Reflections on Women’s History Month

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

We Lost Two Amazing “Sheroes” in the Last Year

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known affectionally by her legion of fans as “The Notorious RBG,” died at age 87 in September. Because of rampant sex discrimination in the legal profession when she graduated from Columbia Law School tied for first in her class in 1959, she could not find a job with a law firm. She eventually got a teaching job at Rutgers Law School. She co-founded and led the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU. In that role, she argued and won five out of six cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, establishing that the Equal Protection Clause applied not only to outlaw racial and ethnic discrimination in the law, but it also prohibited gender discrimination in the law. She was confirmed in 1993 as only the second woman to ever serve on the US Supreme Court and served for 27 years, until her death last year.

Legendary Actress Cicely Tyson shattered racial stereotypes in the dramatic arts, refusing to take roles that demeaned Black women (rejecting the typical roles then offered to Black women, such as prostitutes, drug addicts, and housemaids). She was an icon for the “Black is Beautiful” movement, and many Black actresses revered her as the “Meryl Streep” for Black women in the dramatic arts. In leading roles in the movie “Sounder” and in TV specials “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman” and “Roots,” she drew universal acclaim and also broke the colorism barrier that existed in the acting world. She passed away on Jan. 28, 2021 at age 96.

Women Often Played Key Roles in Our History but Never Got the Credit

Here are just a few examples of key contributions made by women to major events and movements in our history but for whom the credit often went only to the men:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr./Coretta Scott King: When both Dr. King’s family and Coretta Scott King’s family, and five of the six presidents at the HBCUs in Atlanta, strongly urged Dr. King not to return to Montgomery and continue to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott initiated after the arrest of Rosa Parks because his home had been bombed while Coretta and their one child were at home, it was Coretta who insisted that they must return and not back down.

Ambassador Andrew Young/Jean Childs Young: Andy and his first wife, Jean Childs Young, were in their new home, and he had a new job in New York working with the National Council of Churches. But, when Jean saw the student sit-ins in Nashville on network TV news, she turned to Andy and said that we need to sell this home, and you need to quit your job so we can move South and be a part of this movement. He took a preaching job in Thomasville, Georgia, and he soon became one of Dr. King’s trusted allies and, later, a U.S. Congressman, the Mayor of Atlanta, and the UN Ambassador under President Carter.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt/Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins: When FDR was elected president in 1933, he asked Frances Perkins to become his Secretary of Labor, and she would become the first woman cabinet member in U.S. history. She gave him a list of priorities and said she would only accept the position if he agreed to support all of them: (1) a 40-hour work week; (2) a minimum wage; (3) social security ; (4) unemployment insurance; (5) worker’s compensation for on-the-job injuries; (6) abolition of child labor; (7) direct federal aid to the states for unemployment relief; (8) a revitalized federal employment service; and (9) universal health insurance. All of them were implemented in FDR’s administration except for universal health insurance. Roosevelt also tasked her with creating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to employ young men.

They planted more than 2 billion trees and created 800 state parks. The CCC hired 200,000 Black men, whose unemployment rate was 30 to 60% greater than for white workers. In 1944, Collier’s magazine said the drastic changes implemented during FDR’s Administration were “not so much the Roosevelt New Deal, as…the Perkins New Deal.”

How Do We Make Sure We Are Hearing Women’s Voices and Giving Them the Credit They Deserve?

Often women’s ideas get ignored until a man speaks them. As a result, in the Obama Administration, women started repeating and “amplifying” each other’s ideas to make sure they got heard.

And, as Dr. Arin Reeves has said, we also can make sure we avoid the three sexist sins of the male-dominated workplace:

  • “Manterruption”: When men feel it is okay just to interrupt women and totally take over the conversation.
  • “Mansplanation”: When men feel it is their role to “explain” what a woman has just said.
  • “Bropropriation”: When a woman’s idea is ignored until a man later repeats it and it gets enthusiastically adopted as his idea.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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