Cross-posted with Princeton University's Equal Writes blog.
I can't wait for the day when an accomplished, powerful woman appears is made completely irrelevant by the contents of her brain and of her résumé.
I thus find Robin Givhan's article in the Washington Post yesterday - in which she accused the SCOTUS nominee of exhibiting little obvious femininity and of dressing "in the manner of a 1980s lady power broker" - disturbing. Not only do I believe Sotomayor's fashion choices were completely unobjectionable, I'm left wondering why Givhan even cares.
The justice's ensembles reflect her awareness of the climate of her hearing. Racism and sexism - from implications that her Puerto Rican heritage would hinder her ability to make decisions to bogus controversy over her involvement in the Belizean Grove - were obvious players in the questioning and surrounding media speculation, but Sotomayor remained calm and unshaken. Aware of our nation's ever-present biases against Latinos and against women (and especially against Latina women), she was careful not to let her demeanor or statements give the committee any reason to doubt her level-headedness or her "fidelity to the law."
It makes sense, then, that she chose "simple and bold" colors and "virtually no visible jewelry." I'm not alarmed that she wore "sheer black pantyhose." I understand why her nails gave "no hint of the cherry-red manicure that she has, on occasion, worn." In Givhan's own words, she was trying to "leave [her] gender at the door" and let the hearing focus on her accomplishments, knowledge, and experience.
If she "embraced that period in fashion when femininity had no place in the executive suite," as Givhan asserted, she was being careful not to offend the Senators of the Judiciary Committee (of which 17 out of the 19 members are white males) who haven't yet come to terms with the possibility of an assertive, intelligent Latina woman.
But aside from this article's unwarranted criticism of her fashion choices, I'm concerned with why the criticism is being doled out in the first place. Women should wear whatever they want, period. Whether or not Sotomayor chose to abide by what Givhan calls the "new gospel of women's power dressing" that encourages wearing accessories, ditching the pantyhose, and favoring sheath dresses over shoulder-padded suits, her fashion sense has nothing to do with how she's going to perform on the bench.
Givhan's article thus elevates a superficial and should-be unimportant issue: the clothes that a strong and intelligent woman just happens to be wearing.
Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/talkradionews.