Kagan a Target of Look-ism
It was inevitable that
Of course, the most distasteful sentiments are coming from the extreme Right. Talk radio's
A recent tweet from radio host
Another tweet by
This isn't just rakish sport, it's the politics of personal destruction -- the female version. The creepy glee these blowhards and their followers take in such attacks is a way to bring women down a notch. Rather than focus solely on Kagan's career and published views, they snigger over her stocky frame. Which is another way of saying that a woman can attain the highest professional heights through a combination of intellect and hard work, but if she's not date-worthy, she's of less regard -- even a joke.
This derision is also a form of shorthand to raise alarms about Kagan's political philosophy. Kagan presents herself professionally, free of any political code. She wears makeup, colorful jackets and modest jewelry. Yet, by harping on the fact that she fails to come across as classically feminine, the Right hints that she must be a radical feminist or a lesbian, neither of which Kagan has given any indication of being.
The corollary to this is the Sarah Palin phenomenon -- a woman whose great looks have earned her a place as an opinion-maker, despite demonstrable intellectual limits. During Palin's vice presidential campaign, her makeup artist was the highest-paid person on her staff, and she famously spent a fortune on clothes. As it turns out, this was exactly the right investment, much more important than schooling Palin on domestic and foreign policy. Somehow her beauty magically transforms the mash of incoherence she spouts into pearls of wisdom for supporters.
A new book talks about this trap for women: "The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law" by
Rhode tells of a "ludicrous experience" of her own as chair of the
What the ABA was signaling is nothing new or surprising. Rhode's credibility that day was less contingent on the professional titles she'd earned through years of toil than on how the audience viscerally responded to her appearance. Unfair? Certainly. Unjust? Yup. But that's the way it is, and no new regime of antidiscrimination laws will change it.
Kagan has obviously overcome this kind of challenge in her life. It is comforting to know that any look-ism she faced didn't stop her meteoric rise. Except for crass, snickering frat boys of the political Right, most of us are able to see past instant judgments to appreciate the talents of smart, able women. It's a subtle but real advancement: Women know that looks still matter, but they're not everything, not even close.
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(c) 2010 Robyn Blumner