Cleopatra and Law Librarians

Cleopatra's PapyrusImagine Cleopatra as a law librarian.

(Let me give you moment to wrap your mind around that thought.)

Consider the following:

  • April 10 – 16, 2011 is National Library Week.
  • April 11, 2011 was Equal Pay Day, the day that symbolizes how far into the year women must work on average to earn what men earn.
  • The American Association of Law Libraries’ 2009 Biennial Salary Survey makes the following statement:

      It should also be noted that the prevailing market rates of compensation for librarians, including those for law librarians as depicted in this report, may reflect a societal undervaluation of the education, knowledge and competencies associated with librarianship. Numerous studies have found an apparent gender-based devaluation of the work of professions and occupations that are predominantly female. Librarianship has been a predominantly female occupation since the late 1800s.

  • According to the American Library Association – Allied Professional Association’s Better Salaries and Pay Equity Toolkit:
  • Although gains have been made over the years in gender equity within librarianship, most library salary surveys still point to higher average salaries for men than for women. [emphasis added]

    Now compare what you’ve just read to the following excerpt from Stacy Schiff’s superb new biography of Cleopatra:

    Cleopatra … came of age in a country that entertained a singular definition of women’s roles. …Egyptian women enjoyed the right to make their own marriages. Overtime their liberties had increased to levels unprecedented in the ancient world. They inherited equally and held property independently. Married women did not submit to their husband’s control. They enjoyed the right to divorce and to be supported after a divorce. Until the time an ex-wife’s dowry was returned, she was entitled to be lodged in the house of her choice. Her property remained hers; it was not to be squandered by a wastrel husband. The law sided with the wife and children if the husband acted against their interests. … As much as one third of Ptolemaic Egypt may have been in female hands.

    When you think of the extensive legal and financial rights women enjoyed in the first century BCE in Egypt, it’s a little shocking to consider how long it took women to win similar rights in this country.  And, even though we’ve made advances, it appears that much remains to be done for women working in the “traditionally female” domain of libraries.  In fact, in light of the pay inequities suffered by women librarians, it’s hard not to wonder if we aren’t backwards in our views of women when compared to ancient Egyptians.

    To be honest, I’m not sure that Cleopatra would ever agree to be a 21st century female law librarian. Given her high level of education, political skill and leadership ability, do you think she would have tolerated the inequities?

    Why do we?

    [Photo Credit: William Arthur Fine Stationery]