Marcia Clark & Nancy Armstrong | 2018 MAKERS Conference
Marcia Clark, Attorney and Author, interviewed by Nancy Armstrong, Executive Producer, MAKERS, on sexism in the courtroom
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Marcia Clark and Nancy Armstrong.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. Every time I watch it it makes me cry. I mean, I produced it and I usually tailor them to make people cry and feel something. But I'm so glad you're here, because your story is so critical to the discussion that we've been having over the last 36 hours at this conference. And you're coming into a pretty incredible third act, which was ignited in part by a resurgent interest in the Simpson trial.
And more specifically, in your role in it. The FX series from 2016, "The People Versus O.J. Simpson" won a Golden Globe and shed light on aspects of this trial that kind of went over our head in the 90s. You know, didn't really penetrate the American consciousness. So it's been wonderful to reframe this. But I have to ask, you had nothing to do with the series. What was your reaction when you found out that this whole saga was going to play out on national television again?
MARCIA CLARK: I was miserable. I was miserable. Well first of all, actually, my initial feeling was when I heard about it, the rumblings they were going to do this, I thought, never going to happen. Then I heard Ryan Murphy's making it. Oh, shit. It's going to happen. And then, I heard Sarah Paulson was going to play me. I said, wow. You know, I mean, that is an honor. I think she's a genius.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: She did an incredible job.
MARCIA CLARK: She's amazing. So I thought, OK, whoa, at least somebody-- but what I never expected-- so then, of course, I predicted no one would watch. So obviously, if you want to know how a show is going to do and how to predict the ratings, don't ask me, because I said no one's going to care about that. And then, of course, it was a huge hit. And then, the most surprising thing of all was that Ryan Murphy chose to shine a spotlight on the sexism in the case, which no one had ever commented on and I thought no one ever would. And then it became something completely beyond simply a television series.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: So how many remember watching the so-called trial of the century back in the 90s? Raise your hand. Oh, that's a lot.
MARCIA CLARK: Oh wow.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Well, the interesting thing is that we didn't realize this at the time, or at least I didn't, but feminism was a little bit radioactive in the 90s, or maybe a lot radioactive. And no one wanted to talk about sexism. And here you were, walking into work every day into a courtroom that was ground zero of sexism and misogyny. We saw the Ito clip, which was appalling enough, but there are other clips of Shapiro calling you overly emotional and Cochran calling you hysterical in a moment when she was clearly not hysterical. It was on camera. She was just winning the argument. And do you think they had any clue what was going on? Did they have any sense that it was just so wildly inappropriate?
MARCIA CLARK: Right. So you and I, we were talking about this. And you were kind of thinking that they were doing it on purpose, that they were saying these gender things, making these gendered remarks to kind of get to me. And throw that stick in the spokes.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: Or distract. Distract from the evidence. Let's tap into the gender bias that exists in America. And then people would go, oh, well that's true, and undermine you.
MARCIA CLARK: And my answer was no, don't give them that much credit. They were not aware of their own misogyny. They were not aware of their own gender bias, the sexist behaviors that they engaged in and the sexist thinking that was so much a part of them. It was just what they were thinking. This is the way you talk about a woman. You talk about her as being emotional. You talk about her as being hysterical. Anytime a woman raises her voice and be shows her power, they find a way to reduce it, to minimize it.
But it's not, I think, a planned thing. It's just the response. And it's the way that I think men were raised to think about women. And in ways that are really kind of shocking. They framed me up, so to speak, as someone who went with my gut. I go with my gut instinct. Believe me, in trial, you have no choice. You must be extremely prepared, but then you must go with your gut, because your decisions get made like this, like this, like this.
Object, don't object, think, don't, stand up, don't stand up, look at the jury, don't look at the jury. These are second by second. You must go with your gut. When they say that of a man, he goes with his gut, it's considered to be a wonderful thing. It shows his power, it shows his strength. For a woman to go with her gut, to take on that kind of power, they refuse. You know, women cannot have that kind of power. So when a woman goes with her gut, she's accused of being impulsive. You know? Same kind of thinking.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: What was that like for you though? I mean, going in, as Natalie Portman said, on Monday, you were isolated. What was it like to walk in knowing every single day that was what was going to happen and how did you feel at the end of a day like that, every day for a year?
MARCIA CLARK: So the sexism was not the thing that was foremost on my mind. I was used to it. Most judges were not like Ito, I have to say. He was a uniquely awful example. And most, even though they might have been older and some of them were former detectives, which can be very sexist, were still, when they saw me stand up and work the case without any qualms, without fear, they gave me full respect.
Ito was a different story. But what upset me, what was the painful thing was the fact that the rulings were going to come in badly every day. Every day I walked into court knowing the wrong thing was going to happen. And it was going to happen over and over again, no matter what I did. And that Ito would personally get in my way. But more importantly, in the way of the case. And so I knew that justice was going to get thwarted every day, no matter how hard we worked. That was the hard part.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: And the disappointing thing, too, is that the media was totally complicit. I mean, was it so shocking in 1995 to have a woman in that position with that kind of power? Or were they simply reflecting a more pervasive attitude in the country that a woman didn't belong in that position? Why should you have that position?
MARCIA CLARK: It's a really hard question to answer, because there's so-- you know, how to unpack that. I think that when you talk about the feminist revolution that supposedly occurred 20 years earlier, well when I think of revolution, I think of real change and I think of objective change. I think of change that gives you childcare, maternity leave, no glass ceiling, equal rights when it comes to pay, equal rights when it comes to job promotion and the ability to get a job. Those things hadn't happened. What you did have were the omens of change, the icons. Like Gloria Steinem, who is one of these people who opens her mouth and pearls fall out. She's amazing. And she was like my hero.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: She's in here. Where is Gloria?
MARCIA CLARK: Is she here?
NANCY ARMSTRONG: Is Gloria still here? No, she's not here. She was here.
MARCIA CLARK: She was always, she was my hero. She was the woman who I looked up to and thought, that's where it's at. That's what we want. Now, you need those people because otherwise you have to see it to be it. If you don't see it, if you don't see that person standing up and being that person, you don't know to dream. So they're necessary and they're important, they're incredibly important.
But the changes that a woman like that is asking for have not yet taken place, had not taken place. The fact that I was, in '95, the first woman in special trials unit? What's that about? You know what I mean? There should have been many before me. There weren't. Now there are. And so we're starting to see the change, and of course the "Me Too" movement, "Times Up" movement are incredibly important.
Now, we're seeing some real grassroots movement. Now we're seeing physical change in the world that can make women's lives better and allow for the kind of revolution we were talking about before. But in the 90s, it had not yet happened. The sexist thinking was still there. Women were still expected to really basically be home caregivers, child raisers. And when they stepped out into the work world, there was still a great deal of skepticism and suspicion and even derision, because you were abandoning your role.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: What were the labels? I mean, you were just doing your job and the qualities that made you effective in your job-- aggressive, outspoken, relentless-- were all in the glare of the media spotlight. You know, qualities that cast you with a few labels that were unpleasant. What were some of those labels?
MARCIA CLARK: Oh, I don't even know if I can say them here. A bitch, shrill, strident, emotional. I love that one, emotional. Yeah, I was pissed off. I mean, every day. I don't call that emotional, I call that accurately pinning my finger on the pulse of what was going on in that courtroom. So yeah, it was that kind of-- and all of it, when you think about it, all of it is demeaning, all of it is minimizing, all of it as a way to shrink a woman into basically a child.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: Particularly in light of the fact that those same characteristics were clearly abundant in the six or so male attorneys that made up the defense counsel, and they also received a new label.
MARCIA CLARK: The Dream Team.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: That's right.
MARCIA CLARK: Though they whined and bitched and moaned. [LAUGHTER] I called them on it all the time.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: Well here's where there's hope, I think, drawing a line between your experience and what's happening in the world today is that if those dynamics of sexism and misogyny would play out in a courtroom today, there would no longer be a collective shrug, there would be massive public outcry and a movement to shut it down. And that's progress.
MARCIA CLARK: I agree. And in that respect, social media has really been a great thing for women, because we can actually see each other speak. We can actually see what each other is doing. We can do Instagram, we can do a lot of ways in which we can reach out to each other and you can see other women doing it. You can get support from one another. And women, I think, would be more supportive in today's world, wouldn't be so afraid to stand up and say, hey, this is wrong.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: Let's talk about the issue made at the time of you being a working mother. This was portrayed in the FX series really brilliantly, the way in which you were inexorably wedged between perfect professionalism and perfect parenthood. Which, by the way, is a fantasy concept. And just the audacity of a working mother to go for the top role. And what was the climate around being a working mother and having that kind of a job?
MARCIA CLARK: So let me start by saying a perfect this or a perfect that, no one's perfect anything. Even if you are a child caregiver and you would elect to be at home and do that full time, you're not going to be perfect. If you elect not to have children and you go to work, you're not going to be perfect. So the idea that you could do both and be perfect is insane and it's not real and it's another way of keeping women locked up in that kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.
With respect to doing both, having children and also having a high power career, again, this is about not allowing women to have their power. You know, all of it is about keeping women away from the levers of power, keeping women out of the workplace, keeping women away from places where they can have an impact on the world by saying, "you can't have it all," quote, unquote, even though, of course, men always have. So, I mean, this is definitely something that we need to fight against and we need to overcome.
I think there is still some degree of skepticism, suspicion, negative impact of seeing a woman who has children working and doing a high-powered job. And I think that's something, that kind of bias, is something we need to overcome. I think women less so than the men we work with who still, I hear them asking, so are you going to go get pregnant? What about your children? In a job situation where you'd never ask a man that. And, I mean, I heard this happen just not a few-- this was like within the past month and it was an interview. And the man in the group asked this woman who has a two-year-old child, well what about your kid? And I thought, if she was a man, would you ask her that? Right.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: So what about this issue now with all of these new rules and regulations, and a lot of men are saying, you know, I don't know how to act now. I don't know who I should talk to and I'm afraid to work with women. I mean, what do you say to that and what's your advice?
MARCIA CLARK: Oh, boo fucking hoo.
[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]
I mean, you know? My heart is breaking. I mean, really? Seriously? Dude, you know, first of all, learn what it's like to have to mince your words, hold back, worry about offending, worry about upsetting, worry about threatening. We've been doing it for how many thousands of years? And we had to figure it out. More than that, you know, really, is there no way to know? Is a woman not sitting next to you? Do you not have a mother? Do you not have a sister? A daughter, a cousin, a niece? Come on, man. So yeah, no, I understand. I appreciate them asking the question. I do. But really, get a clue.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: So what do you say to a woman who is in a position that is not as visible, that doesn't have a voice and that is currently dealing with a situation where she has sexism and gender bias and misogyny thrown at her on a daily basis?
MARCIA CLARK: Well, but she is visible. She is visible to her male coworkers. She's visible to her brothers, to her fathers, to her sons, to her nephews. You get the picture. There's something you can do on a daily basis to make sure that you make a difference . By talking to them, by teaching them what's the right way to act, by telling them when they step out of line, by saying, no, that's not OK.
When they make some kind of sexist remark, call them on it. These are the people close to you. You can talk to them and that will make a difference, because those men you're talking to are somebody else's coworkers, somebody else's boss, somebody else's employee, somebody else in human resources who can have his mind opened and understand how to behave with women and how to act so that they are not making gendered remarks, sexist remarks.
You can make a difference every single day. Of course, there's "Times Up," these are movements that you can contribute to. There are women's marches, and I think the ability to show solidarity and see all of us together, to see how much support we actually have and can give each other is really important.
Which brings me to the other part is we must support each other. Women, for too long, have undermined other women. I see it less so now. I actually see women much more capable and much more willing and eager even to stand up for one another. But it's critical that we do, because if we don't, we can never move forward. We at least must be our own best friends.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: OK, quickly before we wrap up. You have two very exciting projects coming up. So tell us quickly about the first one with A&E.
MARCIA CLARK: So A&E, "The First 48," it's been a longstanding running show on A&E and I'm a spin-off as "The First 48: Marcia Clark Investigates." it airs March 29 on A&E and we'll be doing notorious cases.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: What kind of cases?
MARCIA CLARK: These first batch of seven will be notorious cases. Chandra Levy, Robert Blake, Jam Master Jay, that kind of-- you know, those.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: All female victims killed by men they knew and loved.
MARCIA CLARK: Shocking.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: What about your-- you just inked a deal with ABC.
MARCIA CLARK: So yes, and I just sold the pilot with my co-writers, show writers Liz Craft and Sarah [? Fain ?] with [INAUDIBLE] Productions, [? Laurie ?] [? Zacks. ?] It's a one hour drama pilot based on kind of a little bit of my life. Maya Travis is the lead attorney who loses a big case, leaves the DA's office and then when it appears the defendant killed again, they bring her back. And what happens when she goes back into the DA's office to prosecute again.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: I love that. Well, good luck and thank you so much for being here with us today.
MARCIA CLARK: Thank you so much, it was an honor.
NANCY ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Marcia.
MARCIA CLARK: It's an honor. Thank you for having me.