The Reckoning with Gloria Allred

Buckle up, friends. Today’s episode is a wild ride. We sat down with famed feminist lawyer Gloria Allred to talk about her four-decade career fighting discrimination and sexual violence, and her new induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame…during the same week some messy details emerged about her role in the Harvey Weinstein saga.

Whew. When we sat down with Gloria earlier this month, we knew she was a powerhouse lawyer—from representing more than 30 women in the Bill Cosby case to fighting California’s gay marriage ban in the state supreme court in 2004 to advocating for abortion rights and against gender discrimination since the 1970s, she’s seen and done a lot.

But just before we got her on the phone, a new book came out that complicates things: She Said—written by two New York Times reporters, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who broke open the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017. In it, they detail how Gloria’s daughter Lisa Bloom, also a feminist attorney, went to work for Weinstein, promising to plant stories painting accusers like Rose McGowan as unstable in the press. The memos were pretty damning. And then, Kantor and Twohey took aim at Gloria herself—because back in the early aughts, her firm represented a client who signed a secret settlement with Weinstein—and that client now feels burned.

So in this episode, we share an inspiring, powerful interview with Gloria—and remind ourselves that all our faves are problematic.

Fighting injustice is very good for the health… Take that rage and anger, which is a source of energy for you, and move it outward into constructive action to win change.

—Gloria Allred, 2019 inductee into the National Women’s Hall of Fame

We talk about:

  • The power and limitations of lawsuits as a form of justice
  • Prison abolition versus locking up rapists, and why carceral feminism won’t save us
  • How Gloria went from a childhood in Southwest Philly to public school teacher to labor organizer to celebrity attorney
  • Why fighting injustice is good for the health

Links:

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Transcript

Sara Wachter-Boettcher Today’s show is sponsored by Harvest––our favorite tool for keeping invoices and timesheets in order. We like how easy Harvest makes it to keep projects profitable, send invoices and get paid, and generally know where your time is going. And we’re not alone! Thousands of companies in more than 100 countries trust Harvest. You can check them out at GetHarvest.com/StrongFeelings and sign up for a free trial. If you like it, that URL is going to get you 50% off your first paid month. That’s GetHarvest.com/StrongFeelings. [theme music plays for 11 seconds and then fades out] Hey, everyone, I’m Sara! 

Katel LeDu And I’m Katel. 

SWB And this is Strong Feelings! A podcast about work, friendship, and feminism––and what happens when you bring them all together!

KL So, let’s get right into it. Today’s guest is kind of a big deal. It’s Gloria Allred. You may know her as the attorney representing more than thirty of Bill Cosby’s accusers. 

SWB Oof. 

KL Or the couples who got California’s gay marriage ban overturned in the state’s Supreme Court. 

SWB Mhmm.

KL Or women who were assaulted by Jeffrey Epstein and R. Kelly. In 40 years of practicing law, Gloria has exclusively worked on civil rights and gender-based discrimination and violence issues. Now she’s being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame! And we talked to her a couple of weeks ago, just before the induction. It sounds amazing, right? 

SWB Ugh, it was amazing, but it also it was a pretty weird moment! 

KL Yeah! 

SWB Because the same week as our interview, this huge story broke because this new book came out called “She Said.” It’s by two New York Times reporters who broke open the Harvey Weinstein story back in 2017. And in the book, they reveal some pretty fucked up stuff!

KL [laughing] Mhmm.

SWB Primarily about Gloria’s daughter, Lisa Bloom, who is also a famous feminist attorney. Except that [laughs] Lisa had decided to work for Harvey Weinstein––

KL Yeah.

SWB ––offering to dig up dirt on accusers like Rose McGowan, and plant stories in the press that would paint her as an unstable person. All kinds of garbage like that! So, there’s been a lot of anger over her role in that case. And, seriously, read the book or listen to the authors on the New York Times The Daily podcast from last week where they talk about it because you’ll be mad too. [laughs]

KL Yeah.. it’s very messy and so upsetting.

SWB Right. So, I tried to ask Gloria about that, but she did not want to comment on her daughter. She was basically like, “look, she works for her own firm; I don’t make her choices.” And that is more or less what I expected her to say, I didn’t expect to be able to include that in the interview.

KL Right. 

SWB I mean, she gave a canned statement to the New York Times, she’s not going to open up to us. [both laugh]

[2:34]

KL Yeah. I mean, you never know, but exactly. Okay, so since everything came out about Lisa Bloom, Lisa has since apologized. And it’s good that she’s apologizing and attempting to walk her super shitty actions back, but it’s so infuriating to me. How are women supposed to have any kind of trust in people protecting them after hearing what she did? It’s just such a betrayal and it’s so exploitative of all the personal stories women are constantly obligated to share.

SWB Yes! But also, Gloria is right that she’s not her daughter––

KL Yeah. 

SWB ––and we can’t put her daughter’s actions on her. And it reminded me of how women are often expected to be representative of their gender in the same way that people of color are expected to be representative of their race. And white men get to be specific and individual and judged only on themselves and their own actions and not worried about reflecting badly on their group as a whole. And I think some of that is at play here where it’s like, “oh, mother and daughter in the same field; therefore, we’re going to conflate the actions of the two of them.” And that doesn’t feel fair! 

KL No, it doesn’t. And I mean, right, it’s not fair. Even though it’s upsetting, it’s tough. 

SWB Yeah! And, of course, I wish that Gloria would step up and be like, “what she did was wrong, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,”––

KL Sure. 

SWB ––but I also understand when you’re talking about your family, that’s a tough place to be. 

KL Yeah. 

SWB Okay, but! [both laugh] There’s a part two to this story, which is all about Gloria herself. And I want to dig into that for sure because I think it’s some context that’s really, really valuable before listening to the interview with her. So, the context is that in 2017 when the Weinstein story broke, Gloria started representing some of his victims. And she held a press conference where she made this big deal about “taking him on.” And that’s a pretty standard Gloria Allred move; we’re going to talk about that in the interview. 

KL Right, she always holds a big press conference. 

SWB Right, it’s kind of what she’s known for. 

KL Yeah. 

SWB But…it turns out that Gloria didn’t just get the news before the press conference, it wasn’t just when she started taking on these clients because she actually knew about at least some allegations against Harvey Weinstein long before these cases…because she’d helped keep them quiet. [KL sighs] So, way back in the early aughts, there was a dancer who had had a bit part in Weinstein movie––her name is Ashley Matthau. She’d reached out to Gloria for help because Harvey Weinstein had sexually assaulted her. And Gloria had said she was too busy at the time and referred her to somebody else in her firm. And that attorney in her firm secured a private settlement with Harvey Weinstein that was like $100K or $140K or something like that––a little over a hundred thousand dollars. And then the firm had gotten 40% of that. And in exchange, Ashley had to sign an NDA. 

[5:17]

KL Mhmm!

SWB And so, when Gloria Allred came out with this rhetoric about taking him down, she ended up feeling really abandoned. She says in the New York Times podcast that she called Gloria and Gloria was like, “well, do you really want to take the risk of speaking? How much money do you have? Are you able to handle that risk?” 

KL Right. 

SWB And what Ashley felt like was that Gloria wanted to sweep it under the rug, that she didn’t want the public knowing that she’d known about Harvey Weinstein and that her firm had effectively protected him by keeping it quiet all those years ago. 

KL Yeah. So, I also want to note that $100,000 is not that much money. [laughs]

SWB Noooo! It’s really not! 

KL [laughing] Yeah! Especially after the split––and I know that that happens, but it’s not a lot. And in the cases where victims are getting some kind of monetary settlement, great they’re getting compensation, but as we heard in The Daily pieces, most of the time these settlements are capped at something like $200,000. So, even if a victim is satisfied with a settlement or that’s the best route, it’s really limited. 

SWB Right. I mean, $200,000 sounds like a lot of money––

KL Right. 

SWB ––in theory. But then you think about like you’re paying taxes on that, you’re prevented from talking about things again, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. You could spend $200,000 on therapy alone. 

KL Exactly! 

SWB Also, we should note that the New York Times found that Gloria had also helped other victims of famous dudes with secret settlements. So, there was one with a victim of Bill O’Reilly, there was another with a victim of Larry Nasser. And all of that feels gross to me, but at the same time, I want to say that’s also not just a Gloria Allred thing by any means! It’s actually one of the only ways that a sexual assault or sexual harrassment case goes anywhere. Very, very few of those cases make their way into criminal courts, relatively few of them make their way into an actual civil suit. 

KL Right. 

SWB A huge amount of cases are settled privately and quietly, particularly when they involve powerful and rich people!

KL Yeah. 

SWB I mean, if that’s one of the only ways a victim is going to get anything at all, I don’t know. [sighs] You don’t want to take that away from them either!

KL Right. It just sucks because the way this is all set up in my eyes is it essentially translates to if you’re a man who harasses and hurts women, you’ll be fine if you can pay money to the victim and even better if it all can be quiet. Which is why it made me so mad this week to see the interview with Donna Rotunno, who is Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer where she was like, “I think that no matter what happens to Harvey Weinstein, he will pay the biggest price there is.” 

[7:53]

SWB Eughh.

KL “Even if he wins, his whole life has been ruined, toppled, damaged.” [SWB sighs] Like what the fuck? And, you know, I’m sitting here thinking, “oh and the dozens of women he’s abused and harassed are totally fine, I guess.” I’m just so sick of the “he’s suffered enough” and “when will he be forgiven” tropes. 

SWB Right! Like see also Louis CK––

KL Yeah. 

SWB ––etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Like, a) that man’s life has definitely not been ruined; he is still rich and powerful. 

KL Right! 

SWB And b) as you say, what about his victims? What about all of the ways their lives are never going to be the same? What about all of the things they never got a chance to do because they were kicked out of an industry or dealing with trauma or whatever? And then c) motherfucker, you did this to yourself! 

KL Yes! 

SWB Like you want to have sympathy for having consequences for your patterns of abuse over decades? 

KL Right. 

SWB I mean, no. 

KL No.

SWB No sympathy. But it just reminds me though how complicated this topic is because I think the public deserves to know about abusers like Harvey Weinstein. There’s more of them out there that we haven’t heard about yet, and the public deserves to know about all of them. And at the same time, victims deserve to have the power to decide what they want for themselves, and should be allowed to process their trauma and their assaults on their own terms and in their own ways. I mean, it’s so disempowering to be assaulted in the first place that then to have no choice over how that story is told and to whom––that doesn’t help them. And also we have to recognize that going public can really, really hurt people. It’s hard enough to put your trauma on display when the person who harmed you isn’t famous, but when he is Harvey Weinstein or Louis CK or Bill Cosby or some other powerful rich dude, that can really make your life hell!

KL Yeah. 

SWB I think about the fact that Christine Blasey Ford still can’t go back to teaching her classes. She is still getting death threats and it’s been a year! 

KL Yeah. 

SWB Can you blame someone for not wanting to go public, for wanting to just quietly take the money and try to… you know, move on with their lives?

KL I mean, absolutely. It’s so gut-wrenching because this is all so wrapped up in essentially trying to make a broken system sort of work in that women get some remuneration, but at the expense of having a voice. And by doing so, abusers get to keep covering their tracks so they can keep abusing. And I think what we’re seeing––not only from these examples––is that it’s hard to envision how we can ever have real resolutions to these enormous problems if we only try to fix them within a system that’s not really working. 

[10:21]

SWB Mmm mhmm.

KL Because as it stands, the responsibility and the accountability largely remains with the victims of the harassment and assault, and the power just continues to reside with the abusers. 

SWB Yes. And you know, these settlements don’t fundamentally shift that at all. 

KL Mhmm.

SWB Which, again, is that a fair expectation to place on the victims who just want to fucking live? 

KL Right. 

SWB But yeah, the system is really broken. And I think we are also seeing here kind of a big generational divide within feminism. I really want to be able to celebrate the work Gloria has done, and I think it’s been incredibly important, but I also don’t want to conflate something like financial settlements with justice. 

KL Mmm.

SWB So, then it makes me think, “well, what does it mean to get justice as a victim of sexual violence? What is justice? And then also what does it mean to hold bad actors accountable? What do we mean by accountability?” 

KL Mhmm.

SWB And those are really big questions and I don’t think we can answer them purely on financial terms. But currently, that’s one of the only mechanisms that can exist and that’s one of the mechanisms that was available to women in Gloria’s generation. It was one of the only things that became available to them was feeling like they could do this in things like lawsuits and civil suits.

KL Right!

SWB Because, think about it, when it comes to sexual violence, even if you can press criminal charges––you’re not outside the statutes of limitations, you have enough evidence, people take it seriously, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera––even if all that’s true, the odds of a conviction are still really low. And also, we have a huge problem with mass incarceration in this country, and so is convicting people of more crimes and sending more people to jail a good and just outcome? Does that actually solve things? And I feel like this is somewhere I always get stuck because on the one hand, I am a big believer in decarceration. And on the other hand, when you talk about a rapist, I think, “lock him up, lock him up, lock him up.” 

KL Right. 

SWB I think a lot of us feel that way––that we are holding both of those ideas in our head at the same time, but we haven’t really talked through and dealt with the cognitive dissonance. And I think that’s something I want to do more of.

KL Yeah, I know; I’m in the same boat. And thinking about that dissonance, I’ve been reading a bunch about carceral feminism, which is a term invented by a sociologist named Elizabeth Bernstein. She defines it as “a reliance on policing, prosecution, and imprisonment to resolve gendered or sexual violence.” There’s a really great Vox article that talks about how criminalization leads to broader definitions of sexual harassment and assault. Which, on one hand, we do want that––we want there to be repercussions for harassment and assault. And on the other hand, criminalization is fundamentally about law enforcement and punitive measures versus investing in prevention or exploring alternatives to incarceration. And when we talk about more incarceration, especially in this country, what we’re really talking about is arresting and punishing more poor working class people, especially black and brown people. 

[13:18]

SWB Right. Who are already so overrepresented in the prison system––

KL Right. 

SWB ––and already always under threat of police violence.

KL Yeah, exactly! So, a big example of this was back in the 70s when women filed class action lawsuits against police depts for ignoring domestic violence calls or just plain providing inadequate services––

SWB Mmmm.

KL ––which then created a much larger approach to try to solve domestic violence by mainly relying on punishment and putting offenders in prison. So today, nearly half of US states have a “mandatory arrest law” which means that if you call the police about domestic violence, they must arrest someone in response to the call. Which, as you can maybe imagine, this inevitably lead to victims being arrested sometimes. So, those lawsuits that I mentioned were part of a series of grassroots efforts around violence against women through the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, and ultimately that movement resulted in the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. So, VAWA was included in the largest crime bill in history, which ended up funding the hiring of 100,000 new police officers nationwide. 

SWB Right. That’s the crime bill that gave us the story about “super predators”––

KL Yeah. 

SWB ––and is one of the big reasons we have the mass incarceration problem we have today. So, yeah. I have a lot of complicated feelings here because VAWA provides really important things like services for victims, legal services, rape crisis centers. And those really matter, particularly in the current world, in the current system; we need funding for that. And we actually talked about VAWA back in the spring with Christine Nobiss, who was telling us about VAWA expansion to create more services for indigenous women who face violence in their communities. And that’s really important too! But also, more cops, more jail!

KL [laughing] Right! So, critics of carceral feminism will say that we can’t only focus on punishment or prioritize punishment over the harder, slower work of shifting culture and investing in and building more socially responsible and sustainable frameworks. Some non-punitive solutions that they talk about are things like expanding social safety nets, so victims don’t have to stay with abusers, or decoupling healthcare and employment, so you don’t have to stay in an abusive workplace to have healthcare. And strengthening unions, so working people can speak up without retaliation. And even providing citizenship to undocumented people, so that their status isn’t used as a tool of oppression.

SWB All of those things sound really good, but also… none of those things will magically create a society where men aren’t raised to rape. Honestly, where––

KL Right. 

SWB ––we don’t have a huge problem of men learning to wield sexual power over women and problems where men don’t recognize consent and all of that. That doesn’t fix those things. 

KL No. 

SWB And there’s a lot of stuff that would have to change to make all of this work. So, I sit here and I think about it and I wish I had total confidence about where I stand. I wish I could express one firm opinion [laughs]––

[16:25]

KL [laughing] Yeah! 

SWB ––with no doubts. And I don’t feel like I have that at this particular moment because it is messy and we’re existing in a really messy time. But I think that reading about carceral feminism and talking through it has helped clarify a couple of things. One of them is just that it’s really hard for me to imagine alternatives to prison for violent crime when there are so many other things that would have to change to make that viable. There’s a big distance between where we are now and that reality. And that makes it seem like it’s a fantasy, but it’s not a fantasy. It’s a thousand smaller decisions about how our social infrastructure works, it’s about how we take care of each other, it’s all of these other pieces that create the context where this does become possible. So, that helps me reconcile things because it allows me to say, “okay, we do have to live in the world that exists right now and that might be a world where reporting to police is one of the only actions you can take! Or trying to get money might be one of the only actions you can take, but also, we need people who are out there helping us see what could be, so that we can take collective action, so we can shift the world.”

KL Yeah, totally. I mean, I honestly, when I find myself getting really low and kind of spiraling into a hole of like, “what are we going to do about all of this,” I do think about all the folks doing that work of helping us see what could be, like you said, and maybe there are openings for us to help take action! And I feel a little bit better.

SWB Right. Like ultimately we need both right now; we need prison abolitionists who are helping us see what could be, and we need people dealing with the world on the ground! And that is why I do think Gloria is inspirational. In fact, I think part of the reason we can even have this discussion now is because of the groundwork that her and other people like her have laid––the fact that she has been relentless in pushing cases forward and changing perceptions for 40 years. I’m really excited about that! So, I am excited to share this interview with you––also with the reminder that, like always, all your faves are problematic. [both laugh] [short transition music plays]

Interview: Gloria Allred

[18:24]

SWB Gloria Allred is a lawyer, activist, and advocate, who has dedicated her more than four decade legal career to civil rights and feminist issues. Her firm ‘Allred, Maroko & Goldberg’ has handled more women’s rights cases than any other private law firm in the nation, and President Obama called her “one of the best attorneys in the country.” This year, she’s being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Gloria, welcome to Strong Feelings; it’s an honor to have you here!

Gloria Allred Well, thank you so much. And thank you for inviting me, Sara.

SWB I am just very glad you could make the time because you are doing a lot! So, you’re known for representing women who have accused very powerful men of assault or harassment–people like R. Kelly, Roy Moore, Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump. Maybe most famously, you’ve represented dozens of Bill Cosby’s accusers. So, I’m curious–when did you realize that this was something you needed to devote your life’s work to? What led you here?

GA Well, like most women, I’m a feminist because of my own life experience, because I never had a class in women’s studies in any level of higher education or less than higher education. So, because I’m a woman and no woman is spared from life’s challenges, because we are women, I felt that when I entered the practice of law 43 years ago, that I had a duty to pass it on and help women to have access to the justice system, to educate them about their rights, and to help them to vindicate their rights in a court of law. So, that’s what I’ve been doing. We are the leading women’s rights law firm–private law firm–in the United States and have been for 43 years. We have represented rape victims, sexual assault victims, sexual abuse victims, child sexual abuse victims, women who have been discriminated against on the job because of their gender, because of their pregnancy. We have represented all kinds of victims of gender violence, economic discrimination, reproductive rights discrimination, women who essentially are victims of injustice of all types. And we fight what we call David versus Goliath battles—or Davida versus Goliath battles—against the rich, the powerful, the famous. We want to equalize the power, we want justice for women, we want the truth, we want accountability, and that’s what we seek to fight to win. And I am every day inspired by the courage of my clients who want to fight that good fight.

SWB Yeah, so speaking of the powerful, you’ve been doing this for a while, but do you remember the first time you found yourself representing a client against a powerful man and what that was like?

[21:00]

GA Uh, now I don’t remember the first time, [laughs & SWB laughs] but there have definitely been thousands of times, and each and every day, that’s what I’m doing. We’re there to equalize the power. And women have become empowered and this is the age of empowerment of women, it is the reckoning. So, I’m not there to make friends with powerful men, I’m there to seek justice for women and for the victims. So, I do think that when these predators get a letter from me, which often goes to their attorney, and then they hear about it from their attorney, they’re generally taking it very seriously because I don’t threaten anybody, but just the fact that I exist and am breathing and they got a letter from me [laughs] about someone that this person has hurt is generally something that is taken very seriously and they want to see if this matter can be resolved.

SWB Yeah, it’s like your list is the one list of powerful men that none of these guys want to be on, huh? [laughs]

GA Nobody wants to be on it. But it’s so interesting because so many women have lived in fear. Fear has paralyzed them and kept them subordinated. Fear of what if they did take action against a powerful man? Some of them fear “okay, he might physically retaliate against me, he may damage my reputation, I may lose my job, I may”–this or that. All kinds of fears! And I can’t say that none of those fears are unjustified, but we can often protect against some of the fears from happening. And we can talk about the benefits versus the risks. And then it’s for our clients to decide. Do the benefits of taking some sort of action outweigh the risks? They can make that informed decision themselves and they do. And we want them to be rewarded, if it is at all possible to do so, for becoming empowered and seeking justice. So, there are many ways to make these men who have committed wrongs against women–sometimes they amount to crimes, sometimes they don’t, but they are wrongs that hurt women. And we have ways that we think they can be made accountable, and we discuss those ways with our clients on a confidential basis. Because all consultations with us are confidential because people seeking legal advice from an attorney have a right to confidentiality–it can’t go anywhere. They’re voluntary–that’s the choice of our clients. If they want to protect their privacy or if they want to try to resolve their case with an out of court settlement. Then we’re going to do what our client decides is in her best interest.

SWB It’s interesting you mention those confidential settlements because I know that’s a topic that has led to some criticism because there are people who think that that’s problematic to encourage women to stay silent or who have pushed back against that. And I’ve seen some of that criticism and I’m curious how you look at it because it seems like you’re very unbothered by the idea of confidential settlements, you see them as part and parcel with the work.

[24:03]

GA In the 43 years we’ve been practicing law, we’ve seen represented thousands of victims of rape and sexual assault and sexual harassment. Women do not choose to be sexually assaulted or raped and when that occurs, their choice to be free of sexual violence is taken away from them by the sexual predator. We believe the victim should, at the very least, have choices when it comes to asserting their legal rights against the person or company that victimized them and we provide victims with legal choices, which include filing a lawsuit or the possibility of entering into a settlement, which avoids their having to file a lawsuit and litigating their case publicly for many years. And often lawsuits only increase the suffering of victims. So, many victims choose to protect their privacy; they want to enter into a confidential settlement to avoid having to file a public lawsuit. And, often, defendants will refuse to settle unless it is confidential. So, I always present my clients with all the benefits and risks of each of their legal options, so that they can make an important decision and choice as to what they believe is in their best interest. We do not tell our clients what to do; they decide. And we think the victim should have the right to choose whether or not they wish to enter into a voluntary confidential settlement. And no one, including the press and including politicians, should take that right and that choice away from victims. We do understand that the press wants to know everything and they’re not in favor of privacy, but there are many people in this country that do want privacy; they don’t want their mother, sister, family-member, workplace to know that they have been sexually harassed or raped. I support my clients if they decide they want a confidential settlement and that’s why I say the press should not be able to take away that right. They want to blame the lawyer who supports her client in a confidential settlement–which is voluntary, the client is not forced to do that, it’s up to her–they want to blame the lawyer, but the lawyer–that’s myself–I’m an advocate. I have a duty to represent and support my client; that’s what I will do. Many people try to take away the choice from women of whether they’re going to have an abortion because they’re against women having that choice! Okay? I support a woman’s choice to have an abortion or not have an abortion. I support a woman’s choice to go in and have a confidential settlement or not have a confidential settlement. And I refuse to let anyone take that choice away from my clients, who are victims; they have suffered enough.

[27:01]

SWB I really appreciate you talking through that because I think it’s very easy for people to, in the name of justice and in the name of outing bad men, to sort of accept women’s retraumatization as collateral damage. And I wanted to come back to something you mentioned earlier. Earlier you mentioned we’re in this moment of reckoning, which definitely we can see that all around us–in the names that I mentioned at the top of the show too. And there’s this moment of women’s voices maybe being raised up more, women feeling empowered to speak up. And it makes me wonder–you’re one of the few people who has been doing this kind of work so specifically for so long. And I’m curious–from your perspective, over these last four decades, what has changed and what hasn’t changed? Where do you feel like we are making a lot of progress and where do you feel like maybe you’re still fighting for the same damn thing? [GA laughs]

GA Well, under the heading of “fighting for the same damn thing,” I love the sign that I saw an older woman carrying at one of the women’s marches that said, “I’ve been holding this same damn sign for fifty years and my arms are getting tired.” [SWB laughs] The sign said, “equal rights for women.” It’s true that we have been fighting this fight for a long time. Remember that the suffragettes, who are my sheroes, first demanded the right to vote for women in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, where I’ll be Friday night for the reception honoring those of us who are going to be inducted on Saturday to the National Women’s Hall of Fame. And the point is it was in Seneca Falls, New York where women first demanded the right to vote in 1848. It took 72 years to win the right to vote! The addition of the 19th Amendment suffrage to the United States Constitution. So, that’s where it began, and I’m sure they were getting tired along the way too! [SWB laughs] But, thank god, they knew that it was a luxury to give up and be tired, and they kept persisting until they won it 72 years later. In 1923, Alice Paul argued that women should be afforded the right to have the equal rights amendment added to the United States Constitution because the right to vote for women is the only place women are mentioned in the US Constitution. So, we’ve been fighting since 1923. It’s now 2019 and we still do not enjoy the passage of the equal rights amendment to the United States Constitution. We’re still women, although we’re the majority second class citizens in the United States. So, it’s a luxury to be tired. I get up every day and I know what my duty is; it’s to fight for respect and equal rights for women. I’m going to continue to do that. And I don’t get tired; I’m inspired by the courage of women every day to fight the good fight! They have much more difficult challenges than I do in their daily lives. So, if they can do it, I’m going to be there to be supportive of them to do it.

[30:00]

SWB I think that’s really incredible that you say that you don’t get tired and you never shy away from that. How do you keep that energy up? Is it really just looking to those clients and that gives you the oompf you need to keep going?

GA Well, I know what’s at stake and what’s at stake is everything. Especially, we see that in the Trump administration more clearly now than ever. The cutbacks and the rollbacks and how women are disrespected and their choices restricted, especially reproductive choices. So, I understand that we each have a finite time on this earth, none of us know how much time, generally. But we do know this–we have a duty to leave this world a better place. So, I value every minute and I know what my duty is, I’m blessed to be able to be an attorney, given that my parents only had an eighth-grade education and we lived on a little row house in Philadelphia, never had a car, never had much economically. So, I know now that it’s my–and I have known this for all these more than four decades–that my duty is to improve the lives of women and help empower them. When women are empowered, there’s just no end to what they can do to improve their own lives and the lives of their daughters. And you see that–I don’t know if you’ve seen my Netflix documentary “Seeing Allred” that is streaming on Netflix–

SWB I have.

GA –and you see many of the brave women who alleged that they were victims of sometimes rapes, sometimes sexual assaults, sometimes drugging and sexual assault, and more–you see them having the courage to fight. So, yes, it’s not an easy battle. It never was for the suffragettes. It’s not for me, it’s not for any woman or her daughter out there–an easy battle–but there is a war on women, it’s real. And we have to keep fighting the good fight. And we have to resist, and we have to persist, and we have to insist, and we have to elect those who are willing to share our values, and fight for our values, and fight for our aspirations, and fight for our daughters. And men have a stake in this battle too. We have to improve also the image and the status of women and the condition of women–I know you’re doing that through your podcast and that’s also important. Each thread in this tapestry makes this tapestry whole. And this is what we have to do. We can each do it, you don’t have to be a lawyer to do it. Rosa Parks wasn’t a lawyer, but she decided she was not sitting in the back of the bus and she became the change she wished to see in the world. And each one of your listeners to this podcast can also be the change they wish to see in this world. Each one can speak truth to power, each one can resist and persist and insist and elect. And that’s what I encourage everyone to do because everybody can make a difference. Somebody sent me a birthday card a while back that said, “act as though everything you do can make a difference because it does,” and that’s very true.

[32:52]

SWB I love that so much. And I love that you mention growing up in Philadelphia. We record here in Philly, I live in Philly. And you mentioned coming from a very working-class family here and you’ve made your way from a southwest Philadelphia row house to becoming probably the most famous lawyer in the United States. I mean, not a lot of lawyers have a Netflix documentary dedicated just to them. So, I’m curious if you can share a little bit of that story because I think a lot of our listeners probably haven’t seen the documentary. How did you go from southwest Philly to where you are now?

GA Of course, in southwest Philly, I had the honor of being able to be accepted to the Philadelphia High School for Girls. And I’m a graduate of Girls High. And that was an exceptional time in my life and it really was important for me to obtain that Girls High education, which gave me confidence in myself that I hadn’t had previously. And then from there, because I was a Girls High graduate, I was able to be accepted at the University of Pennsylvania and I graduated from there with Honors in English. From there, I commuted to New York to earn a masters degree and I also taught at Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia. And I was a substitute teacher elsewhere as well. So, I learned quite a bit from my teaching experience and enjoyed it very much. And then I moved to California–I was about 25 years old, something like that, with a five-year-old child, about a hundred dollars, and not a lot of dreams, not knowing where I was going when I got off the plane in Los Angeles, but I thought that I had no place to go but up. So, I became a teacher there eventually. And I had been an Assistant Buyer in Philadelphia as well at Gumble Brothers department store. So, I ended up being a labor organizer for the Los Angeles Teachers Association in Los Angeles, which ultimately became the union. And I ended up going to law school, where I met my wonderful partners who are still my partners today after 43 years of law practice. Nathan Goldberg and Michael Moroka. And, of course, we’ve had other partners and associates. And we love fighting for justice, and that’s what we do! So, that’s the story. And, you know, I faced a lot of life challenges–so many people listening to this show have. Some they’ve shared with other people, some they’ve never shared with anyone. But all I can tell you is it’s been a journey, it still is, and I just love doing what I do and feel very blessed to be able to do it.

SWB I think a lot of your clients would also say they feel very blessed to have you able to advocate for them.

GA Thank you.

[35:23]

SWB And I want to go back to some of that too because I know you’re known not just for representing clients when it comes to their civil cases or going to court with them, but also for making a lot of their cases very public. So, a lot of things that you see a lot of is the TV appearances, the press conferences, making sure everyone knows about the case when, of course, the client wants that. And I know you’ve gotten some pushback from folks who think seeking that kind of publicity is somehow wrong or inappropriate, and you seem very unbothered by that. You seem very clear on why it is you want to get publicity for these cases and I’m curious if you can talk about why that is.

GA Yeah. We don’t consider it publicity for the cases, we consider it coverage of issues of public interest and importance. And it’s really up to the client, as well as me, as to whether we think it will help to accomplish the client’s goal or whether it will hurt the client’s goals. I agree there are many people who wish women would just suffer in silence and not have a voice and not be heard. And when I began practicing law 43 years ago, generally women were not heard from. [laughs] Lawyers spoke for them and you never saw or heard from the client. I met Mitch McKenzie who did the wonderful television BBC series about the suffragettes in England, UK. And she did a book, Shoulder to Shoulder, which I still have in my office. And she said, “Gloria, women’s history or herstory is still happening now; you need to help women have a voice. Because if they can not be heard about the injustices against them, nothing will change for them.” I took that very seriously. But we’re very strategic about this too. Most of our cases you’ll never hear of, it’s completely confidential. And our clients don’t want to be public. We don’t urge anyone to be public and we don’t say, “don’t be public.” We give them the benefits and risks, we talk it through, we think it through, and then we decide what we’re going to do. So, again, I do not put my finger in the air like some politicians do and say, “oh, is this going to help my reputation or is this going to hurt my reputation?” I’m a civil rights lawyer, I’m a women’s rights lawyer, and I do what is right for my client. And there are people who are against women’s rights and then later they come to me and they say, “Oh, we’re so sorry we criticized you, can you help us now with our legal problem?” [SWB laughs] And, of course, I say yes! If I can! Because I understand they just didn’t understand how bad it is for women or they had a political agenda that was different than mine. So, all I can say is nothing will stop me. If they’re calling me names, then I feel that I’ve won because it means they don’t have a good argument against what I’m saying. Because if they had a good argument, they would give it! If they don’t have a good argument, then they’ll call me by pejorative words for women’s genital areas. And that’s how I know I’ve won; they might as well just haul up the white flag of surrender because I know that they’ve lost the battle in the court of public opinion with me. And sometimes people who have criticized later say, “oh, I apologize, I just didn’t understand!” That’s fine. I don’t care. There was a famous saying by the suffragists that women who are not willing to risk the displeasure of men will never do anything meaningful for women’s rights. So, I just soldier on, we win millions for women, and we win accountability from sexual predators for our clients. So, my clients are happy and that’s what’s most important to me.

[39:00]

SWB You know, it makes me think of something I heard you say in the Netflix documentary. You said, “I decided I should be strong and I should show no fear.”

GA That’s right.

SWB Yeah! You talked about being that unyielding, confident person in the face of all of these clips from the 70s and 80s of men on talk shows belittling you, yelling at you. [laughs] And I’m really interested in and inspired by that–deciding to go out there and face that and be strong and not show fear. But I’m also curious if you feel like anything has changed in the world. Is there more space for different types of women’s voices to be able to be heard? Can women get out there and be successful making change without necessarily putting on that kind of persona?

GA Well, there are many ways to win change and you have to be strategic and think about the best way. Depending on what the facts are and what the law is and the risks you are willing to take and accept, and whether you think it’s a risk worth taking. Not every battle should be fought, but that’s a decision that each person has to make for herself. Which are the important ones? No one in their lives has the energy to fight every single battle presented to them in life! In some cases, you have to decide that a problem is not really a problem or if it is a problem, that it’s not worth fighting or dealing with. Maybe it’s an opportunity, not a problem. So, what I do often–a lot of what I do is teaching moments. So, everybody can help to win change, you just have to decide which battles you’re going to fight and how you’re going to fight them and what the outcome is that you’re seeking and how to get there.

SWB Do you feel like your voice has evolved in that over the years? From when you first started out and the way that you would speak to these issues and the way that you would speak truth to power? Has that evolved as the years have gone on?

GA I don’t know if I’ve evolved, I don’t think about it. I think about my clients and the best way and the clearest way to present what has happened to them and what their goal is. So, it’s about my client. They get approval of how it’s going to be presented, if it’s going to be presented, the way it’s going to be presented, and it’s really up to them. They think it out and they’re very thoughtful about it. And so, again, if we’re not getting any pushback, we probably haven’t said anything very important. [SWB laughs]

SWB That’s a good rule to live by!

GA It’s true!

[41:28]

SWB So, I do want to ask about one other thing that has been coming up in the news–that’s the new book, “She Said” by the two New York Times reporters who helped break the Weinstein story.

GA Mhmm.

SWB And I know that in the book, they reveal that your daughter, Lisa Bloom, who is also a civil rights attorney representing women in high profile cases in some similar ways, right? That she’d advised Harvey Weinstein on how to discredit accusers, how to plant stories, how to make people like Rose McGowan appear unglued…

GA Yeah, I don’t have any comment on that.

SWB Okay! That’s fine. [laughs]

GA She has commented herself.

SWB She has. I mean…

GA So that…I, I have no comment. And she’s commented from her law firm, which is a separate law firm.

SWB Yes, I understand. So, she’s apologized. It’s something that’s been super prominent this week and I wanted to touch on it, but I hear that. Okay! So, we’re going to wrap here in just a couple of minutes, I want to ask just a couple of closing things. So, we’ve talked a bit about how we’ve been at this for four decades, you’ve achieved many lifetime achievement awards, you’re being inducted in the women’s hall of fame–

GA The National Women’s Hall of Fame.

SWB The National Women’s Hall of Fame.

GA Yeah.

SWB And that would probably be enough for some people, but I know that you’ve also said that you plan to keep doing this, you’re going to be doing this in ten years, this is your life’s work, and you’re not slowing down. Is there anything that you would advise to people who are listening who want to be able to harness that kind of energy and that kind of passion for their work for the long haul?

GA I say fighting injustice is very good for the health! So, I suggest fighting injustice to others would be good for their health as well. Turn the rage and the anger that you feel about injustice to you that you’ve suffered, don’t try to tranquilize yourself out of it–don’t take drugs or alcohol to try to escape the pain you’re feeling–take that rage and anger, which is a source of energy for you, and move it outward into constructive action to win change. Find out your legal options from attorneys, get involved in the political realm, support those who run for office who share your values or you run for office yourself. Make your voice heard on the internet if you think that’s appropriate. All of us can be part of this change, so I find it is a source of energy for me to keep going and I just have a very positive view of life and of what can be accomplished if we all work together to accomplish it.

SWB Alright, well you heard it here: Gloria Allred says you should go out and run for office.

GA That’s an option! And some people who think, “oh, I can’t run for office, I’m not an attorney,” you don’t need to be an attorney. You may have more common sense than people who are attorneys [SWB laughs] if you’re not an attorney. And you have a life experience to bring to the job, so you really should seriously think of yourself as a candidate. We had more women running for election last time and more women than elected I think than ever before. So, you can go, any of you thinking of running for office, the National Women’s Political Caucus, NWPC, will be happy to help you for free and help you to understand how you can put together a campaign, think about fundraising, help represent yourself in the media, all kinds of useful information. So, get involved! We need you…now more than ever.

SWB And on that note, Gloria, thank you so much for being on the show and congratulations again on the National Women’s Hall of Fame induction.

GA Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure. Keep up the good work. [short transition music plays]

Fuck Yeah of The Week

[44:58]

SWB Okay, Katel, I hear… that you have… a “fuck yeah” for us this week.

KL I do; it’s a really sweet “fuck yeah.” So, last year we had a guest on our show, it was a friend of mine. Her name is Alison, she’s a climate scientist. She’s a dear friend of mine and every once in a while, she sends me an email that’s like a penpal letter from camp. And it makes my day! 

SWB Aww! 

KL And I just had to share some of her last letter because it just always really makes me so happy because she gives me little tidbits of what’s going on in her life like some crappy thing that happened to her at work that day. 

SWB Mhmm.

KL It’s really just fun little moments, but one of the best parts about her letter was she said, “my niece is getting into skateboarding; how fucking rad is that? She was excited to tell me that she had “real skateboarding shoes”; she wasn’t sure if I’d ever heard of them before, but they are Vans.” [both laugh]

SWB [laughing] Oh my god, we are so old! 

KL But I just love that so much! And like I said, she’s just telling me about her niece or some fun thing that’s happened. So, I just love that she writes me these letters and I don’t have to write back or anything, she just sends me a little insight into her day and it makes me feel really close to her!

SWB I love that! I love these little dispatches with little details when you wish you were still in somebody’s day to day life, but you’re not!

KL Yeah! 

SWB You don’t get to see her everyday or every week––

KL Exactly. 

SWB ––so you can still feel that level of closeness. I love that; I love having that with friends. 

KL I know, me too. So, fuck yeah to little love letters from friends. 

SWB Ughh, fuck yeah! Well, that is it for us this week! Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and it’s produced by Steph Colbourn from Edit Audio. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed” by Blowdryer; you can check them out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com! Thank you so much to Gloria Allred for being our guest today, and thank you for listening! If you liked this episode, please make sure to give us a rating and leave us a review wherever it is that you listen to podcasts. And did you know you can also get Strong Feelings right in your inbox? We’ve got a newsletter; just go to StrongFeelings.co to sign up! [theme music plays for 15 seconds and fades out]


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Welcome to Strong Feelings

Best friends and business partners Katel and Sara let it all out in a weekly show about work, friendship, and feminism. Because life’s too short to bottle things up.
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