What's Driving Gloria Allred?

What Women Really Think
June 21 2010 8:27 PM

What's Driving Gloria Allred?

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Is Gloria Allred a feminist crusader or merely a talented limelight-chaser? That’s the question running through the recent spate of coverage of the L.A. lawyer, currently ubiquitous in tabloid-fodder lawsuits. (This Sunday’s Times -the Style section, in case you wondered where the Grey Lady comes down on the Allred style v. substance continuum!-has the most comprehensive look. More analysis from Irin Carmen at Jezebel.) In the past year, she’s represented Rachel Uchitel, Veronica Siwik-Daniels, Joslyn James (all alleged Tiger Woods mistresses), Maureen Decker (Tiger Woods’ kindergarten teacher!), Charlotte Lewis (who has accused Roman Polanski of sexual misconduct), and Debrahlee Lorenzana . That list isn't exhaustive, either. Sure, Allred has long been known for taking high-profile celebrity cases, to the extent that she’s become a pop-culture punch line . But why such a flurry now, and why are these cases raising feminist hackles in a way her earlier work didn’t?

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It’s not the press conferences that have people up in arms, really, though her celebrity-chasing was the focus of the Times piece. Those go with the territory-as Sandy Banks wrote in the L.A. Times in February, "She always was a publicity-seeker, but she also was tough and passionate and smart," but goes on to say that her work for Uchitel and co. is a "twisted take on feminism: rights without responsibilities." That take, by the way, dovetails more than traditional feminists would probably like with the critique that libertarian/righty feminists have historically made of Allred-Cathy Young said in an e-mail that "her brand of feminism seems to consist of reflexively siding with the woman in any male-female conflict and applying blatant double standards," citing relatively ancient examples like the Mary Kay LeTourneau and Marv Albert trials.

Wendy Murphy , a lawyer who’s also represented victims of sexual violence and is no stranger to cable TV herself, called Allred the "grandmother of punditry" and the "queen of the movement." That's precisely why Murphy’s so stung by Allred’s recent willingness to settle for "money instead of justice," ("extorted" via TMZ-covered press conference), which, she says, is the bulwark of the two-tiered system that enables the very violence against women that Allred’s devoted so much of her career to fighting-and which she says is a substitution that Allred’s only recently been willing to make, most obviously in the Woods mistress cases. Allred didn’t really address this criticism in her interview with the Times ’ Laurie Winer, declining comment on Uchitel’s settlement, though she was happy to expound on the philosophy behind her flashbulb-seeking.

I wonder if part of the reason for Allred’s manic pace of late has something to do with her age-at 68, the end of the line for her legal career can’t be terribly far in the distance, and so maybe it’s not crazy to think fear of obsolescence might be driving some of her more desperate tabloid grabs. It’s the career equivalent of plastic surgery, perhaps: Trying to recapture something you had at a younger age, but somehow, the result is a little distorted, a simulacrum that disturbs the people who loved your old self.

Photograph of Gloria Allred by David McNew/Getty Images.

Noreen Malone is a senior editor at New York magazine.