Patty Dineen

The view from here

Judging by Gender

Attitudes towards professional women have changed over recent decades in America, but there are always reminders that many prejudices remain.  Laws have changed, but in many realms attitudes have not.


I read David Brooks op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, The Way We Live Now, with great disappointment.  Although superficially, Brooks seems to be acknowledging Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s achievements up to this point in her life, he is really pointing out (admonishing?) things (negatives made to sound more negative for the fact that she is a female) that are far less often brought up in articles about high-achieving men: at a young age she lost a parent; she had a lot of mentors; she worked really hard; she smoked and drank a lot of coffee (would this really even be mentioned if we were examining a man as the next Supreme Court Justice?); her marriage ended in divorce; and yes, again, she worked really hard.


Brooks makes a point of saying that he isn’t just writing about a professional woman balancing aspects of her life (except that he is) and that the pressures he is referring to affect both women and men (except that, in that case, why point out the obvious now, and why use Judge Sotomayor as an example?)


The kind of thing David Brooks is doing is very subtle, and very potentially damaging, because it is a “read between the lines” attack on someone who has become successful the same way most people have– by working very hard and by learning from others who are willing to be helpful.  By delineating what it takes to rise to this point in her life, Brooks implies that there is something perverse about it (or by association, about the person), and oh yes, he bemoans that too many of us are subjected to these same pressures…sigh…isn’t life tough.  And, I almost forgot another “strain” (an odd choice of words until you remember he is writing about a woman) in Sotomayor’s life– she spends time with a lot of other “high achievers.” 


Written by dineenp

July 14, 2009 at 4:26 pm

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