Off the Record: 'A woman's place? Excuse me?'

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Earlier this month we ran a feature article on the book "The Road to Independence, 101 Women's Journeys to Starting Their Own Firms."

These women, most seasoned lawyers with active practices in an established firm, made the leap to independence because they could not advance professionally where they were situated, or because the environment in the firm didn't fit or because they didn't like the way the people were treated.

It was not sour grapes that sent them on their own; it was a desire to practice law in the way they wanted with the people they wanted and on their own terms.

In other words they were blocked and needed to move on independently to have professional satisfaction.

And I recall the recent story of Vandercook Lake native Beverly Burns who was told by her male Sunday school teacher in the early '60's "girls couldn't be lawyers."

She didn't listen.

After working as a reporter and editor, she graduated from the University of Michigan law school and has gone on to accomplishments in and out of the courtroom.

Last summer I was honorary coach of the Randle International Women's small-bore rifle team.

The team is composed of the top 10 women shooters in the country selected during the National Rifle and Pistol Championship matches at Camp Perry, Ohio.

The women were amazed when I told them that during the '50's I shot on the University of Michigan men's rifle team until the coaches assembled and agreed that "girls can't shoot because the rule book used the term he, not she."

After two years of shooting on a winning team, I was banned. Like Burns and the women lawyers, it was not my skills that were rejected, but my status as a woman, a condition that none of us would want to change.

There is a recent display of "inspirational" figures on the walls of the Mackinaw building at Lansing Community College.

The building houses the classrooms of students returning to finish their high school program and move on to college level classes. I assume the figures are there to encourage them to aspire to higher goals. But, of the 26 persons on display, only five of them are women.

Evidently, women can't shoot, practice law or inspire.

I am sure this is shocking news to all the women who are doing just that-shooting (the top woman shooter lost only six points after four full days of shooting); successfully practicing law and managing their own law firms (one firm has grown from one to 13 lawyers and 12 support staff); or inspiring present and future members of their communities (think Cleopatra, Susan B. Anthony, Sally Ride, Nancy Pelosi or Sandra Day O'Connor to name a few).

All these women, I suspect but don't know, moved forward to accomplish their goals without saying to themselves--'Oh, I can't do that, I'm a girl.'

I am quite sure that deep down inside, they were aware of the obstacles they were facing by moving forward but did it anyway. They either walked through or found their way around closed doors. They did not let those doors stop them.

Observing the confidence and energy of the members of the Randle Team, who were primarily under 40, some still in their teens, meeting Sandra Day O'Connor with her quiet strength, and observing the energy of the female lawyers in our state, I am confident that the women of today will continue the traditions of the past, walking, running or marching on their own individual "Road to Independence."

Published: Mon, Sep 5, 2011