Balancing a Skewed Scale
Nikita Srivastava (’19)
In the 1980s, a young female lawyer and her lawyer husband attended a party hosted by a club only allowing male lawyers. The room was filled with young men celebrating their legal careers. One of the guests at this party handed the woman a name tag. Instead of writing her name, she wrote “discrimantee” and proudly placed it on her chest. “Well, it is true,” she said after getting several questions about it. (I should write “discrimantee” on all my name tags because nothing much has really changed)
Sharon Rowen’s Balancing the Scales, addresses discrimination using women’s narratives to guide the audience. Due to Ohio’s CLE requirements, Ms. Rowen had to pause the film and explain why she directed it this way. Rowen said the film is divided into 3 parts: 1) the oral history of female role models, 2) what keeps women from achieving higher positions, 3) women not making choices from a level playing field.
The theme throughout Balancing the Scales is hidden bias. Rowen in her voiceovers explains how society updates stories of the past creating subtle sexism today. Rowen introduced the audience to women sharing their past stories, but Rowen did not show the audience how those stories are updated. One notable example is a pregnant woman debating on whether to work or pursue family life. Today, society will question a woman’s choice to be a working mother. Questions like – Will she go part time? Will she quit? – are still being asked. However, this is not really an updated story from the past. These questions have been around since women could work. Rowen stated the second part of the movie focuses on 3 aspects: work-life balance, unconscious bias, and the unequal pay issue. However, the second part solely focused on work-life balance. Women are often stereotyped into the primary caretaker role forcing them to create a work-life balance. In the traditional family sense, the mother has two jobs while the father has one. My favorite part was Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s interview. The notorious RBG stated she hasn’t cooked a meal since 1980. Her daughter described her as the one that thinks, and her father as the one who cooks. Rowen focused too much on “traditional family norms” when describing work-life balance. She addressed the struggles heterosexual females face when it came to work -life balance. Work-life can also effect the LGBT community, but the film didn’t address that issue.Rowen included a part with minority women and LGBT women, but only for a short amount of time. Women of color have more to prove and don’t get the benefit of the doubt. African American women in particular feel forced to choose between being black and being a woman. Another one of my favorite parts was a young Indian woman being asked at the end of an interview, “have you seen Slumdog Millionaire?” (Too relatable) Further, one woman in the film was told being gay helped her because she was viewed as “one of the guys”. Finally, the documentary ended by showcasing women fighting for women, racial equality and LGBT rights. However, Rowen only scratched the surface of these issues. At the end of the film, I did not feel uplifted or inspired. I found myself asking more questions instead of receiving answers. The movie addressed many issues, but only one issue was highlighted – work-life balance.
Rowen balanced only one scale – work-life balance.
However, the panel afterwards attempted to make a difference. Professor Kristin Kalsem moderated the panel. The panelist included Dean Verna Williams; Chief Judge Emeritus Susan Dlott from the U.S. Dist. Ct. S.D. Ohio; Alicia Bond-Lewis, Partner of Counsel, Dinsmore; and, the filmmaker. Many young women’s hands went shooting up when Professor Kalsen opened the floor to them. One law student asked about calling out subtle discrimination. Ms. Bond-Lewis stated that women must analyze the situation. Will saying something hurt my firm? Will not saying something hurt women? Dean Williams encouraged the direct approach. She gave an example of a male co-worker flirting with her. She told the man that it made her feel uncomfortable, and he stopped but proceeded to flirt with other women. “They’re not being jerks,” Dean Williams said, “they’re just…stupid.” She told women to ask themselves: Do you have an obligation to say something? Is it interfering with your ability to work with that person? Is it really bothering you? Should you take the next step by reporting the behavior to Human Resources? Another student asked about being a voice for a minority within a minority. Judge Dlott stated that in order for any women to be seen as equal, they have to work harder and longer. “You have to do more than [the men] to be seen as equals,” she stated. Ms. Bond-Lewis agreed with her. Judge Dlott and Ms. Bond-Lewis stated the best advice they got was, “just hang-in there.” Dean Williams encouraged women to think about the minority women who came before us. She said, “they had it a lot harder, but that makes carrying the burden easier.” The last question addressed the idea of success for women. Rowen stated that success is personal. She acknowledged that not all women wanted to be equity partners or judges, but stated we need more women in those positions. Rowen believes full-heartedly that making women partners at firms will get women one step closer to gender equity.
By the end of the event, I found myself thinking about how much I’m going to fight for my equality. Also, I thought about how much I have already been fighting. Will I make a difference? Am I making a difference? Can I pave the way for other Indian women? Will they even notice what I am doing for them? I called my elder sister, Geetika Srivastava, a few days after watching Balancing the Scales. I began to tear up talking about how much I have to fight. Geetika asked, “do you really want to continue fighting?” I paused, then stated, “if I don’t do it, then no one else will.” Geetika encouraged me to continue the fight and address the issues Balancing the Scales lightly touched upon.
Nikita Srivastava is a 2L at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Currently, she is a fellow for the Ohio Innocence Project and competes on UC Law’s Trial Team. Also, she is Secretary of UCLW and Vice President of Criminal Law Society.