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Political experts discuss gender equality at ACS Convening

October 17, 2016

By Kathy Zhang C’17

On October 14 and 15, the American Constitution Society (ACS) at Penn Law hosted the ACS’s Northeast Convening, which brought together law students and lawyers from across Philadelphia and the Northeast region for a series of events centered on a progressive vision for equality.

The event opened with “Women in Politics,” a discussion about the progression and significance of gender equality in politics and what the 2016 presidential election means for women across the globe.

The panel featured Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge and advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign, and Anita McBride, former assistant to President George W. Bush and chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush. Penn Law Associate Dean for International Programs Rangita de Silva de Alwis moderated the event.

In discussing the difficulties of breaking gender roles and stereotypes, Gertner talked about the lack of women in many professions during her career and her own difficulties with lawyers who disliked having a female judge.

“I often heard people say ‘but she doesn’t look like a broker’ or ‘but she doesn’t look like an anthropology professor,’” said Gertner. “Well, of course she doesn’t. The incumbents of these positions have always been male!”

When the issue of affirmative action came up, all three speakers expressed their support for its use to increase representation and generate diversity. They agreed that illegalizing discrimination is not sufficient in addressing a history of sexism.

“If the playing field was not equalized, you can never address the consequences of discrimination,” said de Alwis.

“It’s great to have affirmative action plans and equalize the playing field,” said McBride. “But there has to be constant vigilance around that, too.”

Since McBride had challenged gender stereotypes in her own right through opportunities in the Republican Party, she emphasized the feasibility and the importance of bipartisan efforts to address gender inequality in the U.S. and abroad.

“You have to be a participant,” she said. “You may not always like the outcome, but you have to learn compromise, too.”

With Election Day looming closer, Gertner stressed the importance of voters exercising their right to vote. “There are no bystanders in this world,” she said. “There are no bystanders in politics, and there are no bystanders in this country.”

Tweets from this event: