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Friday, October 14, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Motherizing Marcia Clark: Smiles And Softer Fabrics

Boston Globe

PROSECUTOR Marcia Clark has been put into soft focus. But her makeover angers many professional women, who say it shows the same old double standard: A man is assertive, a woman aggressive. He gets credit, she gets criticized. -----------------------------------------------------------------

LOS ANGELES - They understand. But their empathy is undercut by resentment that Marcia Clark had to cut her hair to make her case.

And that was just the start of a transformation that even female attorneys who work the other side of the courtroom say is as sexist as it is essential. It's a bind, and they know it well enough themselves to stop short of criticizing Clark, the prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial.

"I think the public is comfortable with women lawyers being tough, but not with them appearing tough," said Gloria Allred, a prominent Los Angeles attorney and president of the Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund. "She's not going to a tea party, after all. She's going to a double-murder trial. But she also has to do what she thinks is best to win a conviction."

As the grips who handle the lighting in Hollywood would say, Clark has been put into soft focus. Before, the only non-petite thing about the deputy district attorney was her legal mind. Now they've remade her into the little lawyer who could send O.J. Simpson to prison.

On the advice of jury specialists, Clark packed away the power mini-suits and the harsh high heels. She lopped the ringlets. She shelved her attitude, which tended toward aloof. Last week found her smiling, even laughing, right there in the courtroom.

That's when a group of women at a Los Angeles hair salon shouted "Ugh! Disgusting!" and demanded that the television be turned off, said Susan Estrich, a University of Southern California law professor.

"This woman is in the business of prosecuting murderers, and the notion that she has to do it wearing pink is a stunning indictment of how far we've come in terms of equal rights," she said. "Maybe they're right and it's a wise strategy. I can even understand why she did it.

"But I also find it really offensive."

Clark's makeover - Estrich calls it "motherizing" - has been maddening for many professional women, who say it shows that the double standard still applies: A man is assertive, a woman aggressive. He gets credit, she gets criticized. Clark's nemesis on Simpson's defense team, Robert Shapiro, posed shirtless in People magazine, and no one in the legal community suggested it would hurt his case. Clark wore black to the office and got whiplash from the backlash.

It doesn't appear she'll make that mistake again.

The other day in court, Clark had on a creamy suit with delicate piping. Where the former dancer once favored figure-flattering clothes, she was now covered to the neck. The soft fabrics don't jibe with her hard lawyering at all. But both jury consultants who favor the change and female lawyers who wish it wasn't necessary say that's the whole point.

Focus groups convened over the summer showed that the 12 jurors chosen from the 304 now in the running wouldn't much like the old Marcia Clark. She was smart and determined, and they said she came off as cold.

"The last thing Marcia Clark wants to do is blaze a trail at the people's expense," said Blair Bernholz, a West Los Angeles defense attorney. "She needs to somehow connect with that jury, to make them identify with her and want her to win. . . . Of course, the bigger message is that it's not acceptable to have a rigid, hard-charging, sometimes overly aggressive female prosecutor when it's perfectly acceptable in a man."

No one is predicting the new image alone will lead to a conviction. Some lawyers and jury consultants say it could even hurt Clark's case against Simpson, if the jury perceives her as phony. She has to appear comfortable with the person she has become in recent weeks.

In other words, female lawyers say, she could lose either way.

"They're basically saying that a tough, smart woman has to lighten up because we just can't accept you as you are," Estrich said. "But the problem with trying to change someone is that it can seem artificial. Generally it doesn't work. Generally it just exposes you to ridicule."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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