Sonia Sotomayor and the Code of Sexism

Fri, May 29, 2009


Testy. Difficult. Nasty. Sharp-tongued. Those are just a few of the words being used by Republicans and the media to describe Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. If they ring a bell, they should — it hasn’t been long since those code words of sexism were used against another intelligent, accomplished woman in the public arena.

Sotomayor is being described as short-tempered and her judicial demeanor is being questioned for interrupting attorneys who argue before her. I hate to break it to those critics, but based on what I know, and from Mr. PunditMom’s personal experience in front of The Big Nine, being able to do that is practically a prerequisite to being a Supreme Court justice.

And where have we heard this sort of criticism before? I have a recent recollection of the same characters using these loaded adjectives to describe another strong, bright, experienced woman. Oh, right — that’s how Hillary Clinton was portrayed during her presidential bid! If we thought we’d left that behind after Hillary got out of the 2008 presidential race, we were mistaken.

The cable networks are just as guilty as Sotomayor’s opponents when it comes to mindlessly tossing these sexist code words about, as Jack and Jill Politics blog discusses:

John King on CNN says:

“Some are saying that she is not an intellectual firebrand, someone who could compete with Antonin Scalia or Justice Alito, the conservative brains, if you will, on the Supreme Court.”

Some“? Who are these some? CNN sadly goes on to say in another article:

But [Sotomayor] has suffered through recent stinging criticism in the media and blogs from both the left and right over perceived — some defenders say invented — concerns about her temperament and intellect.

Double eye-roll — look, Girlfriend graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, has Phi Beta Kappa on her rez, and was editor of the Yale Law Journal just like President Obama. Wanna bet the guy[s] impugning her credz couldn’t compete [themselves]?

Those sprinkling their prose with words like “testy” and “lightweight” are doing it to plant little seeds of doubt that Sotomayor is someone who can’t match the intellectual heft of the eight who remain on the highest bench.

Even a headline in the print edition of the New York Times read, “Assertive Style Raises Questions on Demeanor” (they changed the headline for the online edition but the text of the article is the same). Do you think for one minute that anyone questioned the appropriateness of Antonin Scalia’s demeanor and we all know how soft and cuddly he’s been on the bench.

I don’t like to talk in absolutes, but I’m willing to bet PunditGirl’s college fund that if a man had the exact same qualifications, those words would never be uttered. A a matter of fact, Tracy Viselli at Care2 blog notes that an article at The Guardian covers that very point:

… Sotomayor is much MORE qualified than “conservative icons” William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas. Rehnquist had NO judicial experience and [Clarence] Thomas had served less than two years as a judge. In fact, … Sotomayor’s qualifications mirror those of current Justice Samuel Alito.

I doubt that those who are afraid of a smart Latina sitting next to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have focused on those facts. They just want to rant in the code of sexism to make us afraid of what another woman on the Supreme Court will mean for their own personal power.

All I have to say now is that if anyone starts asking whether Sotomayor’s judicial robes are designer or pondering her cleavage, those reporters will correctly be able to describe me as testy.

Postcript: After I wrote this, I found this piece by G. Gordon Liddy that isn’t sexist code — it’s just plain sexist as he “worries” about what might happen to Sotomayor’s judgment when he gets her period.

Yeah, I’m testy now.

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8 Responses to “Sonia Sotomayor and the Code of Sexism”

  1. Cat Says:

    Excellent post. I heard “sharp tongued” this morning and thought it was not only a sexist code word, but also a racist code word.

    Personally,I think the court would benefit greatly from a sharp tongued woman.

  2. the new girl Says:

    Oh this is SUCH a great post.


  3. anniegirl1138 Says:

    Unsurprising. Our gender is always the first line of question raising when they are no legitimate questions to raise.

    But, a bit off topic, the left is not a lot better. Just watched a clip of Olberman cooing to Ann Coulter with the diminutive of her name and though I am no fan of hers – I was insulted for her. Why can’t men argue points of fact? Or is that a boys only club thing?

  4. MaryKate_G Says:

    Thanks for this. I don’t know why I was so surprised and disappointed when this type of criticism started flying. I’m going to start calling men testy and saying that they lack gravitas.

  5. April Says:

    Thanks for making me feel better about burying my head in the sand this week. I’m just going to trust that the votes are there to get her confirmed, and continue to close my eyes and ears until it’s over. I’m so done with all that noise!

  6. S Says:

    Scalia’s a downright jerk and people treat that like it’s just a personality quirk. When he came to my law school, he managed to work in a lot of insults to our favorite professors. But no one ever seriously takes him on for being an arrogant, superior bully.

    I’m glad you added in the Liddy comment. That one had me banging my head on a wall.

  7. Lynn from Says:

    I know that with the economy and all, some think we’re back in the 1930s, but I didn’t think it was affecting the way we describe women leaders.


    Oh my. A lawyer who is criticized for being assertive? You’re right – only would a woman be criticized for being “assertive.” It’s a strength – it’s a desirable quality.

    What year is it?

    Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go.

    Then again, I’m one of those “assertive” types.

    Great post, PunditMom! I was looking forward to hearing what you would have to say about all this!

  8. Kelley Irish Says:

    TV talk code
    Men Women
    Strong Aggressive
    Decisive Rigid
    Opinionated Sharp Tongued
    Intelligrnt Bookish

    Lack of intellicent eans she doesn’t agree with me!

    Call her a racist to deflect their own racism…

    I could go on but then I would be preaching to the choir.

    Gee can you see why so may people do not consider public service-

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