Introduction to award presentation
by Jackie Sadker
Lawyers and feminists have a lot in common -- most notably, a bad reputation. They are the butt of many a cocktail party joke -- trust me on this one, I am both.
But that's not all they share. Both lawyers and feminists fight for fairness and equal access to the protection of the law. And both face daunting obstacles.
For me, I wasn't always sure I wanted to study law. In fact, I wasn't always sure I was a feminist. Turns out I didn't have to be -- my mother was sure enough for both of us. When I was preparing for this award presentation, my dad paid me one of the biggest compliments I've ever received. He told me that the most predictable thing about me was that, in any situation, I would fight for the disadvantaged. In fact, according to my dad, both my parents always knew what my career path would be.
I have to be honest with you, I wish they shared that information with me. After college, I floated about aimlessly, trying to figure out my piece of the puzzle. Everyone around me was looking for how to make a lot of money, and my disinterest in money alienated my friends, who saw me as flaky. My mother was a great example of how to find a career that doesn't revolve around money without being flaky, but she was not around during this deciding time. Fortunately, organizations like the National Women's Law Center were.
I first heard about their work when I was researching gender bias legislation on the Hill. The NWLC represented La Shonda Davis in a sexual harassment claim. Three things were unusual about this case. First, the case went to the Supreme Court. Second, La Shonda was in fifth grade. Third, and most amazing, the NWLC convinced perhaps the most conservative Court in our nation's history to recognize the right of young girls to be protected from sexual harassment in school, and to hold a school liable for failure to protect these rights.
Since I've been in law school, I've studied this landmark decision in the same context as Brown vs. Board of Education -- equality in schools. Turns out in both instances, I came in late on the story. Brown was the culmination of decades of persistent and brave struggle by the NAACP and their star trial lawyer, Thurgood Marshall -- a tapestry of small cases and small victories paving the road for sweeping change. The NWLC has also been fighting for decades, sustained by the work and perseverance of its two co-Presidents and co-founders, Marcia Greenberger and Nancy Duffy Campbell.
Decades may not sound like a lot, but in 1972, when the NWLC was founded, the word "sexism" did not exist. I know this because my mother wrote a book in 1973 entitled "Sexism in School and Society," a book which was purchased in huge numbers, and then returned in the same huge numbers. Seems the purchasers, adult bookstores, got a little less than they bargained for -- there were few pictures, and absolutely no sex in schools.
In 1972, at my law school, the only female-focused organization was the "Law Wives," whose primary responsibility was to organize dances and cocktail parties for their overworked husbands.
This was the climate in which Marcia and Duffy started the National Women's Law Center. Three decades of fighting in a world that that didn't know what sexism was, a world that thought a female's role in the law was to make martinis for their lawyer husbands. Now that takes guts.
In the past three decades, the NWLC has been involved in virtually every lawsuit involving Title IX -- the law preventing sexual discrimination in schools -- a law that was also born in 1972. As attacks on Title IX continue year after year, the NWLC is there, persisting once again and succeeding once again in protecting the only law that ensures my mother's work will not go unaddressed.
But the NWLC's fight for fairness doesn't stop at education. The Center's work ranges from winning additional funding and legal protections for reproductive health and childcare to eliminating the wage gap and the athletic scholarship gap. The NWLC played key roles in the Supreme Court's landmark decisions holding employers liable for on-the-job sexual harassment. The tapestry of persistent struggles and achievements of the NWLC paves the road for the sweeping change this award was designed to recognize.
While my law school colleagues look at me funny, with that "is she a flake?" gleam in their eyes when I say I am not taking one of the high-paying corporate firm jobs, it no longer bothers me -- I know it's okay to dedicate my career to fight for the disadvantaged. If I overlook my mother as a role model because she is no longer physically with us, I don't have to look very far to remember. Marcia and Duffy and the NWLC remind me and other lawyers and other feminists that choosing to fight for what you believe is neither flaky nor funny. It is a lasting legacy in the tapestry of change, a legacy the NWLC gives me and my colleagues. It is truly my honor to present the NWLC with the 5th annual Myra Sadker Day Award.