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Rating recent commentaries on issues related to Elena Kagan‘s appearance:
* WIN: NPR on how Kagan’s success informs our speculation over her gender conformity: “Forty years after the birth of modern feminism, we are still not able to think about women who attain certain kinds of professional success as normatively gendered,” writes Patricia J. Williams. It’s not just Kagan’s short haircut, her interest in poker and softball, and her wardrobe that have critics questioning her femininity: For women, “success itself is masculinized.”
* LOSE: Beyond her concern that Kagan does not cross her legs when she sits in a skirt, Robin Givhan is also apparently dismayed that Kagan is not the nation’s first cougar Supreme Court Justice:
Kagan is only 50 years old, which might be the equivalent of 100 in Hollywood years, but within the Washington establishment she would be classified as a young’un. Her style, however, makes her seem so much older. There’s little that could be described as fun, impish or creative in her dress. It’s a wholly middle-age approach to a wardrobe — if one stubbornly and inaccurately defines that transitional period in life as the beginning-of-the-end of sex appeal, effervescence and sprightliness. Kagan’s version of middle-age seems stuck in a time warp, back when 50-something did not mean Kim Cattrall or Sharon Stone, “Cougar Town” or “Sex and the City.”
Givhan adds: “Looking drab has its advantages for both men and women in the nation’s capital because it insulates them from accusations of superficiality—-a sure-fire political career killer.” ORLY? Because from where I’m sitting (with my legs positioned in an unladylike spread-eagle formation), “looking drab” has inspired plenty of accusations against Kagan, thanks to people like . . . Robin Givhan.
* DRAW: The Atlantic‘s Wendy Kaminer rejects the high standards for Kagan’s appearance:
What do Elena Kagan and Sarah Palin have in common? They each offer complementary cautionary tales about the continuing appeal of an ersatz, “Sex in the City” feminism that rewards beauty and punishes plainness with all the subtlety and compassion of a Playboy centerfold. Kagan’s appearance and fashion sense are mocked or savaged, especially but not exclusively by pundits on the right, following a familiar script. Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano endured similar hazings. Sarah Palin, to say the least, did not.
Palin’s fans would counter that, conversely, she has paid a political price for her beauty. Liberal feminists dislike Palin partly because she is “very attractive,” feminist psyche expert Bill Bennett declared during the 2008 campaign. He didn’t explain how the equally attractive Gloria Steinem became a greatly admired liberal feminist leader, despite feminism’s presumed disdain for good-looking women.
Well . . . that’s an easy one. People of all political stripes (even feminists!) are more likely to use sexist attacks against women they really don’t like. Why don’t feminists ridicule Steinem based on her good looks? Because they like her politics, and it’s easy to refrain from leveling anti-feminist attacks against women you don’t want to attack. So why have some feminists ridiculed Palin’s good looks? Because they don’t like her politics, and it’s really easy to fall into anti-feminist attacks against women you are eager to attack. Republicans were playing the same little game when they defended Palin against detractors who would ridicule her appearance, while condoning sexist remarks against certain other candidates (uhhh Hillary).