Women should seek respect

Posted May 20, 2010, at 5:42 p.m.

This is in response to the recent articles and pictures in the BDN concerning young women walking topless on busy city streets in Farmington to make a statement about gender equality. I find the conduct and coverage self-serving, counterproductive and disgusting.

Fifty-six years ago this spring, I had the privilege of graduating from one of the world’s premier law schools. The unusual fact about this graduation was it was only the second one in the school’s history that included women graduates. The class had 12 women and 515 men. The entire school had about 1,500 students including 25 women. On our arrival we were told that the law school had enrolled blacks before the Civil War, had no quota system for Jews and, finally, they lowered the last barrier to enrollment by admitting women — a clear statement of where we fit in the order of things.

Upon graduation, despite good credentials, many of us found it impossible to get jobs that were readily available to male graduates. In those days no one was concerned about “political correctness” so we were told outright law firms would not hire women — they didn’t even want to interview us. Judges were often openly hostile in court.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s during the growing “women’s movement,” we had our own share of exhibitionists who publicly burned their bras as a form of protest. This may have provided an emotional venting for the women involved, but such gimmicks accomplished nothing in advancing the cause of gender equality. Rather it appeared that the issue was more about underwear than equal pay.

What I learned in law school and in my career is that the most important goal for every woman is to earn respect — even from those who give it with great reluctance. For a woman to succeed she had to be twice as smart and work three times as hard as her male counterpart. She had to be so good that even those who denigrated women had to admit that this particular woman was competent. Thus, individual by individual, gradually some of the barriers came down.

I think we all quietly hoped that if we had some success it might make it easier for women who followed after us — and to a large extent it has. We certainly never expected our efforts would pave the way for a few callow young women to parade down the street with their boobs hanging out in the name of gender equality. Their conduct is an insult to me and to all women who preceded them in this struggle.

These exhibitionists should do the hard work and get the credentials that will help them earn the respect of those around them. Then, perhaps, they can really help solve modern day gender issues.

There are so many areas that still need resolution from domestic abuse, sex slavery, unequal pay, affordable child care, date rape, sexual harassment, glass ceilings. And these issues are in America. The list is so much longer and more offensive in other parts of the world.

Going down the street half naked does absolutely nothing to solve any of these problems. It subjects the cause to ridicule and derision — and diverts attention from the very real problems that need solving.

And speaking of “boobs,” the Bangor Daily News deserves some kind of “booby” prize for giving this story front-page color picture coverage. Where are the paper’s priorities? By making such a big deal of this story, the BDN has made issues of gender equality a circus sideshow. The paper has done the cause of equal rights for women a disservice.

Nancy Young of Belfast is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a retired attorney.

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