As I mentioned in my column last month, GRAWA and several other organizations sponsored a CLE that was held last Saturday on the topic of gender diversity in our judiciary. The CLE, which offered presentations by several members of the bench and other professionals from Western New York, was well-attended, well-presented, and well-received.
Among the several topics discussed at the CLE was the treatment of women in politics. Specifically, some women presenters who had been candidates for the bench, or other offices, talked about the different experience that they had as female candidates as compared to male candidates. One presenter shared a story of a female constituent who approached the presenter (who is now a judge) during her campaign for the bench and told her (the presenter) that she (the constituent) would not vote for the presenter because the presenter has young kids at home and she should be at home taking care of them.
As this anecdote demonstrates, it is likely that the differences in the ways that female and male candidates are viewed stem, at least in part, from the disparate expectations that society in general has for each gender. For example, while there are expectations that men take care of the home and work to support the family, women may be subjected to those expectations as well as the expectations of their roles as a mother, family member, or friend.
Male leaders are often praised for having sacrificed their personal life for their efforts in public or corporate service, while, as noted above, women are criticized for it. (As noted at the Gavel Gap CLE by Tara Hughes, adjunct professor at S.U.N.Y. at Buffalo School of Social Work.) And sometimes the criticisms of women focus on superficial matters that have no relevance, such as the female candidate’s appearance. While there were many issues that influenced this last presidential campaign, this double-standard was certainly evident. As examples, how often did anyone talk about the clothes that President-elect Donald Trump wore during the campaign or whether he “looked” presidential? Put simply, women are judged based on different, and often times more, criteria than men.
Some women have overcome these hurdles to be elected and many hold offices at the state and federal level. However, the percentages of women in those positions are still low – approximately less than 30 percent. We have made great strides – certainly having the first woman nominated for the office of president by a major political party this year was one (as discussed in my August column) – but we have far to go and, as long as male and female candidates are held to different standards, the trek is up a steep hill.
But as hard as it may be, the effort is worth it. A government that represents who the people are as a whole will truly represent us. As stated by Anne-Marie Slaughter when she was director of public policy at the U.S. State Department, “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.” (Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why women still can’t have it all,” The Atlantic, July/August 2012.)
I note that this column is not meant to be a statement about the election that just occurred this week. It is a reflection on the campaign leading up to that election and the informative and inspirational presentations at the Gavel Gap CLE last weekend. Let us continue to carry the torch of the suffragists and civil rights activists who came before us.
Pamela Reynolds is an associate attorney in the Rochester office of Littler Mendelson and president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys.