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Lilly Ledbetter

PCSJS Portfolio's picture

In March, 2010 Lilly Ledbetter – famous as the face and name behind the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – came to Bryn Mawr to talk about her experience finding out that she had been paid less than her male counterparts after twenty years as a manager at GM.  Although a lower court  had ruled that GM had to pay her back wages, the Supreme Court overruled the decision, saying that she should have sued immediately after receiving the unfair paychecks (which she didn’t know were unfair until many years later).  Ledbetter became an advocate for equal pay, and eventually was able to help pass the bill bearing her name.  Although Ledbetter is clearly a capable advocate and activist, when she came to Bryn Mawr she did not do very much of the speaking. Instead, Jocelyn Samuels, a senior counselor to the assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice gave a long speech, with Ledbetter only giving a few brief remarks at the end of the event.

The setup of the talk was fascinating to me, because it seemed clear that even in the context of talking about equal rights in terms of gender, there was a message being sent that women of different classes and educational backgrounds are not equal amongst themselves.  Ledbetter was clearly articulate, and understood the intricacies of the topic at hand, but she remained silent throughout most of the evening.  Instead, Samuels (who, by the way, I did enjoy hearing) gave voice to Ledbetter’s story, explaining the Supreme Court case that led to the new legislation and what this meant for women.  My discomfort was not with Samuels herself, but rather the way in which the event was framed – as Ledbetter not capable of explaining legalese due to her background, and needing an advocate on stage.  I have no idea who came up with the format – Bryn Mawr, the speakers bureau, or someone else – but I do know that everyone in the room was aware that Samuels and Ledbetter were not on equal footing.

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