Some months back, we wrote about the condescending confirmation hearings of now-Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In something of a rant, we wondered whether white, male candidates would ever have been subjected to such patronizing questions, comments, and — let’s be honest — racially tinged non-jokes. From that post:
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.
The big-picture point we made back then was that, like Sotomayor, we women are navigating a whole different world when it comes to the workplace — yet one more reason why dealing with choice is so angsty for us. Amidst all this scrutiny in unfamiliar turf, we wrote, we’re suddenly at a loss as to how to fit in:
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…
Like many women who are making their way onto what should be an equal playing field but clearly is not, our newest Supreme Court Justice had to defend herself for being who she is.
But now, given recent media play, I wonder if she’s scored the winning goal. With a symbol as simple as red nail polish, is she showing us that we can still play with the boys without relinquishing ourselves?
Clearly, it’s all more complicated than a few quick coats of Fire and Ice. But still. Our newest justice’s nail enamel stood out on the cover of Latina Magazine and as telling detail at the top of a recent twelve page New Yorker profile. Now, before I move on, we can all harrumph and kvetch and moan that men’s appearance would never be scrutinized this way and women’s shouldn’t either. But there’s another way to consider all this, and I kinda like it: that a symbol of what’s conventionally considered feminine — and ethnic as well (more about that below) — is a mark of power.
What is says, pretty loud and clear, is that I’ve made it to the top without hiding who I am. You can, too.
In a piece on Jezebel.com, blogger Latoya pulls eight points from the New Yorker profile that set our new justice apart. Here’s how she tops that list:
Much has been made of Sotomayor’s nail polish and hoop earrings. Writer Lauren Collins continues this trend within the first few paragraphs noting:
By the end of the hour allotted to the case, Justice Sotomayor-wearing a snaky silver cuff bracelet and with her fingernails painted sports-car red-had spoken five times.
This is normally positioned alongside other quirky characteristics of Sotomayor, like her card-sharking ways. No, seriously.
The financial-disclosure form that she filed with the Senate revealed that, in 2008, in a Florida casino, she had won $8,283 playing cards.
During the nomination process, Sotomayor’s background was carefully scrutinized, and she was instructed to camouflage or obscure some of her normal habits. In some ways, her embrace of her own cosmetic preferences and hobbies over what is considered to be safe or acceptable is a signal she is not ashamed of who she is or where she has come from. Assimilation requires a very high price and her refusal to do so is an amazing stand for individual truth. There is nothing inferior about wearing colored nail polish, or wearing an off-the-rack suit to work, or rocking hoop earrings. Just as many of us are asked to remove our ethnic and regional markers in exchange for success (straightening hair, tightening diction, and avoiding items that call attention to the wearer) Sotomayor’s subtle – but persistent- refusal to fall in line implies much more than a love of candy apple red polish.
Forbes woman.com adds to the thread, by addressing Sotomayor’s Latina cover directly, and the subsequent focus on her fingernails:
Florian Bachleda, the creative director of [Latina] recently wrote a post about the photo shoot with Sotomayor on the Society of Publication Designers Web site, “A Wise Latina and the Color Red: Latina ‘s Justice Sotomayor Cover.” “On the day of the shoot, Justice Sotomayor entered the room with a big smile on her face, and the first thing she did was extend her hand and introduce herself to everyone in the room. Everyone … it was incredibly refreshing to see.” But what’s up with her nails? Bachleda writes that during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, the justice was fully prepped on everything from potentially explosive questions down to her dress and nail color. She was, apparently, advised to keep the lacquer neutral. But, he continues, “on the day of the White House reception celebrating her appointment, Sotomayor asked the president to look at her freshly manicured nails, holding up her hands to show off her favorite color: a fire-engine red. The president chuckled, saying that she had been warned against that color.”
Why red and, really, should we even be looking at her nails? To answer the first question, Latina Editor Mimi Valdés says, “In many Latino families, red is a very important and symbolic color. … For many, the color is very much a point of pride.”
It’s also a signal, a nod that gives us permission not only to succeed, but to be ourselves when we do. As Bachelda writes on his post:
I love this photo. To me, it looks like she’s taking a pledge. It looks like she understands how historic this is. What this means not just for her, but for millions of other people. And, I like to think, it looks like she’s now able to proudly show off… that beautiful color red.