YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

About Women

L.A. Legal Service Center Wins Award

August 11, 1985|JANICE MALL

A Los Angeles legal service center only 2 1/2 years old and founded and run by women has won a second major bar association award.

The Women Lawyers Assn. of Los Angeles and the Black Women Lawyers Assn. of Los Angeles Inc. have received the 1985 Public Service Award from the National Conference of Women's Bar Assns. for their work in creating and supporting the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In 1983, shortly after its founding in October, 1982, the center received the California State Bar Pro Bono Award.

The two women lawyers' groups formed what was originally called the Family Law Project in response to a financial crisis in legal services to the poor. Low-income women and children were particularly hard hit when the Reagan Administration cut the budget for the federal Legal Services Corporation in 1982. One repercussion was that the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles was forced to terminate all family-law services, which amounted to a caseload of about 360 divorces and other domestic matters per month.

The center, renamed for the late Harriett Buhai (who was one of its first volunteers and staunchest supporters), is a private, nonprofit corporation that has 30 volunteer attorneys serving about 135 people a month, primarily in South Central Los Angeles. Since its inception, it has assisted 2,500 people with legal problems including dissolution, annulment, domestic violence, custody/visitation, child support, enforcement of family law orders, name change, paternity and guardianship of minors--matters crucial to families who cannot always hire private attorneys.

In addition to the volunteer attorneys, its staff includes three full-time members, a law student intern, a paralegal and a bilingual volunteer. Its resources increased in April when the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. became a third co-sponsor.

Margaret Henry, president of Women Lawyers Assn. of Los Angeles, Diane Spencer, president of the Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles, Inc., and Darla Rimes Newman, director of the center, received the national award at a reception at the U.S. Supreme Court and hosted by the National Assn. of Women Judges.

The commemorative plaque will be unveiled in Los Angeles at a wine-and-cheese reception Wednesday at the center.

Are little girls getting their ideas of how to be and look like females from Smurfette of the Smurfs? Wilma Flintstone? The She Hulk?

UC Davis Prof. Susan B. Kaiser went at the issue by looking at how very young children perceive cartoon characters, and, as she is an assistant professor of clothing and textiles (and author of "The Social Psychology of Clothing and Personal Adornment"), her studies looked into the clothing the characters wear as a means of sex stereotyping.

In studies of preschoolers begun four years ago, she found that little girls have very traditional notions of what little girls should wear--ruffles and frills. When shown pictures of four outfits--jeans and a T-shirt, a more feminine pants outfit, a plain school dress and a ("nauseatingly") frilly dress, Kaiser said, "95% of the girls preferred the frilly style."

Furthermore, both boys and girls equated different types of dress with different types of behavior. "Frilly styles went with playing with dolls and cooking, jeans with more action."

In observing the children interviewing parents, Kaiser found that the girls did not get their ideas about clothes from play situations or from their parents. She thought the children may have been influenced in their clothing preferences by media, with television cartoons being the medium most likely to influence children of this age.

In her new research, she had students in her university class evaluate cartoons as to the relationship between what characters wear and their personality traits.

The 10 most stereotypically female characters--helpless, dependent, submissive, damsels in distress and such--were found to be mostly blondes or redheads and outfitted as medieval princesses, flirtatious cheerleaders or traditional moms.

The most stereotypically "feminine" of all was Smurfette, Kaiser said. "My students said, for example, that she had the whiniest voice. She is the only female among hundreds and hundreds of male Smurfs. She wears a little girlie eyelet dress, white high heels . . . has long blond hair."

A new stereotype is emerging in the Wonder Woman mode, according to Kaiser. The typical super hero female wears tight leotards, has long hair, and her tight-fitting clothes emphasize a large bust and tiny waist. (She Hulk wears a cave girl variation of this.) Presumably, youngsters may draw the conclusion that looking like a sexpot is related to heroic characteristics like courage and enterprise.

"Scooby Doo" was judged by the students to do well in presenting able, assertive females in episodes like one in which a character named Daphne--who usually dresses in a '60s-type minidress--donned a cowgirl outfit for an episode in which she solved a mystery.

However, the two characters students identified as the least female-typed and highest in active mastery of their environments were ones that would not provide little girls with a role model in dress or behavior--a witch and an evil woman scientist.

Los Angeles Times Articles