Mahira Siddiqui

Now & Then: What It Means To Be A Feminist featuring Drucilla Stender Ramey

Drucilla S. Ramey is the former executive director of the Bar Association of San Francisco and the National Association of Women Judges. She is a former and current tenured member of the Golden Gate University School of Law faculty and became Dean of the School of Law in Fall 2009.

Ramey's career has been devoted to diversity, equal opportunity and access in the justice system. She has chaired the ACLU of Northern California and the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women and served as a co-founder and board leader of California Women Lawyers. She received her BA from Harvard University and her JD from Yale Law School.

This interview reflects her traditional feminist experiences "then" and her concerns and hopes regarding women advancement "now"

First and foremost, I’d like to address the elephant in the room. Feminism, in its purest form means equality. Can you shed some light on the spiraling negative stigma of this term and how it came into existence?

From time immemorial, the efforts of women towards equality have been treated with a fair degree of condescension and ridicule by a lot of men. At base, I think it stems from a fear of losing power. This isn’t anything new— when the women’s movement really hit in 1969 this resistance to women's equality resonated in the midst of a time of great social deferment.

In terms of how women view feminism, semantics always reflect what's going on in society. I think the term feminism, even at its height of legitimacy in the 70’s, threatened a lot of women because it was seen as a zero-sum game; if you sided with women that meant you were siding against men. Many women felt threatened that the choices they were making were somehow not legitimate.

Frankly, if young women today don’t want to raise their hand and claim to be a feminist, but instead raise their hand in favor of full equality, that’s fine by me. We don’t need to label that anything other than what it is: a sense of collective responsibility.

As a tenured Professor of Law now occupying the role of Dean at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco, can you speak about the status of women in academia?

You know it’s funny— it’s like equity partnerships for women. The percentage of women deans is currently about 20% but it’s going to be interesting to see how that goes. It’s been a very slow move up. Moreover, the percentage of women in tenured faculty positions remains much lower than it should be, whereas women are vastly overrepresented in non-tenure track and clinical positions. But of course, there still are egregious denials of tenure to women who are involved in feminist legal studies.

Boards of Trustees at universities of which law schools are apart still remain heavily male dominated, which may be a further barrier to progress for women in legal academia. It’s a very sexist and racist society still, and women, particularly women of color, pursuing teaching still face a fair amount of resistance and really have to prove their worth more than others who do not face still-pervasive presumptions of incompetence.

In your most recent publication, Viewpoint: Post-Feminist Legal Profession? Not So Fast, you provide staggering statistics mentioning a “disproportionate attrition of women and their consequent absence from equity partnerships and top leadership positions.” What other legal fields would you like to see women populate and why?

Right now the legal profession is among the very worst—the accountants do better and medicine is far better. The “Big Six”, including, especially, Deloitte got together, saw they had a problem, and were very systematic about doing something. You don’t see law firms taking action in that kind of systematic fashion. It’s ironic that the profession that is supposed to ensure equal justice ranks among the worst in terms of racial and gender diversity, especially at the top. It is a blot on the escutcheon that women and minorities have made as little progress as they have in penetrating the upper regions in law firms and other legal institutions.

Colleagues of mine who are federal judges say they rarely see women in the complex litigation that comes before them. What’s dismaying is, outside of rare women like Elizabeth Cabraser and Kelly Dermody, or our alumna, Simona Farrise, you're generally not seeing women, let alone women of color, handling, say, high profile SEC and asbestos cases for example. These areas remain largely white male dominated.

Your mother, Dr. Estelle Ramey, a witty, intelligent and amazingly influential medical school professor and national feminist speaker, was adamant in insisting on attainment of equal rights for women and minorities. What are some memorable words of hers that resonate with you today with regard to equality?

“We’ll know women have really made it when a man thinks it’s a compliment to be told he thinks just like a woman.”

“No woman is an island, entire unto herself. We are all a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Every woman's insult is my insult. I am my sister's—and my brother's—keeper."

"Life is tough-- for everybody. No man and no woman is immune from the slings and arrows of fortune; we’re all in this together.”

"Testosterone's not a bad hormone, and many households should not be without it.  But estrogen. Now there is a hormone."

“It’s important that society not cut out the brainpower of 53% of the population.”

Your accomplishments are many, what challenges did you and other women face stepping into the legal arena during this tumultuous movement?

One huge advantage I had was that my parents were in a position to economically support my decision to go to law school (which was cheaper in those days) and to be a civil rights lawyer, and they strongly approved of those choices. I thus was privileged in not carrying a huge debt burden (as so many of you-all are carrying these days) and in having the unwavering emotional support of my family. There were some pretty unnerving things that happened occasionally, but I knew my livelihood was not in jeopardy, and, with the support of both the very tight early women lawyers’ community and my own family, I did not feel alone.

Many aspiring women lawyers in my generation lacked the support of one or both parents, at least initially, often because of a fear that pursuit of a career might preclude the presumed safety of marriage, children and a husband’s income. That made life harder for some of my friends. My parents always counseled that a man was not a plan, though I have to say they were nevertheless pleased, and no doubt relieved, when I finally married a great guy and had my wondrous daughter, Jessica.

Can you share any “ah ha” moments—good or bad?

Not long after I turned 30, I certainly had an ‘ah ha’ moment and realized I had carefully constructed my life to make it so I had no responsibility to anybody but myself and my career all through my 20’s which I was completely unaware of at the time. I never realized how unconsciously focused I was on my career and I think that young men of that age are usually aware of this.

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