Monday, June 15, 2009

Praise Be! An Even-Handed Sotomayor Piece on NPR

Have you too had your teeth set on edge by listening to the hand wringing over Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comments and the furor over the plight of the New Haven white firefighter? I wish I had a dollar for every story that just laid out the complaints, then had some whining by the people making the charges. Really, how useful is it to hear Juan Williams pontificate on how "some people" are making allegations that she can't be impartial?

Thus, imagine my surprise to hear Nina Totenberg actually address the question on whether Sotomayer is a "bully" or "mean," using actual interviews with judges who have worked with her, audiotapes, and numerical assessments of how often she "interrupts," compared with other judges (answer: she doesn't, any more than anyone else, although the aired version is slightly different than the print version of this piece, so you don't get the actual numbers on that here).

I'm sure this will be shocking to hear, but the fact that she is a woman may just affect how people perceive her behavior:

Judge Guido Calabresi, former Yale Law School dean and Sotomayor's mentor, now says that when Sotomayor first joined the Court of Appeals, he began hearing rumors that she was overly aggressive, and he started keeping track, comparing the substance and tone of her questions with those of his male colleagues and his own questions.

"And I must say I found no difference at all. So I concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn't stand being questioned toughly by a woman," Calabresi says. "It was sexism in its most obvious form."

And what if such criticism came from a woman lawyer? Well, says Calabresi, women can be just as sexist as men in their expectations of how a woman judge should act.

Research has shown that women and men are peceived differently in authority roles. Among people with preferences, both men and women prefer male bosses, for example. And women bosses carry all sorts of expectations of how women "should" act, so when they act authoritative, i.e., like men, they are peceived as less nice.

Predicament 3: Competent but Disliked – Women Leaders Are Perceived as Competent or Liked, but Rarely Both. Respondents’ comments revealed that when women behave in ways that are traditionally valued for men leaders (e.g., assertively), they are viewed as more competent, but also not as effective interpersonally as women who adopt a more stereotypically feminine style.

Depressing, but it's nice to hear NPR do a bit more than skim the surface.

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