Carolina’s Human Heart — a new UNC initiative seeking to highlight arts and humanities — promoted Totenberg's visit to campus, where she was introduced by Chancellor Carol Folt.
“I have been listening to Nina Totenberg for years and learning from her and been so excited about having the chance to listen to her today,” Folt said.
Totenberg shared her experiences in a career spanning decades, covering topics from the U.S. Supreme Court to women’s rights.
During her start as a reporter, Totenberg said she was one of the few or only women who was working as a journalist and proving her capabilities as a reporter meant she had to fit in with the men.
“When (women) came of age in the employment world, if you wanted to get along you were one of the guys and you didn’t complain,” she said.
Many women in the audience were able to identify with Totenberg’s experience in the workforce.
Marguerite Most, a lawyer and senior lecturing fellow at Duke University, said Totenberg’s portrayals of conditions for women in the workforce during the 70s and 80s are accurate and many concerns remain.
“I think there is still a problem in the differences in wages,” she said.
In a conversation with Michael Gerhardt, professor at the UNC School of Law, Totenberg said the presence of women has made a difference on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“(Ruth Bader Ginsburg) was a great intellect in the law, she was the pioneer of women’s rights in the court.” she said.
Totenberg said she has observed challenges to women’s rights throughout her career.
In 1991, Totenberg wrote a report about Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment by then-Judge Clarence Thomas, which led his Supreme Court confirmation hearings to be reopened.
Totenberg said the Republican party chose to discredit Hill’s allegations because few people in government at that time knew how to deal with sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment was not a common everyday subject of conversation unless you were sexually harassed,” she said. “Which applied to most women in the workforce.”
The topic of sexual harassment was embarrassing and simply off the table, she said.
The College of Arts and Sciences sponsored the lecture through the Frey Foundation Distinguished Visiting Professorship Fund.
Chapel Hill resident Nancy Quinn attended the event because she is a fan of Totenberg.
Quinn said most women of her generation can agree with Totenberg about the imbalance of women in the workplace.
“You had to tolerate an all-boys work environment.”