Speaker: Rights of women still at issue, as in U.S. past

Adam Williams

Engaging in Kathleen Sullivan’s “thought experiment” Thursday night in Harris Hall, about 60 Northwestern students and faculty explored the question, “What if the framers had been feminist?”

“What if we were writing on a clean slab?” asked the Stanford University School of Law dean, imagining a hypothetical situation in which the U.S. Constitution was drafted with women’s rights in mind.

Taking the audience back to the drawing board, Sullivan provided criteria for the audience to consider, such as whether to include rights specific to women or more broad laws that would include both sexes.

After exploring all possible options, Sullivan revealed the secret of her experiment: It is inherently flawed because it’s not reality.

“There’s no way we can make that choice in the abstract,” said Sullivan, explaining that a constitution must be created around a society, and not vice versa.

Sullivan said the road to equality for women and minorities is to “infiltrate the walls of power” through hard work and the use of affirmative action programs.

“The only way we’ve been able to make do with this thin Constitution we have is to have women in (power),” she added. “We’re still not there.”

Sullivan came to Stanford as a professor in 1993. She was named the law school’s first female dean in 1999. Before coming to Stanford, Sullivan was the youngest person, at 33, to be named a professor with tenure at Harvard Law School.

“(U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader) Ginsberg and other women did it like women have always known how to do things: Cook a meal when there’s nothing in the kitchen,” Sullivan said of how to succeed in the struggle for gender equality.

During the lecture Sullivan also addressed the relationship between sexual and racial discrimination. “You can’t make a perfect link between sex discrimination and race discrimination,” Sullivan said, explaining that while race is addressed in a trilogy of amendments, sexual distinctions are only mentioned once. “That’s the sort of thing that brought down the (Equal Rights Amendment).”

Sullivan said that when framing laws, sex and race should be kept apart, even in situations when the two seem inseparable.

“Many of us are discriminated (against) on more than one thing,” she told audience members who questioned her point. She added that separate laws would allow such people to protest on multiple accounts.

Sullivan also cautioned against the idea that the world should strive to be colorblind to race and class.

“I don’t think in a post-modern world we believe that,” she said. “We just don’t want it to be a basis for (discrimination).”

Weinberg sophomore Jaime Huling said she appreciated Sullivan’s attempt to engage them in a new way of thinking.

“I didn’t know her personal views before,” said Huling, who also attended the gender studies program’s informal breakfast with Sullivan. “It was coherent and applicable, especially today with the number of compensation programs that are being undermined or repealed under (President) Bush.”

Weinberg sophomore Kate Flynn said she liked the dean’s position on affirmative action.

“I think that it’s necessary to infiltrate (top positions),” she said. “The only way we’re going to get rid of (inequalities) is to establish quotas.”