The XX Factor

Why Does Sotomayor Want Us to Think She Is Ordinary?

Accepting Obama’s nomination to replace Justice Souter on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor said:

I hope that as the Senate and American people learn more about me, they will see that I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.

Set aside the choice to describe her childhood-growing up with diabetes in a poor, single-family household-as having been “blessed with extraordinary opportunities.” What troubles me is the plea from a woman just nominated to fill one of the most powerful, demanding, intellectually challenging positions in the nation to be viewed as “ordinary.”

I thought we’d get a break at least until the next election from the attempts of public figures trying their damnedest to seem like plain old Joe-the-Plumbers and hockey moms. (That dance is especially frustrating to watch when performed by people we respect for their extreme intelligence who are, in fact, vying for positions that demand superior brainpower.) Supreme Court justices have the luxury of being appointed rather than elected, which means they should be free from this silly charade-free to let their brilliance shine. And still, Sotomayor asks to be seen as ordinary.

Is this just another example of a woman downplaying her achievements lest she seem too aggressive or egotistical or bitchy or whatever other negative words get thrown at powerful women? Is such self-deprecation harmful to the rest of us, do you think? Sotomayor is already quite the model of success for women, Latinas, and anyone growing up with economic hardship or health problems (she has had diabetes since she was 8). But does calling herself ordinary set a bad example?