Lawyer Gloria Allred Talks ‘War on Women’ and ‘Age of Empowerment’
The auteur of the Dramatic Press Conference, Allred is best known for defending women’s rights — particularly on cases with a tabloid stench about them. She represented Nicole Brown Simpson’s family during the 1995 OJ trial, called for a child-endangerment investigation against Michael Jackson after he infamously held his baby out over a hotel balcony, and filed suit against the “Octomom” for exploiting her octuplets. Prone to perpetual outrage and red power blazers, she has represented women speaking out against Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner, Charlie Sheen, convicted wife-killer Scott Peterson, and Princess Diana’s boyfriend Dodi Fayed. She’s been parodied on South Park, The Simpsons, and Saturday Night Live, and been labeled “the ambulance chaser of feminism” by The Atlantic.
Incredibly, when I spoke with the Los Angeles–based lawyer last week, she blamed the media for the attention it heaps upon her celebrity cases. “It’s really more a statement of the times in which we live,” said Allred, 77, who spoke at the Lobero Theatre recently. “The tabloids focus on the cult of celebrity and the victims that they hurt. Today it’s mainstream press as well.”
In truth, though, some of Allred’s cases have had a huge, culture-shaping impact on equality. She got the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to stop shackling women prisoners while they give birth, sued the Boy Scouts of America for excluding girls, and got the Miss Universe pageant to reverse its decision disqualifying a transgender contestant. She filed one of the first sexual-abuse cases against Catholic priests and fought it for 23 years. And she won the right for same-sex couples to marry in California. (Allred did that!)
Interestingly, both she and fellow feminist jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the subjects of popular documentaries released last year. But where RBG revealed the Supreme Court justice to be sober, measured, and self-possessed, Seeing Allred exposed Gloria in all her aggressive, outspoken, unflinching glory.
“What’s the alternative?” she told me, when I asked where her chutzpah came from. “You have to fight power with power. Women are never going to get anywhere by just going along and getting along and being shy and withdrawn. To win real change, you have to be bold.”
There’s a moment in the documentary when Allred recalls decisively adopting the balls-out, fearless persona that would become her calling card. “Sometimes shock value helps to accomplish the goal,” she told me, “to get people to think about what it is you’re proposing.”
Don’t misunderstand, though; her passion for women’s rights isn’t manufactured — it comes from personal experience. Both in Seeing Allred and in her autobiography Fight Back and Win, she shares the story of having been raped at gunpoint while on vacation in her mid-twenties. She was pregnant as a result and, as it was years before Roe v. Wade, she had a back-alley abortion, which became infected. She wound up hospitalized, where a nurse told her, “This’ll teach you a lesson.”
Allred, who has recently represented women claiming to have been sexually assaulted by Donald Trump and Bill Cosby, said she’s proud of the women who have come forward in record numbers to report sexual assault as part of the #MeToo movement.
“I call this the Age of Empowerment for Women,” said Allred, who credits litigation with a good chunk of that empowerment. “It isn’t just about money. It’s about justice, a reckoning, and helping her go on with her life. It helps these women transform from victims to survivors, and some become fighters for change.”
Fighting for change, I learned, is a full-time job. Allred spoke to me during the Christmas holiday, but she explained she doesn’t really do “vacations.”
“There’s a war on women,” she said. “I didn’t create the war — I’m just defending those being attacked. There are going to be consequences for hurting women.”
And with that, Allred said our conversation was over. So it was.