Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Makes a Good Woman... er, Judge

As Sonia Sotomayor has been making the rounds to sell herself to the Senate Judiciary Committee, there has been a lot of talk in the news of folks getting nervous that she'll have bias in her judgements because she's a woman and a minority (because white men in power are never biased in their decisions and always have full understanding of the needs of the women and minorities they represent).  I have not read all of her cases and cannot, ahem, judge whether of not she'd make a quality addition to the Supreme Court, but I have found it fascinating that as her work history is increasingly found devoid of issue, her attitude in court has come under scrutiny.  She has been accused of being "a terror on the bench," "nasty," "overly aggressive," and "a bit of a bully."  But when transcripts of high level court cases came out, she was actually much less aggressive than her male counterparts. 

So here we go again... even in an age when there are female executives and a woman can be considered qualified to compete for a presidential nomination, we're still wrestling with the expectations of a woman's behavior to have a certain level of submissiveness.  NPR did a fabulous report on this and it's certainly not one you'll hear on MSNBC (busy focusing on her legally required monetary disclosures, i.e. yep, the chick has cash).  The sum is this, why are women still expected to have a different code of behavior than men?  

My ex had a wonderful habit of turning normal daily interactions into an analysis of male/female behavior which involved continually asking,
"How would this situation have changed if the woman in the story were a man?"  
At the end of your day, you'll generally find that there are a myriad of moments where gender played a role in how an interaction played out.  This is a great exercise for both men and women to have a higher awareness of how their own behavior intersects with gender expectation.   Think about it... would that guy have really said that to you if you had been a man?  Would you have talked to a man they way you talked to that woman?   After all, an unexamined life is not worth living (Ok, so a man, Socrates, said it, but it still holds true for all).


  1. My favourite news snippet about Sotomayor (well, I am a pronunciation linguist) was when some right-wing commentator criticised her preference that her surname be pronounced in a vaguely authentic Spanish manner (soh-tuh-ma-YOR, I'm guessing). His gloriously ignorant opinion was that the obvious "English" way of saying such a surname would be SOH-tuh-my-uhr effectively treating that -mayor ending as if it were a Germanic-in-origin Meyer, and that by resisting this supposedly natural Anglo pronunciation she was grinding a particular axe. Y'know, being too darned ethnic.

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