasion for business colleagues to celebrate the company’s performance in a joyful, but professional and respectful manner. The message can be underscored by adding that conduct consistent with the employer’s policies is expected. It is especially important that supervisors understand these constraints because employers are liable for supervisor harassment of an employee with less power or authority. (Employers are liable for harassment of one employee by another of equal rank if the employer is aware of it. In a party setting, open harassment visible to all would meet this standard.)

If a complaint arises about conduct at the party, the employer should investigate it promptly. Remember those witnesses!

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Trying To Make Sense of the NYC Nanny Murders

Published on October 28, 2012 in Role/Reboot and on October 30, 2012 in The Frisky


No matter how much you try to protect your children, there will always be things you can not control.

Last week, two young children, Leo and Lulu Krim, were allegedly stabbed to death by their nanny in their home in Manhattan. The children’s mother discovered the bodies as Yoselyn Ortega, the nanny, began to hack at her own throat. Although the nanny survived, she is hospitalized and unable to speak.

The reports to date are that the Krim family was kind to the nanny—there were no bad feelings on either side of the relationship. A friend of the Krim family recommended Ms. Ortega, and she’d been their employee for approximately two years.

Parents are searching for an explanation that makes the incident understandable believing that if they can understand why it occurred, they can take precautions to avoid a similar catastrophe. These deaths happened at the hands of a nanny, but children may be harmed in daycare, in school, at Boy Scouts or…the list is long. Too long.

By loving a child, we unwillingly, but inevitably, give a hostage to fortune. The fates may snatch the child from us at any time through disease or injury. But no parent anticipates that his or her children will be killed by one to whom their welfare has been entrusted.

The relationship between a nanny and a parent is ideally one of trust and affection. When my son was born, my search for a nanny led me to speak to several placement agencies. As I explained what I was looking for, I sometimes mentioned that my infant son was adopted. That proved to be the key to finding Brigitte, the trained English nanny who took care of him for his first six years.

The woman who ran one of the agencies had an adopted child, too. We bonded over this, and she gave me honest feedback about the candidates I was considering. Because her child had been in a playgroup with one of Brigitte’s charges, she’d seen Brigitte in action and couldn’t have recommended her more highly.

She was right. Brigitte was honest, bright, reliable, thoughtful, loving, and cheerful. I grew to trust Brigitte implicitly. Although she didn’t live in our home, she became part of the family. I credit many of my son’s good qualities as an adult to the years they spent together.

Brigitte left when my son was 6 to take care of her own baby and start a daycare in her home. Unfortunately, I can’t offer such extravagant praise for her replacement. Mariela loved my son and was a careful driver. I trusted her to keep him safe, and she did.

After learning about the Krim children’s death, many parents are feeling anxious about their choice of a childcare provider. Using an agency to find a caregiver as I did isn’t a total or even partial answer. While much remains to be learned about the motivation of Ms. Ortega, I suspect she suffered a dramatic psychological break with reality. What she did could not have been predicted by any agency screening.

The Internet has many sites with advice on selecting a childcare provider. Parents should certainly be thorough in this process, but no measure of diligence can guarantee our children will be safe. Airplane engines drop out of the sky, the cord of a hoodie becomes a garrote, a tree topples. When we choose to love, we risk the profound sorrow of loss.

Sir Francis Bacon recognized this when he wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune.”

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What You Can Do About the Gender Wage Gap

Published September 13, 2012 in Role/Reboot

On Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau released data for 2011 showing that the gender wage gap remains unchanged from 2010. For every dollar a man earns working full time, a woman working full time earns 77 cents.

The disparity exists across virtually all occupations—women earn less than men of comparable education, experience, and seniority. From the moment a woman throws her graduation cap into the air to the moment she retires, she earns less than a similarly-situated man.

In 2011, the median annual earnings for women working full-time, year-round were $37,118. The comparable amount for men was $48,202. That $11,084 differential significantly affects the quality of life for women and their families. That amount is the equivalent of 92 weeks of groceries or 13 months of rent.

As dramatic as the annual difference is, the gap becomes a gaping chasm over a 40-year career. The lifetime wage gap for a woman with a high school diploma is $392,000 on average. The gap increases to $452,000 for women with some college. Women with a bachelor’s degree typically lose a staggering $713,000 over their working lives.

Although this analysis measures the gap by looking at broad education levels, the trend is the same when specific occupations are considered. The more education that is required for a particular job, the greater the gap.

The disparities are unfair to the point of being immoral. Worse, the ratio of 77 to 100 was the same for every year since 2002 with the exception of 2003 when it dropped to 76 to 100 and 2007 when it surged to 78 to 100.

Federal law prohibits pay distinctions between men and women but has loopholes big enough to march a battalion of advantaged men through.

The government isn’t going to level the playing field for women. What can you do for yourself?

Learn how to negotiate for better pay.

Don’t let the word “negotiate” scare you. Think of it as a dialogue with your boss. It isn’t a confrontation—it’s a conversation. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start by doing your homework. Find out what salaries employees with similar skills and responsibilities are receiving in your industry and geographic area.
  2. Ask for an appointment with your boss to discuss “expectations.” This isn’t a conversation to have on the fly.
  3. Practice what you’re going to say. Get your opening lines down pat. Memorize them. You’ll be most nervous at the beginning of the conversation and knowing your lines will reduce the stress.
  4. Start on a positive note. “I’ve enjoyed working with you.”
  5. Your pitch should center on what your employer’s priorities are and how you have helped achieve them. Have you brought in new clients? Enhanced the company’s reputation? Provided above and beyond customer service? If you’ve taken on additional responsibilities, mention them.
  6. Assume you will succeed to bolster your confidence. And remember the man in the next cubicle performing the same job with the same training and experience is probably earning 30% more than you are!


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Do You Know How to Help a Domestic Violence Victim?

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Kate McGuinness offers advice on how to help a victim.

Susie comes to my home regularly to help with cleaning. About a year ago, her usual helper took a different job. When Susie asked if her adult daughter Gay could come instead, I agreed.

Gay appeared for the first time the following week with a black eye and missing teeth. Her mother made a vague reference to Gay’s “accident,” and I assumed she meant an automobile accident.

Months passed. One day Susie appeared alone and asked if I had heard from Gay. When I responded that I hadn’t, Susie explained her daughter’s situation.

Gay’s partner, who calls himself “Master Howard,” had telephoned Susie the prior weekend and informed her that Gay was “done with her.” Gay would no longer work with her or associate with her. Howard also decreed that Gay would no longer see her teenaged son who lived with Susie. Susie explained that Howard routinely takes Gay’s pay and screens her calls. And, yes, Gay’s injuries when I first met her had been caused by “Master Howard.”

Howard appears to be the stereotypical perpetrator of domestic violence: a man determined to control his victim. He uses the classic techniques of separating the victim from her family and controlling her financially.

Once Susie confided about Gay’s situation, she explained that all three of her husbands had been physically abusive. Gay had grown up seeing this. My heart ached for both women, but I was flummoxed about what to do.

I had Gay’s cell phone number and, with Susie’s consent, I called her. Of course, all I got was her voice mail. I stumbled through a bland message about being sorry she couldn’t work that day and said I hoped to see her the following week.

But I didn’t. Not that week or any of the subsequent weeks.

Neither Susie nor her grandson has heard from Gay either. I have struggled with what I can do to help Gay.

An Internet search yielded the following advice on how to help a victim of domestic violence. Men can be victims of domestic abuse, too, but because I am focused on Gay, I’ve used feminine pronouns.

1. Let the victim know you care and are willing to listen. Don’t force the issue of abuse.

2. If the victim talks about the abuse, assure her that you believe her, the abuse isn’t her fault, she doesn’t deserve abuse and help is available.

3. Tell the victim you think she might be in danger.

4. Give the victim the telephone numbers of local and national domestic violence resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Number is  1(800)799-7233.

5. Ask the victim what you can do to help, but don’t make promises you won’t keep.

6. Don’t tell the victim what to do. This could sound like control, something the victim has already had too much of.

7. Help the victim think through a plan of what she would do if she decided to leave.

8. If you witness abuse, immediately call: 9-1-1.

I wish I could tell you I was able to use the steps to help Gay. I have called her cell and left more vague messages, none of which have been returned. Susie has seen Gay in the street, but they haven’t spoken. I take comfort in knowing that at least she is alive.

I wonder if I was willfully blind when I accepted Susie’s initial explanation of Gay’s injuries as an accident; Susie was her mother after all. I wish now that I had asked more questions. Maybe Gay would have confided what was going on, but I doubt it.

I’ve turned my frustration at being unable to help Gay into writing this blog. (As you may have guessed the names used are all pseudonyms.) I can only hope the information I’ve offered will help another victim of abuse.

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The President’s Super Power

Published August 25, 2012 Fem2pt0

Here’s another reason to vote in November: when one of the nine members of the United States Supreme Court resigns or retires, the President nominates his or her successor. With few exceptions, the nominee is routinely confirmed by the Senate and serves for life.

The closely split 5-4 decisions on Obamacare, Citizens United, and Bush vs. Gore highlight just how important each justice is. But unless you’re a lawyer as I am, you probably don’t track pronouncements by individual justices.

However, women should pay close attention to comments by Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia is the Court’s arch conservative, an intellectual powerhouse and a ferocious advocate. He has long been on record that the groundbreaking Roe vs. Wade abortion decision was wrong. In a recent interview on Fox News, he opined that Griswold vs. Connecticut (a decision that struck down state restrictions on birth control) was wrong as well.

It isn’t surprising that a Jesuit-educated lawyer with nine children would reach these conclusions. However, Scalia is scrupulous about separating his personal beliefs from his legal scholarship.

Scalia approaches his judicial decisions as a “textualist” and an “originalist.” A textualist looks first to the exact language of the Constitution and then, as an originalist, considers what meanings the words had at the time they were written.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution was the basis of the Roe and Griswold decisions. Here’s where the trouble begins: the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868 during the Reconstruction Era. The Due Process Clause provides that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Scalia believes that in 1868 the term person did not include “women” because women were viewed as property at the time. Additionally, a person of that era (obviously a male person because no other existed in 1868) would not construe “life, liberty or property” to include contraception or abortion.

In Griswold, the Supreme Court found that a right of privacy existed in the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Constitution. A couple’s right to contraception was protected by this ephemeral right of privacy. The Supreme Court relied on the same right of privacy as the basis of the Roe decision.

Scalia’s textualist and originalist approaches also led to his conclusion that women have no Constitutional right to be free of discrimination when the Supreme Court considered Virginia Military Academy’s refusal to admit women. He wrote a scathing dissent to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion that any law should be struck down which “denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature — equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society.”

Scalia’s position is that if citizens want access to abortion or contraception or to prohibit single-sex public schools, they can provide for that through the democratic process of passing laws to that effect. True in theory but increasing partisanship has dramatically diminished this opportunity. As William N. Eskridge Jr., a law professor at Yale noted, “It gives the Supreme Court significantly more power and Congress significantly less power.”

Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Reagan and was chosen over Robert Bork, his leading competitor for the nomination, because he was ten years younger and would therefore shape the court’s decisions for a longer time.

Scalia’s positions underscore the importance of the upcoming Presidential election. As the last four years have shown, a President’s agenda can be derailed by legislative opposition.

As you decide how to cast your ballot in the 2012 Presidential election, remember the power of the President to appoint Supreme Court justices. That appointment power may have a longer impact on your life than any other action taken by the President between 2012 and 2016

How to Beat the ‘Old Boys’ at Their Own Game

By Kate McGuinness
Published in Forbes, August 7, 2012.

Wall Street is notorious for its lack of female firepower. Ilene H. Lange, Catalyst’s president and chief executive officer, has gone on record blaming the shortfall on financial industry’s “really macho” culture and gender stereotypes.

In an interview with The New York Times (On Wall Street, Gender Bias Runs Deep) she is quoted as saying, “What’s looked up to on Wall Street are people who swagger, people who will do the deal at any cost, people who will work day and night, hour and hour, for lots and lots of money and they don’t care about anything else.”

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It’s Open Season on Women in Afghanistan

Published in Fem 2.0 July 26, 2012.

Najiba was recently executed by nine bullets for alleged adultery. The crowd of 150 men cheered on the shooter with cries of “God is great!”

Not far from the site of the shooting, 15-year old Tamana was beaten and killed for being a disobedient wife after her forced marriage to a cousin whose advances she had spurned. No one has been arrested for her death, but her presumed killer’s sister was given to Tamana’s brother as compensation for the crime, an Afghan practice known as “baad.”

A few weeks earlier, Western media carried the story of Lil Baba, an 18-year old girl who was kidnapped, raped, tortured and chained to a wall for five days by a gang of powerful Afghan police officers. She has demanded justice but if the men aren’t prosecuted, her mother insists Lil Baba must commit suicide, the culturally dictated response for a woman who has been dishonored.

A study by Thompson Reuters Foundation released in 2011 concluded that Afghanistan was the most dangerous place in the world for women. Sadly, conditions there appear to have deteriorated. The country’s independent human rights commission has recorded 52 murders of girls and women in the last four months, 42 of which were honor killings, contrasted with 20 murders for all of 2011.

Some attribute the increased violence to the détente reached earlier this year by President Hamid Karzai with the Taliban. While the Taliban are notorious for their severely restrictive and at times brutal treatment of women, violence against women in Afghanistan predates the Taliban’s rise to power.

Open Season

Christine Fair, assistant professor of South Asia studies at Georgetown University, has extensive experience in Afghanistan. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Fellow with the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point.  I spoke to her about honor killings and other violence against women in the country. She informed me that violence is widespread and by no means limited to Taliban perpetrators. The targets may be women, girls or boys.

It is not uncommon for Afghani warlords, military commanders and wealthy merchants to use attractive boys as catamites or sexual servants. Orphans may be taken from the street or poor boys purchased from their parents to fill this role which is described as ancient and increasing in Afghanistan.

Honor killings become somewhat less shocking against this background of indifference to human dignity. However, honor killings are especially horrific because multiple family members often act together to commit the murder and the victim is likely to be tortured.

Phyllis Chesler, Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York, has studied worldwide honor killings extensively. Professor Chesler believes that they are prompted by “gender separatism, the devaluation of girls and women, normalized child abuse, including arranged child marriages of both boys and girls, sexual repression, misogyny (sometimes inspired by misogynist interpretations of the Qur’an), and the demands made by an increase in the violent ideology of jihad.”

Her explanation has been challenged by others such as Widney Brown, the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, who believes honor killing “goes across cultures and across religions.”

Regardless of underlying triggers, honor killing is a practice that the United States is unable to stop according to Professor Fair. Certainly the presence of our soldiers there has done little to deter it.

The most recent honor killings in Afghanistan occurred this past weekend when a father shot his two teenage daughters who had disappeared for four days with a NATO interpreter. He has been arrested for murder.

Progress, I suppose.

Court Permits Litigation of Sexual Harrassment Claim in Ellen Pao Case

By Kate McGuinness
Published in Forbes, July 23, 2012.

Ellen PaoThis is a guest post by author and lawyer Kate McGuinness with a little input by Victoria Pynchon who is a commercial arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association.

Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers suffered a major defeat on Friday when a judge ruled that sexual discrimination claims by Ellen Pao could be litigated in open court.

The judge had ruled against the firm on the same issue earlier this month, but agreed to a re-hearing.

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