Fighting with the Sky

Posts Tagged ‘Sotomayor

Have you ever noticed that politically powerful women are usually referred to by their first name in the media where as most men are not? Well, I have.

Let me first say that I have been thinking about this for a while (which I will discuss in a little bit), but what really prompted this post and this moment in time was an email that I received from one of my best college buds who is now in D.C. This is what the email said:

I’m really curious as to if you’ve noticed or why you think that women in politics or really any well know women are known by their first name. Hillary, Sonia, Michelle to name a few. I recently read a subtitle in the Economist magazine which was “Judging Sonia” or the movie about Jane Austen “Becoming Jane”. Both great women both only referred to by their first name. I very much doubt that a male justice would get such a headline. Thoughts?

I’m so glad that someone else picked up on this (though I’m sure many have).

During the latter part of my college career I was a research assistant for a professor doing research on the role of gender and race in the 2008 election. As I was gathering articles I often noticed that Obama and McCain were referred to either by solely their last name or as Senator Obama or McCain. But for Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, the media almost always referred to her as Hillary, very rarely as Clinton or Senator Clinton.

I brought this up in the comments of a post on Small Strokes titled “Women and the Family Name” and got some thought-provoking responses. One such response suggested that the media referred to her as Hillary in order to differentiate her from her husband because for 8 years Clinton meant Bill Clinton. I think that the context of the article would make it pretty clear that the were talking about Hillary Clinton. Or they could have referred to her as Senator Clinton because Bill was never a Senator. I think there is more to it than just trying to differentiate Hillary and Bill Clinton.

As my friend pointed out, I have also seen this trend in discussing Judge Sonia Sotomayor. I have often read the “judging Sonia” phrase. I don’t, however, think this case was as “severe” as it was with Hillary. Or maybe I just didn’t notice it as much because it wasn’t put against the stark difference of the referrence to male candidates. But referring to Sotomayor solely as Sonia was pretty widespread throughout the media.

So why is this? Why are women referred to by their first name instead of their last? I see this as a sign of a lack of respect for women in politics; as a way to diminish the power they really have. Men are generally threatened by women with power and this is a way for them to diminish that power.

I also had a discussion with someone a while ago in which it was suggested that Clinton was referred to as Hillary in order to make her more relateable to the general public. If the public is on a “first name basis” with her, maybe it will make her seem more approachable and down to earth. I can kind of see this, but I don’t really buy it.

By referring to powerful women by their first name, the media and men in power are showing that these women are not on their level; these women aren’t good enough to be referred to by their last name or as Senator, Judge, etc. It also takes away some of the legitimacy that these women have. Hillary Clinton and Sonia Sotomayor are both incredibly smart women, but by referring to them by their first name, they might not be taken as seriously as their male counterparts who are referred to by their last name or title.


Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to endorse Judge Sonia Sotomayor with a 13 to 6 vote! All that’s left is a full Senate vote which is expected to take place by the end of next week.

Further reading:
Senate Judiciary Committee Endorses Sotomayor [Shakesville]
Senate panel endorses Sotomayor [Feministe]
Sotomayor Approved for Supreme Court by Senate Judiciary Committee [RH Reality Check]
Committee Approves Sotomayor Nomination [Jezebel]
Senate Judiciary Committee Votes for Sotomayor [Feministing]
Senate Panel OKs Sotomayor [Appetite for Equal Rights]

Sorry for the tardiness of this post, I have had a rather busy weekend in Chicago and needed Sunday afternoon to catch up on things and relax. I spent some of that time reading over the numerous blog posts that I missed from some of my favorite blogs. Here are some blog posts from the past week that I found particularly interesting:

Blogger: How Abortion Rights Make Bad Boyfriends [Jezebel]
Sorority Life on Facebook and the Construction of Female Friendships [Deeply Problematic]
Why I Provide [RHRealityCheck]
Calling the Ketel WHACK, or: The Worst Title of Any Post Ever (It Is About Vodka) [Tiger Beatdown]
How do two affirmative action babies raise their own baby? [Bitch]
Food, Class, and Need [Womanist Musings]
“Is Abortion a Public Health Issue?” Sotomayor Hearings, Day Two [RHRealityCheck]
Feel the Homomentum [Shakesville]
Sotomayor: Strong, Rational, Intelligent Woman [Feministing Community]

What have you been reading and writing this week? I have some catching up to do on my blog posts from all the stuff that I have missed while preparing for my trip to Chicago this past weekend.

Why is it that white men think that they are the only ones that can be objective?

I must be honest, I haven’t been watching the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, but I have been doing my blog reading about them. From what I have been reading, it is obvious that these hearings are not being as “objective” and respectful as they claim to be.

But one of the things that really bothers me is how they are focusing on her often misquoted “wise Latina” speech (which can be read here). In this speech she talks about the importance of embracing cultural differences in reaching decisions on court cases. Women and people of color have different experiences than white men and these different experience influence their court decisions.

Many far right wing-ers think that this shows her lack of objectivity and inability to reach “fair” decisions. But I’m right there with Judge Sotomayor. Realizing how one’s experiences influence their decisions is important. For some reason, many white men think that they are the only ones who can be objective because their life experiences don’t effect them. But they do.

Everyone’s experiences effect the way they think and the way they approach an issue. White men’s privilege effects them, even if they don’t recognize it. On Feministing, Samhita says…

Session’s attempts to grill Sotomayor on this question of impartiality reveals the obvious ignorance that when white men hold partial beliefs they are natural and objective, whereas when women of color do, they are unable to effectively do the job.

When women or people of color (and especially women of color, it seems) use their experiences as a basis for their decisions they are emotional and biased, whereas white men reach the “truth” through their experiences.

I think what these men are delusional of is that there is actually something called objectivity. I don’t think objectivity exists. Maybe you can try your hardest to be objective, but your experiences will always influence you. Only people who have the privilege of not noticing their privilege (white men) would believe that their experiences don’t effect them because they can reach the “truth”.

(Note: I just want to make a comment that this is not all white men. There are many white men who work towards realizing their privilege and how their experiences effect them and the people around them. But it is usually white men who make these assumptions about objectivity and bias because these white men do not realize their privilege.)

In addition to the idea of objectivity within the hearings, the media is still attacking and misrepresenting Sotomayor. I just read a post at Shakesville about The Colbert Report last night. Normally I appreciate Colbert’s sarcasm and satire, but last night he went too far. In discussing Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing, Colbert placed Sotomayor’s head of the clip Sharon Stone from Basic Instinct where she flashes her “nethers” during an interrogation.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen’s Sound Advice – How to Bork a Nominee
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Jeff Goldblum

This unnecessarily sexualizes Sotomayor and further demeans her to the point that she is seen as in a lesser standing than men. Why can’t Sotomayor just be valued for her professional qualifications rather than focusing on her gender and race as some sort of “disability” to making effective cour

t decisions.

I hope that the confirmation hearings will change in tone after the first day, but I’m not so sure that they will. Conservatives will continue to focus on her experiences as a Latina as a “disability” to her ability to be a Supreme Court justice and the media will continue to make jokes about her qualifications or straight out support the conservatives treatment of her during the hearings.

Note on the cartoon:
I’m sure many of you (if not all) have seen the cartoon that I chose to include in this post. While it is straight out racist, there is some truth in it considering the first day of the hearings. Conservatives are attacking Sotomayor because she is Latina, which I assume this cartoon is trying to say. While it is racist, it does portray how conservatives and the media are treating Sotomayor. But I’m not saying that I agree with the message that the cartoon sends.

To me, this question is just about the same as: do we still need feminism? The answer is yes. The other day, Veronica Arreola of Viva la Feminista wrote an op-ed for NPR, “Girls Just Wanna Have…Networking?“. This op-ed is about U.S. Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s decision to leave the women’s networking club, Belizean Grove.

Republican senators were disconcerted by Sotomayor’s membership in this club which influenced her decision to leave. But what about this thing called the “old boys club.” The old boys club has been around for as long as anyone can remember helping white men climb even higher on the social totempole. The old boys club is still around, so why can’t there be women’s clubs?

For centuries, the old boys’ club supported men in powerful positions and made it difficult for women to rise up through the ranks. Now that some of those top spots are opening up to women, too, all-female clubs are providing women with valuable networks and training in networking — things the old boys’ club provided men for centuries, and still provide. Lest we forget, men’s clubs are not a thing of the past.

Obviously, there is still discrimination against women getting to higher offices. Only one example of this discrimination is the aversion to women’s club while the old boys club sitll remains intact.

Arreola hopes that,

women’s clubs will die out because men’s clubs have died out, too. I hope both are replaced with professional clubs, plain and simple. But right now, we need women’s clubs to support women professionals and help right the gender discrimination of the past.

I whole-heartedly agree with Arreola. We need women’s clubs just like we need feminism. Working towards the end of gender discrimination is an ongoing process that needs to be worked against in all aspects of life.

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