By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Every woman I know has been there: You're in a meeting at the office, and you make a suggestion. The men around the table listen, and the conversation continues. Then one of the guys makes the exact same point you just made, and they all respond positively to that guy's great idea.
Here's Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's version of that scenario—only this one has much higher stakes than the typical office staff meeting—as told to Joan Biskupic of USA Today recently:
"I don't know how many meetings I attended in the '60s and the '70s, where I would say something, and I thought it was a pretty good idea. ... Then somebody else would say exactly what I said. Then people would become alert to it, respond to it."
Even after 16 years as a justice, she said, that still sometimes occurs. "It can happen even in the conferences in the court. When I will say something—and I don't think I'm a confused speaker—and it isn't until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on the point."
It was a revealing observation from a justice who generally praises her male colleagues, some of whom are close friends.
Ginsburg said the court's gender imbalance has real, although not entirely obvious, consequences.
In this fascinating interview, Justice Ginsburg gives several very current examples of those consequences. She points to the unbelievable decision by her fellow justices that discrimination against a pregnant woman is not sex discrimination, and that the trauma felt by the 13-year-old girl who was strip searched was not real. "They have never been a 13-year-old girl," she said. "I don't think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood."
She also talks about the absence of Sandra Day O'Connor's influence on the court, and how she's convinced Justice O'Connor would have sided with her in the Lilly Ledbetter case (which focused on pay discrimination). Whether women agree or not with how the Ledbetter case turned out, almost every woman I know has felt that at some point in her career, she was paid less than her male colleagues for the same work. I know I have, and more than once. When the 5-4 decision written by Justice Alito in the Ledbetter case rejected the notion that pay discrimination against women "is harder to detect than other job bias," she was "so incensed" that she read her dissent from the bench and called on Congress to reverse the court, which it did. You can agree or disagree with her on the merits, but there's no arguing that Justice Ginsburg's decision to speak out took some guts.
According to the USA Today interview, "Ginsburg said having just one woman on the Supreme Court sends a disheartening message to Americans about women's roles in society." She's right. She also pointed to the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has four women justices, including the chief, and referred to the 20 state supreme courts here in the United States that are led by female justices. "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. I don't say (the split) should be 50-50," Ginsburg said. "It could be 60% men, 40% women, or the other way around. It shouldn't be that women are the exception."
It's time for the men—all the men, not just those on the Supreme Court—to listen to Justice Ginsburg.
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