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Women in the Economy: A New Take on Planet of the Apes

New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights Trial Attorney Discusses the Role of Women in the Economy

I read a very amusing and very pertinent "commentary" piece by Kathleen J. Wu in the New Jersey Law Journal, September 1, 2014. Being an inveterate nerd from my youngest years, I've always loved the Planet of the Apes and any article in a legal publications that has "Planet of the Apes" in the title is bound to get read by me, even if I have to start reading things about bankruptcy or taxes later on in the article.

Kathleen was talking about "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," the recent "reboot" of same story from the 70's - the "old" Planet of the Apes franchise - where the apes rise up and conquer the homo sapiens' world. No spoilers here, but the apes win.

Her point in mentioning the movie was to talk about the lack of strong female characters in the film as an example of what's still wrong with our commercial and professional culture. It's an infirmity that still, surprisingly, afflicts many Hollywood movies that aren't about women's issues specifically.

For example, when Marvel wanted to make the "Avengers," they knew they had to have black widow, not only because she was always a compelling character, and not just because Scarlet Johansson had made the role so popular, but because an entirely testosterone-driven Avengers would not have had nearly as much credibility without at least one tough female. What Marvel also got right about the movie was that they didn't "sex up" black widow by making her achieve what she wanted to achieve through the use of her feminine wiles (or at least, not mostly). She got what she wanted with her pistols and with martial arts, and she didn't have to flirt with anyone to beat them.

The same is true of Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy, where again, though in the minority, there was at least one strong female character who didn't get what she wanted through manipulation of men via feminine wiles.

Yet, in Planet of the Apes, Kathleen makes the very valid point that the only female characters were "supportive ladies," in the role of wives and girlfriends. She decries the fact that this is still something that's happening in an action genre and then transitions to the real reason she brought it up, which is the absence of women in decision-making roles in the year 2014.

Looking at countries where women are still culturally and religiously marginalized tells you all you need to know about the ultimate fate of such societies. The more marginalized women are, the more violent, ignorant, backward and, in all candor, "screwed up," those countries are. The standard of living is lower, the level of education lower, the population grows out of control, the economy is usually unstable or in ruins, the list goes on.

Yet even in enlightened societies, the difference is visible, she says, at the upper ends of the economic spectrum. She cites two studies by Thomson Reuters, one called "Mining the Metrics of Board Diversity" in 2013 and other called "Women in the Workplace" from 2012. Both studies, she said, found that opening opportunities for women at the board and management levels is good for the shareholders of companies.

The 2013 study, for example, showed that companies with mixed-gender boards perform at least as well if not better than companies with no women on the boards. The 2012 study found that the companies with higher representation of women in senior positions fare better in a volatile or bearish stock market.

The legal profession tends to drag behind the societal curve, one of the afflictions of our profession that the New Jersey Association for Justice, the organization of which I'm a proud executive officer, is trying to remedy.

The profession ought to look like the culture it serves. If the firms that represent real people and families don't look like the people they're trying to attract, what does that say about our profession and its ultimate fate?

If we don't fix this, the apes will take over. Metaphorically. In 2014, we ought not be seeing the marginalization of women as continuously as we still see it.

Something has to be changed here, culturally, and I'm hoping that the younger generation's able to do it, because who else can we rely on?

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