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Posted in: Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, Women

Published on May 31, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Singing Sensation Susan Boyle


Judge Sonia Sotomayor is now the fourth woman ever in the history of the United States to be nominated for the Supreme Court. For the last 220 years, 180 men and two women have served on this Court. President Obama has earned the right to nominate Sotomayor; he won the election. In saying so, I know I part company with most of my conservative colleagues here at Pajamas. Pace. And be of good cheer.

As Paul Hollrah notes in a private email, many Presidents, including Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush-the-First, have been disappointed in their presumably like-minded nominees who, once confirmed and in the company of their august peers, became thoroughly and admirably, independent agents. Conservative Sandra Day O'Connor voted with the more liberal Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a number of crucial 5-4 votes.

So, let's judge Judge Sotomayor on her legal decisions and the skill contained therein, not on her presumably liberal affiliations or on her allegedly "identity politics"-driven nomination. She should be asked about her understanding of the United States Constitution and about the balance or separation of powers. Period. Not about her past membership in any political or ethnic group or about specific burning issues any one of which may come before her on the bench. Nor should her past comments about "wise Latina judges" be taken completely out of context. Above all, I hope that Republicans do not descend to the level of Democrats by "borking" Sotomayor.

Senator Ted Kennedy was wrong to lead that charge and it would be equally wrong for Republicans to follow his example.

Now, why am I writing about both Judge Sotomayor and Susan Boyle? Here's why.

You may recall that media on both sides of the Great American Divide attacked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Governor Sarah Palin in the same horrendously sexist ways that some journalists are now attacking Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Why are so many accomplished women still being described as "abrasive," "shrill," and "power hungry" while their male counterparts are described as "strong," "forceful," and "ambitious" for behaving in exactly the same way? And by the way, just as many female journalists viewed Clinton and Palin in sexist ways.

This is not surprising—but it is dispiriting to those who do not understand it. Read my book Woman's Inhumanity to Woman which will enlighten one and all on this subject, and it's just out in a new edition with a new 2009 Introduction.

As I note above, we should write about, even challenge public figures on the issues, on their track records, not on how they talk or look, or on their marital status, sexual preference, or religious and political beliefs. And, by the way: If we are going to comment on the private affairs of public figures, and I'm not sure we should go there, then many male public figures should be judged, not only by the "lust in their (Jimmy Carter Jew-hating) hearts," but on their relentless flings with movie stars, interns, and prostitutes, their adulterous affairs, secret second families, etc.

Now, what kind of woman is not judged harshly? Mother Teresa perhaps—although my hard-drinking colleague Christopher Hitchens would not agree. Alright, a woman who hides her light under a considerable bushel, who marries young, bears children, worships God, is humble, donates to charity—perhaps, but by definition, she is probably not a public figure.

Ah–someone like Susan Boyle, an overnight sensation on UTube, who is essentially an amateur, with no professional track record can become the world's darling. The media and the world approve of female "virgins," i.e. unknowns, whom the all-too-fickle public can then pride themselves on having "discovered" and with whom the masses may more easily identify than they can with women who are not only gifted but who, like men, have sacrificed more traditional (female) lives and traits in the service of ambition, public service, grand dreams, etc.

On April 18th, at this very blog, I dared write that I was not all that impressed with Susan Boyle. I wished her well, admitted that she was disarming, charming, rather endearing, but that, in my opinion, while her brief rendition of I've Got A Dream was good, that it was the work of an amateur. I wrote:

"Of course, a song on UTube can become an instant sensation among an attention-deficit disordered mass population because it is short and because the Rise of Boyle reprises the myths of Cinderella, the Ugly Duckling, and Horatio Alger all rolled into the unexpected rise of one cheery, gutsy, rather sweet Scottish woman. In a time of economic catastrophe and free fall, any one of us could be Susan Boyle, we can, each of us, be lifted out of anonymity and wildly embraced by the world; yes, even if we are no longer young, not that "pretty," and without any serious training.

No we can't.

Yes we can: At least some of us can and this fact, (the amateurishness of our icons and stars), suggests a lowering of standards that is alarming, proof that our civilization is also rotting from within."

Thus, I dared bemoan the Age of the Amateur on the internet and on television, the obsession with gossip, celebrity, and reality-TV, the increasing absence of standards, the triumph of mediocrity, the mass preference for terrorist death cults whom people elect to office in "democratic" elections. (Think Gaza. Think Egypt).

You'd think that I'd personally mocked Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Mohammed for, in one fell swoop, countless comments came in chastising me as "bitter," "sour," "envious" (!), "mean-spirited," a "moron," "you are what's wrong with the world today," etc. However, what was amazing was that these comments never stopped coming; they continue to this day. One comment was somewhat chilling. It read:

"Heard her; like her. Read you; pity you. I was a singer until throat cancer took care of that. Now I write professionally. Susan is safe from me. You are not."

True, I'd once again broken ranks with some feminist pundits who'd viewed Boyle's ascension as a triumph over ageism and looks-ism. Perhaps they'd sent my blog far and wide. But I think, rather, that the sentiments of most commentators were raw, real, rough, and probably came from people who feel vindicated, elevated, by the rise of an unlikely unknown.

We live in a world in which something like the Sarah Boyle phenomena constituted a religious experience for millions of people. My commenters described her as "pure," and her voice as "stunning." Many said they wept. Celebrity culture, winning televised competitions, may constitute a new religion.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed as a Supreme Court judge. Susan Boyle, who did not win the "Britain's Got Talent" competition last night (and who has already been excoriated in the media for having cursed at some journalists), will, nevertheless, win a record contract and remain in the public eye.

And I—even as I sit here, writing this, I am told that one of the signs protesting the Israel Day Parade reads as follows: "Close Guantanamo Bay, Re-Open Auschwitz." I fear that the heartbreaking significance of such a sign will be lost on the 220 million people who viewed Susan Boyle on UTube.

Here's what I told the person who called me from the parade: Those of us who "get it," must remain clear, public, determined, forceful, (yes, even if we are women and as such, at risk for public condemnation); we must nevertheless continue to have courage and to be strong.

Hazak v'ematz.


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