The good old boys of last week’s Sonia Sotomayor hearings have some “‘splaining’ to do”, writes New York Times columnist Frank Rich. He frames his argument thus:
… The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here….
He notes the following offenses:
Channeling Ricky Ricardo, Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn joked to Sotomayor: “You’ll have lots of ’splainin’ to do.”
South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham suggested to Sotomayor that she had “a temperament problem” and advised that “maybe these hearings are a time for self-reflection.”
And Coburn not only lectured Sotomayor on the “proper role” of judges, but read her the oath of office.
Are you kidding me?
I listened to it all last week, fuming, while hiking to the top of a nearby mountain (okay, it’s a hill), my fist-sized walkman plugged into my ear. But what I heard in the badgering, the condescencion, the patronizing pontificating wasn’t just about politics or race. It had to do with gender.
Would these guys ever have used such a blatantly disrespectful, wheedling, downright dismissive tone with a male nominee — regardless of political differences? Or color? I doubt it.
And while we’re at it, would the so-called fat police have scrutinized a chubby male appointee the way they’ve wagged their fingers at Surgeon General nominee Dr. Regina Benjamin? (For that matter, was Sarah Palin’s hairdo ever really that important?)
What all this tells me is that, even in this shiny new millenium, women are still stuck navigating a whole different world when it comes to the workplace. It makes me wonder, in fact, if this might be one reason why dealing with choice is so much more difficult for women than men: If this scrutiny and condescension is the way it plays for the women at the top of their game, you have to wonder if a measure of the second-guessing, the sense of overwhelm that sometimes paralyzes women in their 20s and 30s stems from an uncertainty as to how to find their way in this unfamiliar turf.
Sure, we women do school well. University structures, especially, support the way we learn and succeed. Overachievers? High expectations? Duly noted and rewarded. But once we get to the workplace? Different kind of rules.
Let’s face it. We missed the socialization. From ancient times, men have been raised to know their job is to slay the dragons, and that they will be alone in doing it. American mythology, too, teaches men that their role is to go, seek and conquer. For generations, men’s roles have been predetermined, and unquestioned: They provide. And workplace — and social — structures have evolved to support the model.
For women, though, relatively new to this world of work, roles are still in flux. We never learned to slay the dragon — we were the pretty princesses waiting back there in the castle — and often, we’re a little confused by the messy nature of reality as opposed to the comfortable fit of school. And so we’re flummoxed. Overwhelmed. We’re feeling our way. Where do we fit in? How do we fit in? Should we fit in?
Do we even want to fit in? In other words, more choices still.