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.

Rebecca
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THE SUPREMES, AND WE’RE NOT TALKING MOTOWN HERE

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.

If Ida B. Wells Were Alive Today

Dear Readers,

Here is the link to my February post for Today’s Chicago Woman: http://www.tcwmag.com/blogs/sivesiftings.

Ida B. Wells is inspiring in any month, but particularly so in this Black History Month, as women, all women, of all colors, gather together to figure out how to save healthcare reform, so that it will matter for women.

Ida B. Wells taught us both how to fight and how hard to fight: a writer, community organizer, and tireless advocate for justice, she never, ever, gave up.

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Here is my fan-letter post about Ida:

One of my favorite heroines of Chicago history–in fact, of all American history–is yesterday’s-Chicago-woman, Ida Barnett Wells. (See: http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=W041.)

Ida B. Wells was born and educated in post-Reconstruction Mississippi, in a time when, and in a place where, African Americans experienced the very worst of what post-slavery white America offered-up to post-slavery black America. Lynching was common, and in Ida’s Mississippi homeplace, as well as in Memphis, Ida’s home as a young adult, all forms of public life were strictly segregated. (See: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_people_wells.html.)

Ida was a young woman when the U.S. Supreme Court infamously decided that “separate [could be] equal (for blacks and whites),” including in public transportation. (See: href=http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_plessy.html.

Indeed, Ida B. Wells first came to public notice when, still her 20s, and newly arrived in Memphis, she fought against just this kind of segregation, on the railroads.

Ida filed a lawsuit; she wrote editorials in the local newspaper; she spoke-out without fear. But, when a friend was lynched, and Wells spoke out against the lynching, Ida was forced to flee to safety, to Chicago.

In fact, Chicago was thought to be the “the promised land” for many of Mississippi’s African Americans.

The Chicago Daily Defender preached this message to Mississippians, distributing the newspaper at the very train stations where Mississippi’s African-American families boarded the (segregated) trains for Chicago.

Of course, times were tough in Chicago, too, but times weren’t nearly as tough as they were in Mississippi, where the sharecropping economy meant the meanest form of poverty.

Ida hit Chicago and started “blogging,” writing for the Chicago Daily Defender, among others.

And, girl(s), did she “blog.” Ida said what she thought, when she thought it. She was clear as a bell, at times caustic, and always, always, writing about the political matters of the day most important to African Americans. She was also a stirring and untiring voice for equality for women.

Fast-forward to today. At Today’s Chicago Woman, I try to say “…what time it is,” too.

And here’s what time it is, as I write in mid-January 2010: The U.S. Congress is about to come to agreement on a healthcare bill–with the votes of the women of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in-hand–a bill that renders American women separate and unequal (just what Ida fought against a hundred years ago), by virtue of its approach to reproductive healthcare to American women.

How can this be, you ask?

Here’s the back-story: According to Jessica Arons, writing for the Center for American Progress, (http://www.americanprogress.org/), and RH Reality Check, (http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/), federal legislators made a “deal” at the outset of developing the healthcare reform bill, a deal that included a commitment to maintaining the federal status quo regarding access to abortion.

That status quo is the deal made by an infamous Chicago Congressman, Henry Hyde. Why infamous? Well, “The Hyde Amendment” denies federal funding to Medicaid-covered poor women seeking abortions, while their richer sisters can continue to be reimbursed by their (private) health insurer.

Surprise, surprise: In the run-up to the healthcare reform bill, neither the anti-choice Republicans, nor the anti-choice Democrats, kept their end of the deal Jessica describes. Instead, they proposed new, and, again, surprise, surprise, worse terms.

To add insult to injury, instead of fighting these proposals, say, in the way Ida would have, the pro-choice women in the U.S. Congress basically folded. The result: “the Stupak Amendment” (see http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/, for a refresher on that one), as well as the Senator Ben Nelson deal (see same place for a refresher on that one), both amendments effectively eliminating–each in its own special way–the federally-guaranteed right to access to abortion.

THESE WOMEN LEGISLATORS, OUR SUPPOSED ADVOCATES, ENDORSED A HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IN WHICH ACCESS TO ABORTION, (A FORM OF HEALTHCARE, AFTER ALL), WOULD BE EXEMPTED, SOLELY, FROM THE ORDINARY COURSE OF HEALTHCARE TREATMENT AND PAYMENT.

NO HEALTHCARE FOR MEN, PILLS FOR IMPOTENCY, SAY, WOULD BE SUBJECT TO ANY RESTRICTIONS TO THE NORMAL COURSE OF TREATMENT OR PAYMENT: NONE, NONE, AND NONE.

As I write [in mid-January], we don’t know what the final version of the healthcare bill the Congress sends to the President will be. Nor do we know whether the President will wake-up and remember who elected him (among others, America’s women and African Americans), and, therefore, decide that he ought to lead, instead of to follow, when it comes to insuring our equal rights.

However, and in any event, we know this: As we celebrate Black History Month, and as we look ahead to next-month’s celebration of Women’s History Month, history is being rewritten, for the (way) worse.

Ida would rail against this rewrite, and so should you.

Ida wouldn’t have stood this for a hot minute. She would have said, plainly and forcefully:

WE WON’T, AT THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE, OR END OF ANY DISCUSSION IN WHICH WOMEN’S VERY LIVES ARE AT STAKE, ALLOW ANYONE TO SUBJUGATE US.

WE STAND FIRM AND UNITED. IF THE CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT THINK OTHERWISE, JUST LET THEM TEST US.

WE WON’T MAKE DEALS. WE WILL MAKE WOMEN’S LIVES BETTER.

As your Today’s-Chicago-Woman Ida-surrogate, I say to you: Let’s do what Ida would do. Shout these words from the rooftops–in Black History Month, in Women’s History Month, in every month until the right deed is done.

Rebecca Sive

www.rebeccasive.com/blogSubscribe.htm