I have been thinking of women lawyers, and the image of women lawyers portrayed by the media and movies.
Sunday the New York Times featured a story about Gloria Allred, a lawyer who advocates for women victimized by criminals, discrimination, and less, including Tiger Woods’ publicity team after it became known that she was one of the women he had had sex with. Throughout the article, mention is made of what Allred is wearing, how well put together she is, how tall she is, how old she is, elements of a professional’s life that probably would not be mentioned if the subject were a man.
On television that day was Legally Blonde, a movie that made it safe for smart girls to be froufrou in movies (let’s face it, Hepburn dressed for success, not to charm in her smart girl roles, ditto Rosalind Russell et al– can you imagine any of those black and white film strong women heroines from the 40s in pink?) or was it the movie that made it safe for froufrou women to be smart. I always watch the movie when it is on tv just to see the face off of Elle in her curvy dress with the white frill and high heels and perfect accessories, waiting for the elevator with her counterpart played by Selma Blair in a turtleneck sweater, conservative suit, pearls, and black pumps. It is easy to see who will win the man, the case, and the career in this bit of costuming.
In 1992, Marisa Tomei wore skintight, outrageously flamboyant dresses in My Cousin Vinny when she demonstrated, in a courtroom, in front of her doofus lawyer boyfriend, her superior knowledge of cars and the skid marks they make, which helped to save two young men unjustly accused of murder.
The Times article condescended toward Allred, a highly successful lawyer, because she excelled at publicity, and tended not to turn down any highly celebrated client. But how clearly she states her case:
“The concept of fairness is always culturally defined,” she said. “Even here, where we think we are such an advanced nation, people advise women to grin and bear harassment in the workplace. I say, ‘Docomplain.’ It’s only going to get worse. We have rights so that we don’t have to go like beggars with cups in our hands asking for mercy. We have to be heard in the court of public opinion as well as in the actual courts. Silence is the enemy.”
Gloria Allred in her office
Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods
Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito in
My Cousin Vinny