Elena Kagan Hits the (Really) BigTime

Dear Readers,

On the occasion of Elena Kagan’s presumptive confirmation to the Supreme Court, http://http//www.nationalpartnership.org/site/News2?abbr=daily2_&page=NewsArticle&id=25389&security=1201&news_iv_ctrl=-1, I’m posting my piece, “The Supremes, and We’re Not Talking Motown Here,” which appeared in the Huffington Post and in RH Reality Check earlier this summer.

Since I first posted this piece, I’ve received a whole lot of interesting comments–a lot of people care a whole lot about our Supreme Court, and that’s a wonderful thing: Whoever said civic engagement has diminshed, that we’re “bowling alone” (these days) isn’t part of (our) crowd. And I, for one, am very grateful for knowing that.

A great first-2010-August-weekend to all.



So, maybe, there’s yet another big difference between the sexes: While nice boys finish last, nice girls finish first.

Just look at today’s news: I ask you, what’s a bigger achievement than being selected as a Supreme Court Justice? Yup, just pause, and think for a moment about those words, “supreme” and “justice,” next to your name. How cool would that be?

In his first year in office, President Obama has had the amazing good fortune to get two Supreme Court picks. In both cases, he picked a girl from New York. [How cool is that, for a(nother) girl from New York: me. Let me count the ways. But keep reading; it’s not all that good.]

OK, so let’s be serious here. Do you see a pattern here? And, this time, I’m not talking about the one in which all the brilliant New York girls are being picked for starring roles.

The pattern is: Make sure you’re a really nice girl, first and foremost.

What’s that, you ask?

Well, taking a page from the Sonia Sotomayor/Elena Kagan, New York, nice girl (no, “New York” and “nice” is not an oxymoron) playbook, it’s study really hard; get really good grades; go to Princeton (both); go to Harvard Law (Elena), or go to Yale Law (Sonia); have important male mentors; stay single as you’re making your way up the career ladder, so no husband’s choices get in your way, or put you in a bad light; well, you get the drift.

In fact, these two women who finished first: Elena, the one about to have “supreme” and “justice” next to her name, and Sonia, the one who already has it, are nice girls, in all the ways that actually matter, if you want to have words like “supreme” or “justice” next to your name.

In fact, these days, as Sonia and Elena have now proved, you can even safely forget the baby-making and the finding a nice guy, or even a(nother) nice girl (keep reading on the latter point). Just don’t forget to study hard, and never, never talk out-of-turn.

And, do forget, for sure, that old saw, which used to make some of us feel better: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” http://thinkexist.com/quotation/well-behaved_women_rarely_make/180481.html.
In fact, those badly behaved women, and, believe me, I know where-of I speak, only make history of the upset-the-apple-cart kind, not the kind that leads to “supreme” and “justice” next to one’s name.

In sum, these two New York nice girls, just like those two nice Illinois girls, Michelle Obama (Harvard Law) and Hillary Clinton, she of the when it came right down to it I did stand by my man school, (Yale Law), have never met a test they couldn’t ace, and, well, cooking or housekeeping, the used-to-be sine qua non of nice girls; well, there’s help for that: Just ask Michelle or Hillary.

On the personal front, Sonia Sotomayor seems kind of like Valerie Jarrett (Michigan Law, daughter at Harvard Law). While married early-on, there was no husband around during the formative years of her career, when the difficult decisions needed to be made, when one’s decisions might have required consideration of the desires of another ambitious adult.

On the other hand, Elena Kagan has never married, and, at least as far as we know so far, she hasn’t had any long-term intimate relationship, (male or female), requiring accommodation to that person’s career or personal goals.

And, doubly lucky for Elena Kagan (we have made some real progress here), the White House seems to be comfortable handling, albeit somewhat defensively, the assertions that the President may have just nominated a LESBIAN to the SUPREME COURT! [It really is delicious when you think about it.]

So, what’s my point in all this, you ask? Well, my point is it’s that gosh-darned “nina modela” thing, that “nice girl”/model child syndrome one more sickening time.

So, that’s ridiculous, you say? It’s ridiculous to feel bad when a woman finished first–when lord knows not many women, of any kind, finish first anywhere, much less in the run-up to the Supreme Court?

Well, it’s not ridiculous, I say, because it’s the bad girls, like me, who make these good (nice) girls’ dreams come true. And, to add insult to injury, these nice girls can maybe even be lesbians!

We screamed, and scream; we hollered, and holler. And what do we get? Somebody’s back, as they shut the door in our face(s). “She’s a pistol,” they say, and not with admiration.

What do they get? The Supreme Court (Elena and Sonia), or the West Wing (Valerie), or, for that matter, and not so bad either, the East Wing (Michelle and Hillary).

Fact is, Elena stood silent, while I screamed. Fact is, Elena was “canny,” while I was fervent. Fact is, Elena was a coalition-builder, while I was an advocate. Fact is, Elena didn’t express her political views, while I did nothing but. Fact is, Elena wrote little, while I wrote untold speeches and press releases, all with the same basic headline: We (women) want more. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/us/politics/10kagan.html

[NOTE: I’m using myself as a stand-in for those women lawyers who will
never be considered for “supreme” and “justice” next to their names. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t run this race.]

Is this ironic, or what? This is Elena, the putative lesbian, we’re talking about. This is Elena, who, odds-are, will be doing nothing but express her opinions for the next forty or so years, if her’s and the President’s good luck continue, and just because she kept her mouth shut in the early rounds. It’s not only ironic, it’s bewildering.

Ironic? Let me count the ways.

–Let others do the political talking, so you don’t have any politically-incorrect YouTube videos.

–Let others do the writing, so you don’t have any controversial law review articles.

–Let others interrupt their careers to follow a spouse, or pay for a spouse’s education, while you forge ahead in line.

–Let others fight for women’s reproductive rights, while you benefit from that fight.

–Let others advocate for women as a group, while you advocate for yourself.

Yes, all this said, I’m still very happy that a(nother) non-Protestant (more progress, here) woman from New York is going to be a Supreme Court Justice. That makes the Supremes, in case you’re counting, the (really cool, not Motown, but Big Apple) Supremes: Ruth, Sonia, and Elena.

But I’m not that happy: In fact, as I think about it, I think I was happier when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, a woman who found a way to be a women’s advocate, and a wife, and a mother, as well as a way to be a brilliant lawyer and judge, and, finally, yes (!), a Supreme.

And, as I think about it, Ruth Bader Ginsburg may be a better role model for today’s young women than soon-to-be Justice Kagan or now Justice Sotomayor. For, unlike Kagan and Sotomayor, Justice Ginsburg has
lived the life that most women live, and yet she found a way to be a Supreme, notwithstanding.

It Takes a World to Raise a Woman: Thanksgiving-time Reflections

Dear Readers,

Here is my November 2009 posting for Today’s Chicago Woman (http://www.tcwmag.com/). I thought I would share it with you, too.

“Eat, Think & Be Merry” was the theme of the recent, 35th anniversary celebration of the Illinois Humanities Council.

The benefit luncheon featured roundtable discussions, hosted by local experts.

Topics included: “Can the public schools be saved (and should they be); Is the answer race or class; “The Chicago Way;” and my topic: “Are women’s rights the cause of our time?”

I suggested this topic to the Council’s terrific Executive Director, Kristina Valaitis, after reading a recent special issue of The New York Times Magazine: Saving the World’s Women: How changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything.

In part, the Times produced this special issue because of the attention Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has brought to the urgency of addressing the tragic plight of too, too many of the world’s women.

Indeed, all over the world, Secretary Clinton has been making the case that, if we improve women’s lives, we improve all lives.

And here’s the Secretary of State’s bold statement about the larger context in which this global fight for women’s rights is taking place.

“A society that denies and demeans women’s rights and roles is a society that is more likely to engage in behavior that is negative, anti-democratic and leads to violence and extremism.”

Well, we sure don’t need more of that, do we!

Why should today’s-Chicago-woman think about these global matters, when there’s already so much to do–right here in our very own neighborhoods–to make sure women and girls have the chance to fully participate in public life, succeed economically, and live safely?

Well, here are just the first three reasons that come to-mind: First, what Secretary Clinton says is true—more on that shortly. Second, it now appears that the U.S. will be in at least one war on foreign soil, for years to come. Chicago’s sons, husbands, brothers, and uncles, along with their sisters, wives, aunts, and daughters will be fighting and dying, for years to-come, a half-a-world-away. Third, the global economic meltdown of the last year requires a global solution.

So, in this month and week of thanksgiving (what a wonderful word that is), let us learn about our sisters across the oceans, too many of whom have too little to give much thanks for, but, with a hand-up, could give a whole lot to the rest of us.

Here are the facts and figures on their circumstances, as reported by the Global Fund for Women: http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/:

Economic Security:
Women perform two-thirds of all labor and produce more than half of the world’s food. Yet, women own only about one percent of the world’s assets, and represent 70 percent of those living in absolute poverty.

Violence Against Women:
The abuse of women and girls is endemic in most societies around the world. One in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise violated in her lifetime. Rape as a weapon of war is a feature of conflicts from Sudan to Iraq.

Two-thirds of the world’s uneducated children are girls, and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. Numerous studies have demonstrated that educating women and girls is the single most effective strategy to ensure the well-being and health of children, and the long-term success of developing economies.

In developing countries maternal mortality is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age. Women and girls lack access to the most basic health care services and are at the highest risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Although women make up 51 percent of the world’s population, they hold only 16 percent of parliamentary and congressional seats worldwide.

You get the point, I’m sure.

Not only does it take a village to raise a child, (a village whose caregivers, odds-are, are mostly women), but it will take the whole world to raise the whole world’s women. And when we do, the world’s men will be raised, too.

Here is a list of organizations that do this work. Check-them-out. All are just great.

The Global Fund for Women
Planned Parenthood
International Women’s Health Coalition
Women For Women International

And for those among you who want to keep really up-to-date, here is the link to the United Nations’s Gender Equality News Feed.

So, this thanksgiving season, eat, yes, and be merry, yes, but think, too: think about your sisters around the world, and how we can hold hands, and be merry, together.


“A Woman’s Nation,” Take Two: Philanthropy’s (Community) Organizing Rules, for Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History

In a recent column, Gara LaMarche, the head of The Atlantic Philanthropies, (“dedicated to bringing about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people,” www.atlanticphilanthropies.org), discussed a visit with Dick Boone.

Dick was the last director of the Field Foundation, but one of the first foundation directors to make social change a criterion for his grantmaking. Indeed, Mr. LaMarche noted that Dick was a mentor to many of us active today in promoting social justice and equal rights.

Whether as foundation executives, fundraisers, organizational or business executives, or civic leaders–and in large part due to Dick’s tutelage–many of Dick’s students seek to mobilize today’s philanthropy to advance social justice and equality.

Mr. LaMarche observed that Dick began his social justice work in the South-side-Chicago Woodlawn neighborhood, under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky. Yes, it was on the South Side of Chicago that Dick (also) learned the principles of community organizing.

Below, I’ve listed some of those principles because I think they are applicable to building Maria Shriver’s “woman’s nation,” a task for philanthropy too.

You’ll note that many of these “rules for radicals,” as Alinsky termed them, echo an old feminist saw: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” And, yes, I’m betting that in their private moments, if not in their public ones, Maria, Condi, Hillary, and, yes, even Michelle, would witness to this truth. And it’s a good thing for the rest of us that they can.

Here are these rules of engagement:

1) Power is not only what you have, but what [others] think you have.
2) Never go outside the experience of your people (your constituents, whether actual because you are a public official, or metaphorical because you are otherwise a leader).
3) Wherever possible, go outside of the experience of the [opposition].
4) Make the [opposition] live up to [its] own book of rules.
5) Keep the pressure on.
6) The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
7) Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.