By AUDREY FISCHER
Marcia Greenberger was one of only 10 women in the class of 200 who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania law school in 1970. Today, it is not at all unusual for 50 percent of a law school class to be female.
As founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center, Greenberger has had more than a little to do with the improvement in the status of women in education during the past 30 years.
Greenberger, who recently delivered the keynote address at the Library's 2003 celebration of Women's History Month, said she spent her formative years without the benefit of laws prohibiting sex discrimination in education or employment. "It wasn't until the early 1970s that we began to create a fabric of legal rights for women in this country," she said.
It was only in hindsight that Greenberger realized the inequities in education and employment that she had personally experienced. "As my consciousness was slowly raised, I recalled my education at the Philadelphia High School for Girls and at the University of Pennsylvania College for Women and realized the difference in resources given to male and female students," said Greenberger.
Sports was the area in which inequities were most obvious, according to Greenberger, but women's schools also were lacking in the quality of library resources and lab equipment, as well as the caliber of the teachers assigned to each institution.
And then there was the issue of employment.
"When I began my career, Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964], which prohibited discrimination in employment, did not cover professional employment," said Greenberger. "So it was perfectly legal for law firms not to hire women attorneys."
She recalled being told outright by a prospective employer that it would not be safe for a woman lawyer to work late at night for a Washington, D.C., law firm. Greenberger said she always regretted "not marching back in there and inquiring about his concern for the secretaries who were required to work late at the firm."
Eventually, Greenberger joined the firm of Caplin and Drysdale in Washington and worked there until founding the Women's Rights Project of the Center for Law and Social Policy in 1972. At the project, which became the National Women's Law Center in 1981, Greenberger fought for the passage and full implementation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit sex discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funds.
According to Greeenberger, Title IX, which gave millions of young women a greater opportunity to play organized sports, "is now being questioned in very serious ways." She cited a recent report of the Secretary of Education's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics that many believe could drastically reduce opportunities for women in sports and undo much of the progress that has been made.
"While the secretary of education says he will only move forward on unanimous recommendations, he has refused to accept a minority report (by two people on the commission) that objects to the final wording of several of the recommendations," said Greenberger. The result, according to Greenberger, is that the secretary insists that several detrimental recommendations are unanimous.
"The progress we have made is a fragile progress. All the battles have not been won. We have many miles to go," said Greenberger.
Referring to the backlash against women's rights, Greenberger observed, "Many men and women my age and older are running companies. But they were also raised during the 1950s, and the lessons we learned die hard."
To make her point, Greenberger quoted from an article in a 1955 women's magazine that outlined in detail how to be the perfect wife. "The husband is master of the house," and "a good wife always knows her place."
Much has changed since then, not least the number of women in the work force. [According to Gilbert Sandate, director of the Library's Office of Workforce Diversity, 55 percent of the Library's work force is female.]
Women now earn 73 cents for every dollar earned by a man–up from 50 cents on the dollar estimated in the 1970s. But, according to Greenberger, the gap has narrowed because men's wages have decreased in the current economy. "This is not good news for the family on either count."
Greenberger also debunked the myth that the budget for men's sports has declined as a result of gains in the budget for women's sports.
"It is not the one-third of the budget that is spent on women's sports that is starving men's sports," said Greenberger. "It is the enormous amount of money that is spent on football." According to Greenberger, those who believe that women's sports have hurt men's teams are actively working to reform or even repeal Title IX.
"Sports and the military are still male preserves," said Greenberger.
Although women are encouraged to join the military, they still face discrimination and harassment in the service academies, she said. "There are mixed messages being sent to women," she said.
"We are living in perilous times," Greenberger concluded. "If ever there was a time when we needed the contributions of every citizen, male and female, of every race, it is now."