Seeing Allred–A Hero Before #MeToo
Seeing Allred, which premiered at Sundance in January (and now available on Netflix,) gives us a new portrait of the revolutionary Gloria Allred, the feminist lawyer who singlehandedly took on legal cases including the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed to pass in Congress), and Roe vs. Wade. The list of men Gloria Allred has taken to court on violation of women’s rights reads like a Who’s Who of the not so great: Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump.
What propelled Gloria Allred to become the woman she is–an intrepid fighter for women’s rights, the rights of minorities, and LGBT? That is the major theme of “Seeing Allred”.
In the opening scene at a 1977 taping of the Dinah Shore show, Dinah asks the female audience to vote on what their husbands want most when they come home from work– a hot meal or seeing their spouses in a sheer negligee. A thirty-something diminutive Allred stands up and defiantly challenges the vote: “I think we have a uterus and a brain and they both work!” The camera pans to shocked faces in the audience, and, finally, someone cheers.
A master for calculating the public’s reactions on camera, Allred is, in sharp contrast, a deeply private person. You can see her reluctance to this filming.
“Power only understands power,” Allred responds when asked about her decades of warfare that her opponents as well as talk-show hosts have called shrill, unlikable, and a lying, money-hungry bitch. Gloria Allred is at her best: in front of reporters where she often argues her case before the court of public opinion.
Almost prescient, Allred battled for gay soldiers to serve in the military and for the first lesbian couple wanting to marry in 2004. She opposed different treatment for men and women for their insurance, dry cleaning, and wages. Almost all of these battles Allred won. More than 45 years ago, she represented McCorvey in Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court.
In my opinion, the most spellbinding moment in the film, is when Allred reveals she was raped at gunpoint at the age of 25 by a man she trusted. After the sexual assault, she became pregnant, had an illegal abortion (the only kind available) and almost died. Hemorrhaging, she reports in her memoir that a nurse told her: “This will teach you a lesson.” And Allred realized a lesson she wanted to teach others. She wanted women’s rage turned outward, not inward. Now we know her heart and her mission.
Allred’s feisty, fearless persona as an attorney is sharply contrasted with her devotion and close relationship with her daughter, Lisa Bloom. Very close in their mother-daughter relationship, Allred divorced her first husband when Lisa was five and raised her mostly by herself. Bloom is also an attorney representing women’s rights.
Perhaps what is most startling in watching Seeing Allred is observing her two sides, the remarkably sensitive but highly dramatic attorney who feels the pain of the women she represents and the more protective private woman who stiffens and shuts down at any personal questions. This is the attorney who dangled a chastity belt at a California state congressman for denying passage of an abortion bill early in her legalization campaign. An interlocutor unafraid to argue her point, she’s loved and treasured by many, receiving the spotlight at last year’s Women’s March in Washington, DC.
Allred used humor to her advantage in 2012, when a Canadian transgender beauty contestant was disqualified from a Miss Universe pageant owned by Trump. Taking up her case, Allred called a press conference:
“Mr Trump, we don’t care what your anatomy looked like when you were born, and you shouldn’t care what her anatomy looked like when she was born.” Trump retorted in swaggering fashion.: “Oh, Gloria would probably love to see what’s under my pants.” Allred countered she didn’t have a magnifying glass strong enough to see something that small. The transgender contestant was reinstated; another win for Allred.
Allred represents Summer Zervos, a former “Apprentice” suing Trump; a woman who accused Roy Moore of sexual assault; and 33 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault.
Seeing Allred ends with the filing of new suits against Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein.