The XX Factor

Bully for Her

I suppose since the new Supreme Court nominee is a woman, it was only a matter of time before someone began to claim there was also a rage problem. Here is NPR’s ” Who is Elena Kagan?” piece , suggesting that while Kagan is much beloved, she’s also highly prone to “screaming at people, slamming doors and chewing out subordinates in public – a trait that she is said to have carried with her to her next job as solicitor general.” The diminutive Kagan is also described as a “yeller” who wants everyone to accept her ideas “immediately without question, without debate, without input.”

If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, it should. Just last year we were fretting that Sonia Sotomayor also had a tendency to go crazy and scream at people. You needn’t walk too far down memory lane to find Jeff Rosen quoting a clerk who thought Sotomayor was “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench.” Or the New York Times ’ classy headline from last May, claiming that ” Sotomayor’s Sharp Tongue Raises Issue of Temperament .” (The Times changed it rather quickly ). Or Fox News sneeringly warning of Sotomayor’s ” infamous temper .” All of which culminated in a truly humiliating confirmation exchange between Sotomayor and Sen. Lindsay Graham, in which he read aloud several anonymous reviews of Sotomayor as “nasty,” “a terror,” “a bit of a bull,” and lacking “judicial temperament,” before asking her directly: “Do you think you have a temperament problem?” When she failed to scream, hiss, or launch herself at his hair, Sotomayor finally proved to the world that she was not the ” fiery ” loon he so feared.

I want to emphasize that I haven’t met Kagan or Sotomayor, and maybe they both really do have raging tempers and a tendency to holler. I’m told they don’t. But who cares? Chief Justice John Roberts is the most aggressive guy on the bench these days, and anyone who’s read Justice Thomas’ autobiography knows he, too, has some lingering anger issues . The fact that the whole she’s-outta-control trope unfailingly arises with women nominees should lead us to wonder why there is still such a double standard for powerful women, and why that shouldn’t make us scream.