Marcia Clark is making a comeback, thanks to The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. As the series has shown, the lead prosecutor was at the center of a media storm tinged with sexism, which hit its bottom when a topless photo of Marcia Clark was published in the National Enquirer during the trial. In the Feb. 8 episode "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," The People v. O.J. Simpson will show just how disrespected Clark was in the media, including the release of this photo.
According to a 1995 article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the photo in question was from 1979 and showed Clark topless on the beach with then-husband Gabriel Horowitz while on vacation in St. Tropez, France. The magazine censored Clark's breasts with black bars. (Horowitz was Clark's first husband. She was on her second divorce during the Simpson trial, something the media also liked to bring up.) According to the Associated Press, the National Enquirer claimed it was given the photo by Horowitz's mother.
Black bars or not, the damage was still done: The nude photo helped undermine Clark's reputation as the professional, intelligent lawyer she was to the public. We've already seen how Sarah Paulson's version of Clark in American Crime Story has faced people thinking she comes off as a "b*tch" and sexist comments about her appearance. But based on the below preview, Clark will be having an even tougher time in "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," which likely includes fallout from the topless photo.
While the public saw this photo of Clark, Judge Lance Ito sequestered the jury of the high-profile case on Jan. 9, 1995, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. However, the newspaper said that a National Enquirer cover photo of a bruised Nicole Brown Simpson claiming to be taken after Simpson beat her was influential in Judge Ito's decision. (That photo had actually been edited based on Denise Brown's claim of how Nicole looked after Simpson allegedly abused her, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.)
Since the topless photo of Clark would have made some members of the jury biased against her, it is important to know that they didn't see it. Yet, that fact does not quell my rage.
Imagine a naked photo of Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Chris Darden, Judge Ito, or — hell — even O.J. Simpson being released by a magazine. Oh wait, you can't imagine such scenario? Fascinating. That would be because men, whether they are in power positions or not, are not constantly sexualized the way women are, or as heavily scrutinized for elements of their appearance and personal lives.
Clark's womanhood defined her more than her profession during the Simpson trial. Susan Reimer succinctly wrote in The Baltimore Sun on March 5, 1995, "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." Unfortunately, she was right, as Clark's custody battle with her ex-husband, Gordon, became increasingly public and called her abilities as a mother into question. Clark even had to release a statement on her commitment to her kids, which according to the Los Angeles Times said, "I am devoted to my two children, who are far and away more important to me than anything. I feel it is inappropriate of me to discuss details of my marital dissolution case or child custody issues in the media." Being "inappropriate" didn't stop the media from discussing Clark's family — or every other element of her life.
I can't deny that everyone involved in the Simpson trial — male or female — was probed by the media. As Reimer wrote, even a shirtless photo of defense lawyer Robert Shapiro had been included in People magazine. Yet, Reimer also gave a personal anecdote of how her mother always referred to Clark as "Marcia" during the trial that I found telling of the public's overall impressions. Reimer wrote, "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.'"
Reimer's mother's sense of familiarity reflected many public opinions of the time, as well as how people generally act toward women even today. People seem to feel more entitled to tell women what they can and cannot do (e.g., "Do have kids, but don't breastfeed in public") much more so than their male counterparts. While Shapiro had a shirtless photo (just note the fact that it's called "shirtless" and not "topless" for men) of himself published, a man's torso isn't really considered "naked" and does not lead to the same sort of sexualization that a similar photo of a woman does.
The National Enquirer may have tried to present Clark's topless photo in a way that did not damage her professional image, writing that it shows "the tough legal eagle as the world has never seen her: A carefree young woman enjoying fun, sun, and the good life while romping on the world's playgrounds." Maybe that would be the case if Clark had chosen to release the photo — but that's not what happened. And while the photo itself obviously does not take away from Clark's abilities as a prosecutor in any way, because our society is apparently unable to see a woman as both sexual and professional or capable, it undoubtedly affected her image. Just consider the backlash against Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's 2013 Vogue photoshoot, or the sexism that permeates some "professional" dress codes to prevent women from being "too sexy" at work.
While Clark told People that watching American Crime Story has been "a painful experience," she also acknowledged the way it is starting important conversations, and I, for one, am glad it has given her an outlet to speak out about her experiences. That's especially important because though the Simpson trial may have ended over 20 years ago, sexism is still rampant today. Need proof? In honor of American Crime Story, the National Enquirer has posted the infamous topless photo of Clark online for all to see again — this time with nothing covering her breasts.