Redefining Powerful Women

This is just bizarre:

The Oxford English Dictionary Online has been updated and amongst the new entries is Girl Power. Defined as “power exercised by girls; spec. a self-reliant attitude among girls and young women manifested in ambition, assertiveness, and individualism“, the term is one of several hundred that have just been added to the OED Online, the most up-to-date version of the world famous authority on the English language. The Spice Girls are credited with using the term in the late 1990s; however, riot girls (also a new entrant to the dictionary) adopted Girl Power in the early 90s, in the United States. A riot girl, also known as a grrrl, (another new entry) a young woman perceived as strong or aggressive, esp. in her attitude to men or in her expression of feminine independence and sexuality, is defined in general terms as a member of a movement expressing feminist resistance to male domination in society and esp. to the abuse and harassment of women.

Its bizarre and, moreover, it bothers me. It seems honestly a bit sexist, a bit ridiculous that we need to add new words to the dictionary in order to describe strong or powerful women. Why won’t woman do? Or female? Or girl? Or feminine? Decisions like this more clearly reveal the antiquated notions we have as a society: in this case the idea that women, by default, are not already strong or powerful. The need for a separate term entirely for a powerful woman implies that woman in general are not always powerful – an independent, powerful woman is a riot girl, has girl power… she is an exception. Or, at least, that’s what the Oxford Dictionary would have us think.


Girl Power! (Or, you know, just women in power – these are some female heads of state, the link leads you to information on more current and former female leaders, in case anyone has an interest!)

The specific wording of this is also really troublesome. In defining “Girl Power” the writers of Oxford Dictionary choose to use the phrase, “self reliant” to describe someone who possess this specific breed of power. I find it revealing in the sense that this definition mirrors back the (very outdated) idea that men are expected to be self-reliant, to be providers because its a trait that comes with their masculinity – while women, however,  are passive caretakers and when they are self-reliant that are considered exceptional, to the point where we have a whole new term just to describe the phenomena.

In addition, and I know this is less the dictionary’s fault and more the fault of the social climate in which these terms have been created, there is no evidence of women here. Girl Power, Riot Girl; both of these phrases use the word girl where woman would have sufficed as well. The word girl (defined by oxford as: 1. Chiefly in pl. A child of either sex; a young person)  implies a certain powerlessness that comes with childhood, whereas woman does not. I would argue that part of the reason why Girl Power has made such a splash as a cultural phenomena (and part of the reason why these words wiggled their way into our dictionary) is that, in using the word girl over woman, the concept manages to present itself as a more juvenile power, a power that does not threaten the traditional power of masculinity.

I snagged Travis to comment on this as well since, through music, he is more familiar with the culture of those who self-define as riot-girls (or grrls) than I am.

He had this to say:


Riot Grrrl was a movement that began in the late ’80s/early ’90s with the emergence of bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Huggy Bear. Women like Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill used their music as a way to express the injustices and sexism of our society, spreading their messages across the burgeoning underground punk scene, a network across the world united by independent record labels like K Records in Olympia.

The movement helped encourage women to fight back for equality and it most certainly inspired women to start bands by showing them that anyone could be a musical artist, regardless of talent or sex. However, once the underground scene burst open with the success of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and the mainstream acceptance of “alternative rock,” the media began exploiting the terminology as a means to generate audiences and money.

The term Riot Grrrl eventually became a sort of cliche, a blanket term used to cover all female punk/rock bands because, you know, women can only play rock music if they’re pissed off at society. Bands like L7 who weren’t really related at all to the Riot Grrrl scene were labeled as such just because they were an all-women band who played their guitars loudly and spoke out against issues such as sexism, rape, and abortion.

The OED’s definition of Riot Grrrl seems to me to be for the most part how most women, regardless of musical affiliations, react to certain situations: “expressing feminist resistance to male domination in society and esp. to the abuse and harassment of women,” should not have to be limited to this definition; male domination of society should not exist (though female domination should not either, of course), and I don’t think any woman is in support of female abuse and harassment, riot girl or not.

Also, the idea that these women are “strong or aggressive, esp. in [their] attitude to men,” is ridiculous, because presenting oneself as an equal doesn’t make a woman “aggressive.” It really just shows how suppressed women are in our society when women simply seeking to be considered equal are so quickly labeled as “aggressive,” especially since men acting the same way would most likely not be labeled as such.

At the end of the day, all I know is that no one needs to be a riot grrrl (even though the ORIGINAL riot grrrl movement seems like it was really badass) or a Spice Girl (girl power!) to be strong –  woman or man, strength is about character not your biological sex.


* The women pictured above are Margaret Thatcher (UK), Golda Meir (Israel),  Yulia Tymoshenko (Ukraine), and Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan). Collage credit goes to – click the image to be directly linked to it’s location.

36 thoughts on “Redefining Powerful Women

  1. Pingback: NEW body loving posts from the blogosphere « medicinal marzipan

  2. You know, I’m actually going to have to dissagree with you here bbs! There are lots of words that dintinguish between men and thier classes. if we look at the history of partiarchy, the one that jumps to my mind is the maonarchy, and their royal courts. There are specific words that denote which men get what kinds of respect. You wouldn’t treat an esquire the same way you’d treat a marquis. I see your point, and just because men are divided between ” a man, and the man” doesn’t make dividing girls into “average, and poweful” OK. But I don’t think the titles we use to denote roles in society are exclusive to oppressing women…. Just like women can be sterotyped, men can be emasculated. You know what I mean?

  3. I get where you’re coming from, I totally do – especially within the concept of “equal opportunity oppression.” The patriarchy hurts men too! However, I think that knowledge is only reason to find this addition to the dictionary MORE problematic because:

    1) Both of these definitions (Girl Power, Riot Girls) are not referring to women, they are referring to GIRLS. Why is it that women are so often referred to as girls when the parallel (men as boys) so rarely happens.

    2) Men as powerful is the default, you point it out yourself when you say men can be emasculated* (stripped of their power) – looking through this lense we see that most people conceive powerful men as the “default” of society, and once you take that power away they are somehow less manly (and are given a new title, emasculated), whereas non-powerful women are the default and when women do become powerful we need new words for dealing with them (girl power!)

    * I have a problem with the term emasculated for this very reason because it implies that masculinity = power (often physical power) which is a concept that I feel is highly problematic.

  4. I completely agree with you.

    “strength is about character not your biological sex.”

    If you take into account some of the most famous women role models, they generally have looked quite harmless, for example Princess Diana.

    Yes ok, it could be said that she was a strong person but the fact that she always looked quite “weak” goes to show that for a woman who is supposed to be celebrated in this “Man’s World” she needs to have an apparant weakness. She needs to appear harmless to men.

    I quite recently was asked if I was feminist and to be honest (by a man), I was shocked. I would in no way consider myself feminist, I just stick up for my beliefs. Something which men do daily and don’t get accused of being agressive or argumentative.

    The beginning of women’s emancipation which began during the time of WW1 portrayed the women acting “crazier” than before. “Crazier” being more like the masculine behaviour at that time. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to understand why nearly 100 years on views and opinions haven’t seemed to have changed a lot. As I have already said, when women voice their opinions they’re seen as “argumentive” so must it take another 100years for freedom of speech for women to be unremarkable?

  5. A few comments:

    Yes, the term “woman” does not imply strength. But, this fact is not inherently sexist. The word “horse” does not suggest that the horse is fast, thus why we also have the term “race horse,” but “horse” is not disparaging to horses. We also have the term superman and ubermensch, to describe powerful men. However, that doesn’t mean saying “man” implies that men are weak, it just implies that not all men are strong, which is true. There are strong men and weak men, just like there are strong women and weak women. I don’t see what’s at all offensive about having a word that abstains from judgment.

    As for why the terms for women are so often “girl,” I think it’s biologically driven. For women, reproductive fitness is strongly tied to youth (you have more years to reproduce, and many complications are less likely). For men the opposite is true. In a man age indicates his genes are good enough to have lived that long, and he has probably accumulated more resources than his younger competitors. So, while there is some value judgment going on with calling women “girls,” it is referring to a positive trait.

    It’s also not true that men aren’t called boys. For instance, professional firms are often called a “boys club,” despite the age of its members. When a man goes out to a bar to watch a game with his friends, he’s not going out with the men, he’s going out with the boys.

    I also disagree that for men power is the default. This is why we have terms such as “real man” or “true man” to denote men that are powerful and manly.

    And finally, the images of female role models has not always depicted them as weak. Just look at Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart, or Rosie the Riveter. And look at popular women on TV and in movies now: Lara Croft, any of the women in Battlestar Galactica (even the sickly, dying Roslin is seen as powerful), every Bond girl, and (my favorite) Constance “Bones” Brennan.

  6. You both make some good points – you’ve really made me think! I’d just like to clarify on a few points:

    – I never meant to imply that “woman” as a word had weakness tied into its definition. What I was trying to convey was the sociological idea of women as the “fairer” or weaker sex. I think the fact that your point out the terms “real man” or “true man” as terms that indicate a powerful man is telling because phrases like these show that there is a societal understanding that power is necessary in order to be a “real” man, and men without power are somehow lesser or other (just as women with power are somehow other)

    To be clear, I’m not arguing that the term woman or any of these terms are inherently disparaging to anyone, I am simply taking issue with the larger societal undercurrent that seems to believe women in general lack power (thus, creating a need for terms to describe powerful women) whereas men inherently must have this power (lest they be considered emasculated or “girly men”)

    – As for the “girls” thing I think the commenter above who spoke about Princess Diana made my point fairly well (unintentionally). Powerful women are often sexualized or infantalized in order to make them more acceptable to the mainstream- I actually spoke about this before in an article I wrote last month on the media coverage of Michelle Obama. While men are sometimes referred to as boys it happens FAR less often, and in much different contexts – even the “boy’s club” you speak of is just as (if not more) often referred to as the “old boys club,” a modifier that counteracts any infantalizing tones.

    – While there are many powerful female role models these women are typically portrayed as an exception to the gender rules – something that I think should change.

    Ultimately, at the core, I think we’re saying the same thing: nothing about gender indicates a predisposition for power. We only differ on the degree to which we believe society has internalized that message.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. “I am simply taking issue with the larger societal undercurrent that seems to believe women in general lack power”

    Isn’t this true? Isn’t the whole premise behind feminism that women in general do not have power?

    I think maybe you mean that the issue is a belief that women shouldn’t have power.

  8. I take issue with the idea that women, inherently as a part of their nature as women, lack the desire for power, and thus lack the ability to attain power – which is why I say that I take issue with the societal belief that says women lack power.

    It is my opinion that many women and men alike posses a great deal of inner strength and power – the main difference in terms of acting that power out socially is the uneven messages given to different genders. Essentially, women are told to deny their power for the sake of being feminine, and men told that power is necessary for masculinity.

    When these antiquated ways of thinking change I believe the lack of women being acknowledged as powerful will dissipate as we will begin to see the inherent power that existed all along – in other words, if we can do away with this antiqued way of thinking then the social structures that block women from gaining influence in society that you referred to will begin to unravel.

    More or less: words have power, just as everything in society does, to shape our cultural consciousness. I believe that special terms for powerful women promote the idea that women who display powerful tendencies are the exception, rather than the norm, an idea that I hope to prove false one day.

  9. I don’t think you’re using “power” in it’s normal meaning. It sounds like what you mean is “potential.”

    I think when most people say that women don’t have power, they mean that they’re not in positions of power (such as being head of state, or CEO), which is observably true. I don’t know many people who would argue that women lack the potential (at least, lack it at a higher rate than men, since some people really just don’t have what it takes).

    As for the desire for power, I’m going to disagree. I think in general women have less desire to be in positions of power or to accumulate wealth. One of the biggest driving forces in most people’s lives is the desire to be in a romantic relationship and to have children. For men, having power and wealth pays of in these areas more than it does for women (not arguing that it should, just that it does). The other benefits (such as comfort, entertainment, health care, etc) are roughly equal for the sexes. Since men get more by having power, it would make sense that they’re more inclined to go after it, and will thus more often get it.

  10. I’m using power in the sense that “girl power” (which was defined by Oxford as “power exercised by girls; spec. a self-reliant attitude among girls and young women manifested in ambition, assertiveness, and individualism”) seems to be using it – since that is the term relevant to the original post. This idea that women by default do not have an inherent “self-reliant attitude” as well as “ambition, assertiveness, and individualism” seems ridiculous to me – thats not girl power its juts power and its an attitude that is inherent to many humans, regardless of gender.

    The sad truth is many people do argue that women lack the potential of men – citing a cultural understanding of women’s ’emotional nature’ and so on to make their claims.

    As for your last point – I don’t understand. How does having power help men find love anymore than it would help women to find love?

  11. No clue if it helps them find love, but it definitely helps when it comes to finding sex or reproducing.

    Do I really need to explain how it helps? Men with money can get into nicer clubs (where girls get in free, but for guys the cost can be $100+), wear better clothes, they can go on more lavish dates, buy nicer gifts, and be viewed as having better potential as a provider.

    Historically, most women have children. Fewer than half of men do. Some men will have kids with multiple women (used to be harems, now it’s just serial monogamy), which means that some men are left with no partners.

    For women, losing at the mating game usually means getting a guy with bad genes, or who skips town. For men losing means not reproducing at all. The stakes are higher for men, and power and wealth can give you a huge edge.

  12. You’re operating with an evolutionary approach to gender roles (men need power because it helps them attract (many) mates with better genes, while women need attractiveness to attract mates with good genes who will stick around) that is becoming more and more contested in recent years.

    I doubt we will ever come to a place where we can agree on this issue as I firmly believe, in this day and age, that humanity has moved past a need for these hunter-gatherer age gender roles and, as a result, the roles that we see are socialized rather than evolved. In the 21st century women can be providers too, they have just as much power (potential, whatever) to do so and its time for the social rhetoric to change in order to reflect that fact.

  13. It sounds like you would accept that some gender roles (or gender-based mating strategies) would have been the product of evolution. So, are you suggesting that the last 100 years has somehow undone millions of years of evolution? Women got the right to vote, and suddenly our DNA changed? It’d be fantastic if biology could work that way, but it doesn’t.

    There’s a better way to get at the result you want though. We’re allowed to say “Mother Nature, piss off.” We do it all the time with vaccines and airplanes, that’s the greatest part about being human, not being a slave to nature or our conditions. So, you could accept that men may have a greater biological predisposition towards power, but develop a better social policy from there, such as mandating equal opportunity employment for women who seek the same jobs men tend to go for. We’re better off trying to figure out what to do with the cards nature has dealt us, rather than try to argue that we’ve been dealt better cards.

  14. I’m not a biologist and don’t pretend to be a biologist – frankly, I don’t understand the intricacies of how evolution works. My rudimentary understanding, however, tells me that species evolve traits that suit their environment, that are necessary for survival.

    Now that we’re living in an age where brute physical strength is most often not needed to survive and thrive in society, grocery stores exist for food, etc. so the “evolved” processes that make men “innately” more powerful are superfluous – I’d expect modern society to reflect that change which is why I find it silly that evolutionary arguments are still being made concerning men and women’s potential/power/whatever you’d like to call it.

    I would tentatively agree with this statement: “we’re better off trying to figure out what to do with the cards nature has dealt us, rather than try to argue that we’ve been dealt better cards,” if it weren’t for the fact that all too often I’ve seen people argue that women’s biological ‘deficiencies’ (or, the cards we’ve been dealt) means that we should not strive for a more equal society and, rather, accept things as they are.

    Ultimately I believe that power differences lie in the individual, regardless of gender, and if we could find a way to measure innate power/potential across a population we’d find that there is no innate correlation between gender and power/potential, only one that is created through socialization.

  15. I agree. You don’t understand how evolution works. Major changes take thousands or millions of years. Most advancements in gender equality have been in the last 100 years. There’s no way nature can catch up that fast. Notice how we still have hair in places where we don’t need it?

    There probably are some innate differences in power/potential. For instance, men are generally taller than women, and thus have (in general) greater potential as basketball players. Women generally have a higher percentage of fat (because your reproductive system needs it, ours doesn’t), and thus tend to have greater potential for swimming (fat provides buoyancy and insulation).

    But, even if there was equal potential, there may not be identical desires.

  16. But desires differ between individuals – not genders.

    While I get what you’re saying about PHYSICAL differences, I hesitate to apply it to internal desires. All too often women are sold short and not encouraged to reach their full potential because society tells us that women don’t have the same desires/power/potential whatever in the business world, the academic world (especially math and hard sciences), the athletic world and so on.

    It would be kind of like someone telling Michael Phelps (or any other famous male swimmer) that he shouldn’t bother swimming because his male body doesn’t have the natural buoyancy of a woman’s body. I wonder how many potentially amazing woman scientists, CEOs, etc. never came to be because they were told they, as women, just didn’t have the natural potential.

    In the end we can argue about evolution all day, I’m never going to agree that this is the right way to teach society – people should be encouraged and regarded as individuals, not as genders.

  17. The issue wouldn’t be whether or not Michael Phelps is encouraged to swim based on his gender. It would be whether we look at the world, realize that 70% of swimmers are women (just making up a hypothetical number) and think this is a problem. If Phelps is given an equal opportunity to pursue his desires, then we shouldn’t care about the number of men who actually desire to be swimmers.

    Same goes for pursuing positions of power. We should be concerned with whether the opportunity is there for a woman to become senator or CEO or whatever, and less concerned with the actual number that do.

  18. Yes, but my point is that the opportunity is NOT there because many people take the small number of women in power as “proof” that women have less of a desire/ability/potential to be powerful.

    In order for your swimming analogy to match up there would have to be widely accepted support for female CEOs etc. just as there is for male swimmers – THAT was my point.

    If someone like Michael Phelps was discouraged from swimming based on his gender, in the same way that so many women are discouraged from business, science, and positions of power based on their gender then your analogy concerning body-builds and athletic potential would make sense.

    The small number of women in power DOES indicate that something is wrong, simply by merit of the fact that women are not being given equal opportunity, or even equal encouragement to pursue leadership roles etc. and until that changes we do have a problem, a problem that is in part revealed through the need for phrases like “girl power” to define women in power.

  19. Do you think the small number of women in power is merely an indication of a problem (such as unequal encouragement) or that it is itself a problem?

    If it is an indication of a problem, things get tricky, since it could be evidence of several problems, and several non-problems.

    For instance, as you suggest, it could indicate a lack of encouragement.

    It could also be that natural/biological ambition or desire for positions of power is not distributed equally by gender.

    It could be that men are going for the positions not because they want them, but because they’re being socialized to go for things that are actually pretty lousy.

    Women are more likely to go to participate in extracurriculars in high school, more likely to take AP classes and tests, more likely to go to college, and more likely to pursue a masters (they’re about equal for law, not sure on the other advanced degrees). Doesn’t sound like encouragement is the issue. There are numerous organizations dedicated to telling women that they can pursue ambitious careers. No such structure exists for men. We just get told that if you’re not good looking or extremely charming, you better make a lot of money or you’ll never reproduce.

  20. I think this is an issue that we’re never going to see eye to eye on, simply by merit of the fact that we have lived very different lives. As a woman who, admittedly, has been afforded every encouragement and opportunity by a pair of loving and liberal parents I believe I can speak to the social factors that result in fewer women getting ahead. As qualified and capable as I am, I often find myself questioned about opinions, choices, capabilities, and so on based not on my experience or talents but on the fact that I am a young woman.

    The recent appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the supreme court, and the media’s response, is a perfect example of the point I am trying to make. Although Sotomayor has more experience going in than any of the current justices did her intelligence, emotional stability, etc. are being called into question on the grounds of both her race and her gender alone. Now, the racial factor does not make the a perfect analogy, but when you have reporters actually wondering if a person is emotionally balanced enough to handle the POWER of being a Supreme Court Justice simply because she is a woman (some reporters have argued that her periods will make her less stable, honestly) its obviously an indicator of a larger problem that comes down to the social perception of women as weak, emotional, etc.

    Sotomayor, like many women, received a great education and (with the encouragement of some enlightened peers and mentors, I am sure) took every opportunity she could, fighting to get ahead (like many, many men do as well) however, for all of her hard work she still may be held back from a position she is thoroughly qualified for because she is a WOMAN.

    The reason men don’t have these groups pushing them to pursue education etc. is because historically and socially men are already EXPECTED to excel – I challenge you to show me one case of a person’s capability to take on any amount of power being questioned solely on the grounds that he is a man.

  21. (And to answer your question: Do you think the small number of women in power is merely an indication of a problem (such as unequal encouragement) or that it is itself a problem?

    I think that it is an indication of a larger problem, namely the gender dichotomy that limits both men and women in the things that it is culturally acceptable for them to excel at.)

  22. I notice you didn’t seem to have a problem that Sotomayor got the nomination (in part) because she is a woman. If she were a man, she would not have been considered at all, as Obama had designated the new seat for a woman only.

    As for the criticism about her personality/emotional stability, it’s not just because she’s a woman. She’s criticized because of the negative reviews she’s received from the lawyers who routinely appear before her. Such criticisms didn’t come up (as best I can remember) with Harriet Myers. Why? She was a woman too, but she didn’t have Sotomayor’s history of instability.

    Joe Biden, Howard Dean, and Atonin Scalia are often criticized for their unstable personalities, but hey, they’re men. What gives?

    Just because a criticism fits the stereotype doesn’t mean it’s because of the stereotype. Scalia and Alito are often criticized for being too strict of constructionists. Is this because men are stereotyped as being too-logically minded? No, it’s because of their judicial record and legal philosophies.

  23. As qualified and capable as I am, I’m also questioned about my opinions, choices, capabilities, and so on. Some of this is probably because I’m a young white male. People presume I know nothing about anything that isn’t white, male, or mainstream, and my views on anything “other” are largely discounted. (I’ve also had people criticize me for my ivy league education and trust fund, neither of which I have.)

    But, I also assume that a lot of the questions about my abilities are just because I’m young and haven’t been working long enough to have a solid history or reputation. Some of the criticisms you receive may be based on gender stereotypes. But, I think you need to be careful to remember that there could be alternative, non-nefarious explanations.

  24. I have no problem with Obama purposefully choosing a woman because all but two of the past justices have been men… and I wonder how many of them were chosen, in part, BECAUSE they are men – I’d be willing to guess quite a few. The problem I have is with people making unfounded assumptions about Sotomayor’s limitations, based on her gender.

    For instance, I bet a male justice never had to deal with this:

    “Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate…That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.” (Radio host, Gordon Liddy)

    Honestly, I’d like to see evidence of this “history of instability” you speak of, and proof that none of the other justices have similar histories.

    As for your second point, you REALLY should not make assumptions about other people’s experiences. The incidents I speak of all occurred in a context where it was made clear that my gender was the cause of doubt, sometimes it was even said directly to my face (like in my eighth grade computer class where my final project, that I had spent hours programming, was not entered into the hall of fame – even though I had been the only one in my class to successfully complete the “honors project”- because my teacher believed “girls cannot be programmers” he just thought it was “cute” that I tried.)

    Judging by this conversation I can understand how people presume you know nothing about that that is not male (I cannot speak to your knowledge on those who are not white, etc.) – when you tell a woman she is WRONG about her own experiences with sexism, well, that’s generally the impression you’re going to give.

  25. As an addition: I’ve never said that this stereotypical view of gender doesn’t hurt men as well. In the society that we have, when the gender dichotomy is so strongly adhered to, men lose out as well – for instance, men who choose to take positions of “less power” (like men who choose to be nurses, teachers, or stay at home parents) are often ostracized and ridiculed – I don’t find this fair either.

    However, by fighting the idea that masculine = inherently powerful and feminine does not we can create a society where it is socially acceptable, even UNREMARKABLE for a woman to gain power, or a man to choose to avoid power.

  26. If you’ll go back and reread what I wrote, you’ll see that I only said to consider alternate explanations, not that you were wrong. Obviously in the example you cited, your interpretation is correct. But, I know several people who regularly compete in the race to be offended and assume that the sexist explanation is the right and only explanation.

    Here are some of the reports on Sotomayor’s temperment on the bench:
    “Lawyers who have argued cases before Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor call her “nasty,” “angry” and a “terror on the bench,” according to the current Almanac of the Federal Judiciary – a kind of Zagat’s guide to federal judges.” “Of the 21 judges evaluated, the same lawyers gave 18 positive to glowing reviews and two judges received mixed reviews. Judge Sotomayor was the only one to receive decidedly negative comments.”
    “”She is temperamental and excitable; she seems angry,” one attorney said. Another called her ”overly aggressive, not very judicial” and a third said she was “nasty to lawyers.””

    Why would I offer proof that no other judges have similar histories? I specifically said that Scalia has a bad temperament and is criticized for it.

    Finally, it seems like you would agree that it’s wrong to nominate a man just because he’s a man. So why is it okay to nominate a woman just because she’s a woman and men have been nominated more in the past? The solution to gender bias is not more gender bias.

    Women are now 50% of law students and 25% of federal judges (a rapidly growing number). Picking SCOTUS judges on the merits alone, without regard to gender, will in time produce a fairly diversified bench. Artificially creating fair results will never be as good as creating an actually fair system.

  27. By telling me to “consider alternate explanations” you are assuming that I have no already done so, and implying that my reasoning is flawed without any proof – thus, not respecting the perspective on sexism that I, as a woman, have – a perspective that you will never live.

    I too have read up on Sotomayor and, honestly, what I am more interested in are her rulings, not her temperament (I also have to wonder if those judging her temperament are not swayed by the fact that she is a woman. All too often assertive and powerful women are considered ‘nasty” or “bitches” while their male counterparts are not criticized because the expectation of women as docile agreeable creatures often exacerbates the perception of their behavior.)

    Regardless, the articles that I have read on her judicial history all indicate that she is a fair-minded person who keeps the limitations of the law at their forefront of her decisions. This one is particularly helpful:

    “The solution to gender bias is not more gender bias.” I believe here is another place where our opinions diverge. I don’t view this as gender bias, I view this as an attempt to make the Supreme Court a more accurate representation of the current population. Furthermore I see no problem with favoring women in this case, to make up for a history of exclusion. Are you against affirmative action as well?

    Until society is truly egalitarian there will need to be measure in place to counteract the unfair advantages of the privileged.

  28. What if I told you that I went to get Kati Rolls for lunch yesterday and had to wait nearly 15 minutes before the woman at the register would take my order, and that she was clearly prejudiced against men? You’d probably say, “Well, could it just be that the line was really long and they were slow taking the orders of the people in front of you?” You’d be correct, but apparently you’d also be a bigot for assuming that I’m not perfectly rational and executing flawless logic.

    As for Sotomayor, you’re perfectly free to be more interested in her rulings than her temperament. No one’s saying you can’t be.

    Sure, there’s a chance that the people evaluating were sexist, but many of the people giving evaluations were women, and many of the judges getting good reviews were also women. They’d really have to coordinate to decide which one women they were going to tarnish with consistent bad reviews.

    It’s more likely that she really just has a bad temperament. Women, just like men, are perfectly capable of being nasty.

    And I’m getting the impression that you’re just completely ignoring any counterexample that runs contrary to your views. Scalia is Sotomayor’s male counterpart, and is also criticized for his temperament, so it is plainly inaccurate to say her male counterparts are not also criticized in this way.

    And yes, I’m against affirmative action. Favoring women now doesn’t “make up” for a history of exclusion. It doesn’t put women on the court 100 years ago. It just continues a history of exclusion by taking it in a new direction.

    Are you really saying it would be worse for Obama to have picked a candidate on the merits alone, without looking at that candidate’s gender?

    Appointing Sotomayor does nothing to counteract anyone’s unfair disadvantages. It doesn’t put more funding into primary education, provide more tutors, or more college scholarships.

    Would you be okay with Obama saying “Well, 2 of the last 3 nominees have been women, so the next seat has to go to a man to even things out”? Or, would you be okay with him saying, “If Sotomayor is approved by the Senate, only 3 of the 111 justices will have been women, so we can only appoint women to the next 108 vacancies, that way we even things out”?

  29. Your first point would only work if I had given you an example of a time I had perceived being treated in a sexist manner and that time was as inane and completely innocuous as your silly little example. As it stands I had not given an example, you judged me regardless, and then ignored the example I eventually did give.

    Who’s “completely ignoring any counterexample that runs contrary to [their] views” now?

    My point is not that ALL criticism of Sotomayor is sexist. Certainly plenty of it is valid because, just like any other judge, she’s a person with flaws. What I AM saying is there is plenty of criticism out there that IS sexist, like what Liddy said (that you also seem to have ignored.)

    “Are you really saying it would be worse for Obama to have picked a candidate on the merits alone, without looking at that candidate’s gender?”

    How do you KNOW that Sotomayor wasn’t picked on merit alone? Its not like Obama (or anyone) has a chart with all of the qualified individuals in the nation, neatly and fairly ranked. Considering she has far more experience going in than anyone who is currently on the bench had when they started, I’d say she’s pretty damn qualified. And she’s also a woman. Why does the second part even matter? She’s a justice who, although having a bit of a temper (like other justices currently on the bench), is experience and had a history of upholding the law fairly.

    If Obama was nominating completely unqualified women left and right you may have a point, but honestly one completely qualified and talented woman getting a seat in the supreme court does not discrimination make.

  30. Actually, I said that you were probably right about the example you provided, but that it’s still a good general principle to consider alternate explanations. Acknowledging is hardly the same as ignoring.

    Obama’s short list of nominees had 5 women and 1 man. You really think that her gender had nothing to do with her nomination?

    As for her having “more” experience, how are you measuring? She’s spent more time as a judge than anyone sitting, but less time at the appellate level than Alito (12 years v. 16 years). Many of the other judges worked in private practice, as government attorneys, or as professors. What’s the conversion rate for years as attorney general to years as a judge, just so I know how you reached the conclusion she has “more” experience?

  31. Look, we’re never going to hit a point where we agree and we’re way off the original question posed by the article because the topic kept changing.

    Bottom line: I think she’s a qualified and perfectly fair nominee. To nominate the THIRD woman to the supreme court really, really is not sexist – the Supreme Court will still have seven men, and two women – hardly representative of the gender split in our country, or even in the law community (but oh well) so there really is no way to call sexism.

    You also never said I was probably right, you simply allowed that I MAY have experienced sexism in my life – look, I have. Most women have. Its what comes from living in a society that is still largely structured to benefit men. If you read my blog a little more you’ll see many times when I talk about the ways in which patriarchal beliefs and structures harm men as well though. I really care about equality for EVERYONE – I’m just not willing to deal with bullshit “I’m more prejudiced against than you” competitions to get there.

    I have to get back to posting now so I’m going to stop investing so much time & attention into this debate, feel free to stick around on the blog.

    – J

  32. Pingback: Questioning the Status Quo « I’ll Follow the Sun

  33. Great post! I linked it over at my blog.

    So why is it okay to nominate a woman just because she’s a woman and men have been nominated more in the past? The solution to gender bias is not more gender bias.

    This is very dismissive of Sotomayor’s considerable accomplishments as a lawyer and a judge; to be frank, it smacks of the rallying call of the patriarchy, “But that’s just reverse racism!”

    There are a LOT of very qualified men and women out there. Obama needs to strive to represent our diverse culture and choose a qualified, under-represented person. Does this really need explaining?

    And furthermore, Scalia is frequently PRAISED for his temperament.

  34. Pingback: The Riot Grrl Manifesto « Imagine Today

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