Does it matter that Elena Kagan is a woman?
I know I'm going to offend some people -- mostly women -- with what I'm about to say. But here goes: Did Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, really need to spend a significant chunk of her time this afternoon praising Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan as a role model for young women? Really? There weren't more important things to discuss?
Yes, Kagan was the first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School. Yes, she broke the glass ceiling to become the first female solicitor general of the United States. So what? Would anyone on the panel have praised a white, male nominee for being a great role model for young men? I seriously doubt it.
What matters to me is that Kagan was by all accounts an exceptional dean -- smart, tough, inclusive -- and that she performed remarkably well as solicitor general, especially given her prior lack of court experience. Shouldn't this be what we're focused on these days -- a person's accomplishments and not their sex?
I know, as Feinstein noted, that women still aren't treated fairly -- let alone equally -- in many circumstances, including pay. But -- as Feinstein also rightly acknowledged -- we have made tremendous progress. Kagan's life is proof of that. I was pleased that little attention was paid to the fact that she is a woman when she was nominated as solicitor general and then to the Supreme Court. I felt much the same way when not much was made of the fact that Obama's nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder, would become the first African American to hold that position. I hoped that this lack of fanfare signaled our evolution as a society and an implicit acceptance that -- of course! -- there are a multitude of highly-qualified men and women of all colors and backgrounds who belong in positions of power and influence.
There was a moment during the Kagan confirmation when gender was appropriately raised. That came during Kagan's brief opening statements when she thanked former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and current Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for personal kindnesses they'd shown her and for their path-breaking achievements. O'Connor and Ginsburg did experience unfathomable discrimination and were denied jobs -- and opportunities for jobs -- because of their gender. They persevered, they over-achieved, and they succeeded -- and in the process paved the way for other women. It was entirely appropriate for the woman who would become the fourth to sit on the court -- and who likely didn't experience similar challenges of such scale -- to thank the two who helped make her dream possible.
| June 30, 2010; 1:12 PM ET
Categories: Rodriguez | Tags: Eva Rodriguez
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