No Girls Allowed: How One Hard-Fought Victory Shows the Need to Keep Fighting
Image courtesy No Girls Allowed film
A wonderful new movie – Central High: No Girls Allowed – provides extraordinary insight into why litigation against sex discrimination is necessary and the difference it can make. It also allows us to appreciate what a serious problem gender inequity is and how much still needs to be done, even after decades of fighting.
The film focuses on Newberg v. Board of Public Education, the 1983 lawsuit that allowed girls — for the first time — to attend the second oldest public high school in the nation, Philadelphia’s then-147-year-old Central High School. It features current interviews with those involved and affected 30 years ago. (Full disclosure: I was lead counsel for the young women in the case; I am not in the movie.)
“The victory did not come without costs: Central High School did not go easily into the gender integration that was forced upon its ivy covered tradition, and its richly honored past,” the description of the film says.
In interviews with the girls (now women) who first went to the school and the boys and men who tried to stop them from doing so – it shows what the costs were. It documents how dedicated to discrimination that these supposedly enlightened and progressive males were, and the price the females had to pay (way beyond their expectations) to try to get the same high-quality education they, too, deserved.
Most enlightening – and rewarding – is the proof the movie provides that these courageous girls and young women changed not just their own lives, the institution, and the law, but the lives and beliefs of so many others. That includes the male teachers, administrators, alumni and all of the students to come. The interviews with current students, who can hardly imagine the school without female students or why anyone would want it that way, complete the story.
Against that background, what is truly disturbing is how far we still have to go.
Even now, public schools are providing “separate and unequal” educations to girls and boys. The ACLU just filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the Hillsborough County Public School district in Florida, one of the largest in the nation, for operating two completely single-sex middle schools since 2009 on the basis of sexual stereotypes.
Sexual assault on women in college has become such a national scandal that the Obama Administration created a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Its first report, “Not Alone”, says one in five women is sexually assaulted in college, contains stringent new guidelines for schools to follow, and provides victims with a “road map” to file complaints against colleges that fall short.
Finally, discrimination against women in the workplace is a huge problem that’s getting worse. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, American Express v. Italian Colors, and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, among many others (remember Lily Ledbetter?) , effectively allow corporations to discriminate against enormous numbers of female employees and potential employees with impunity.
The result of these pervasive forms of discrimination is not just that we hold back women, which is horrible in its own right – but we hold back society as well. We have to keep fighting.
As the new movie about Central High School demonstrates, we can make a difference. When the issue is justice, the answer can’t be “no girls allowed.”