Thursday, May 7, 2009

Women: in the military and on the bench

From The Nation and NPR today, we have this editorial about the plight of women in the military. Please read the piece because my rehashing it here won't do the authors justice.

Frankly, I don't think any commentary is necessary because the horror stories women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are facing speak for themselves. The rate of rape and sexual assault in the military is outrageous and the lack of consequences for the assaulters is doubly so. The complaints of the women in combat (though technically, the military doesn't have to acknowledge that they're in combat because technically, they're only in "support" roles) are falling on deaf ears: complaints not just about assault, but about daily harassment, name-calling, and denigrating comments and attitudes. It's more than a little disheartening to realize that in 2009, there are still areas in which sexism of this nature runs rampant.

After reading this editorial today, it occurred to me that I read another woman complaining about being disregarded by her male colleagues this week: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The USA Today featured a story about the lone female Supreme Court Justice earlier this week. Justice Ginsburg spoke openly about her experiences as the only woman on the nation's highest court. In conferences among the nine justices, Justice Ginsburg has presented her view and been disregarded, only to have one of her colleagues (a male, of course) state the same view. Suddenly, the opinion not worth discussing when suggested by Ginsburg had merit.

From the streets of Baghdad to the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court, sexist attitudes still prevail. In 2009.

So this is what I think President Obama means when he says a Supreme Court Justice should have empathy. Only one justice on the current court can truly empathize with the military women who are being abused daily by the very institution that is supposed to have their backs. Her ability to understand in some way the plight of those military women would be invaluable in considering any legal issue that might make its way to the Supreme Court. Maybe the men on the court would be more inclined to listen to their female colleague if she had a little back-up.

For me, there's no getting around this basic fact: the most important qualification for Obama's first Supreme Court selection is sex. His choice has to be a woman. Based on his short list that's circulating, it appears he gets this.

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