Reflections On Women’s History Month: An Interview with Cassandra Partyka

Throughout this month, the Library has celebrated Women’s History Month with a book display. As the month comes to a close I thought it would be an appropriate time to sit down withCassandra Partyka, who is the co-chair of the Women’s Law Group. We sat down and had a conversation to reflect on the roles of women today. Our conversation wandered—we talked about women in the workplace; the power structure of VLS, why we don’t identify as “feminists,” and WLG’s work with Safeline to raise awareness of domestic violence.

I hope you enjoy part two of this edited version of the conversation and consider your role in advancing the place of women around the world, and here, at Vermont Law School.

HC: March is Women’s History Month; a time to celebrate the accomplishments we’ve made and the changes that still need to be made. Could you comment on the importance of this month and why we need it today?

CP: It is important to not only celebrate women during this month, but rather every day. We need to look back and recognize how different it was for [women] 50 years ago. Still we have a lot of work to do, but we’ve come a long way. My mom was a lawyer and would say, “If you’re an attractive female, sometimes that is all that is seen. It doesn’t matter what you have in your brain.” She had to fight and prove herself over and over again—[to prove]that she was more than a pretty face. We are still facing those hurdles today which is really upsetting.

I applied for internships last year and I got an offer. [In fact,] a judge called my father and said that l needed to be careful, because this [mentor] may make sexual advances toward me. To know that we face this, when we graduate law school, and when we are professionals is appalling—we deserve to be respected.
[Nonetheless], we need to stay strong, and celebrate our accomplishments this month and every day and continue to support one another.

HC: I’m also interested in your thoughts on the role of women outside of the work place. For example, the role of the women as a wife; as a mother. How do you feel about the potential conflicts that come with these roles, especially as someone striving for a professional career, and the value society places on these varying roles.

CP: I think it is interesting that society places so much emphasis on a woman being a wife and a mother. Let’s put some emphasis on men being a father and a husband. To me it is important that there are two people in household, regardless of gender, and generations [like a mother and grandmother servings as the heads of households]. Being a wife and mother or husband and father are important roles if you are going to start a family. I do want to have a family and I do want to be a good wife. But to me, being a wife is being a good partner, and being part of the team. You are not a wife, you are not a husband—you are team members that must play equally, fairly and respectfully.

CP: Recently, one of my friends posted an article on Facebook about Gloria Steniem and how there hasn’t been another leader for women’s causes. And I wonder, why? Why don’t we continue that movement, and have a leader?

HC: I feel like any sort of “ism” or “ist” has a lot of strings attached to it, and baggage. And so, although I definitely am for women’s rights, empowerment, and equal opportunity, I don’t like to call myself a “feminist.”

CP: I agree with you because unfortunately there are negative stereotypes associated with feminism, and therefore I don’t consider myself a “full-feminist.” [Nonetheless] We need to recognize the issues, work on them, and stand strong together [as women]. We have to be honest and sometimes it may not be so politically correct—but if it is the truth, it needs to be said. We need to recognize it, deal with it, and move forward.