Marcia Clark's trials have now begun outside the courtroom

March 05, 1995|By SUSAN REIMER

My mother calls her "Marcia," and talks about her with the same familiarity she uses to catch me up on the doings of the daughter of an old neighbor.

As in: "Did you see Marcia's hair is different?"

Like many immersed in the spectacle of the O. J. Simpson trial, my mother is talking about prosecutor Marcia Clark. It is "F. Lee Bailey" and "Johnnie Cochran" and "Robert Shapiro." But for the state's lead lawyer, it is "Marcia."

Like everyone else, my mother comments on her style and her suits, and wonders how she's managing her two little kids during the trial.

Not well, her estranged husband would have us believe. So he's filed for custody of their sons, ages 5 and 3. She works too much, he says.

So, along with her off-the-rack suits and her in-your-face courtroom style, Marcia Clark must defend her fitness as a parent. She was appointed chief prosecutor because of her tenacious work habits. Now, those same work habits may cost her custody of her children.

If the O. J. Simpson trial is a forum for America's deep racial animosities, it is now the place where this country will try to sort out its gender confusions, too. While Marcia Clark is trying "The Murder of the Century," she must help us decide how we feel about tough-as-nails women who work late.

No principal in this trial has escaped wilting personal scrutiny -- from Judge Lance Ito's haircut to Cochran's various wives or near-wives. We've even seen Shapiro's naked chest in People magazine. So I can't ask for special courtesy for my mother's TV friend, Marcia. I knew that when the National Enquirer ran those ancient photos of her in a topless bathing suit. It was only a matter of time before somebody went after Marcia Clark's ability to mother her young sons.

Only Hillary Clinton has gone through more repackaging for a public that still hasn't decided if it wants women to work, let alone be good at their jobs.

The earliest profiles of Clark described her as a foul-mouthed pool player who traded whiskey shots with cops in her off hours. Her boss couldn't say for sure that she had a family. A sharp mind and a sharper courtroom tongue. Just the kind of pit bull to put up against Simpson's expensive legal talent.

When that didn't play well in front of a mock jury, we were introduced to a new Marcia Clark. The one who smiled warmly and giggled self-consciously. The one who politely signed autographs during trips to the park and the grocery store with her kids. The one who tucked the boys in at night before returning to the office to finish her 18-hour day.

The Marcia Clark remake covered personal appearance, too. The mole on her lip became as famous as Cindy Crawford's. Her hemline was lowered and her wardrobe refitted with contributions from friends in response to the comments of Geraldo Rivera's panel of experts. She started wearing jewelry and soft pastels.

It is the dirty little secret of the workplace that how a woman looks matters, and those of us who know that cringed as we watched the L.A. district attorney's office play Pygmalion with Marcia Clark.

And it is also true that while the men in the office are praised for their sensitivity and commitment to family when they take time off for their kids, those same children are considered a distraction to their working mother and an impediment to her advancement.

Men can announce that they will be late for work because they are volunteering in their child's classroom. Women must keep their juggling act hidden, whispering encouragement over the phone to a sick child left home alone.

The child-care card was first played against Clark when she begged off an evening court session because she had to pick up the kids. Johnnie Cochran dismissed it as a ploy. How like a man to assume child care is something accomplished with the click of a cellular phone.

And now Marcia Clark's ex-husband, when asked to help pay her increased child-care bills, says she is not home enough to be a good mother.

Let us know, fellas, how much time is enough time with the kids. Tell us when we can leave the office and still be considered competent and committed. Tell us when we look not businesslike, but mannish. When we are not strong, but offensive.

And then let us know when you are done, so we can get to day care in time to pick up the kids.

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