News Center

Elsewhere Online twitter Facebook SLS Blogs YouTube SLS Channel Linked In SLSNavigator SLS on Flickr

Blumner: Cheap Shots At Kagan Show Double Standard

Publication Date: 
May 16, 2010
Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Robyn Blumner

Professor Deborah Rhode's book The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law is discussed in relations to Elena Kagan's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Robyn Blumner of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader filed this story:

It was inevitable that Elena Kagan's physical appearance would become fodder for critics of her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. The solicitor general, a woman of remarkable professional achievement, still is, after all, a woman. Even in 2010, 50 years after the stultifying "Mad Men" era, a woman's looks are part of her resumé.

Of course, the most distasteful sentiments are coming from the extreme right. Talk radio's Michael Savage said in April that Kagan "looks like she belongs in a kosher deli," and more recently, even as he was admonishing his listeners not to comment on Kagan's appearance, Savage said he finds her looks "personally grotesque."


A new book talks about this trap for women: "The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law" by Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University who describes herself as a style-challenged academic. The book is a lament - one we know well - of the unfair double standard women face in a society that glorifies female youth and beauty.

Rhode tells of a "ludicrous experience" of her own as chairwoman of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession. Before a big luncheon, the ABA public relations staff felt she didn't measure up looks-wise. They chose her wardrobe and sicced a stylist and makeup artist on her. Rhode doubted that male leaders had to endure similar scrutiny.

What the ABA was signaling is nothing new or surprising. Rhode's credibility that day was less contingent on the professional titles she'd earned through years of toil than on how the audience viscerally responded to her appearance. Unfair? Certainly. Unjust? Yup. But that's the way it is, and no new regime of antidiscrimination laws will change it.