Archive for August, 2010


When Speaking in Public: “keep in mind your mission”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a precise and careful woman.  Her deliberate consideration of everything extends not only to her interpretation of the law, but her public speaking.  She told me:  “It is important to keep your audience in good humor” when she referred to her successful arguing of five landmark equality cases in the 1970s. These were “men of a certain age in the 1970s” she added, describing the then all-male Supreme Court justices.  “They did not understand the notion of gender discrimination.  Racial discrimination was odious, but women were not in a ghetto, they lived side by side with men.”  The persuasion she needed was nuanced.  She believed it was “the only approach that would work.”   She said, “My idea was to speak slowly so ideas could be grasped.” 

Still today, Justice Ginsburg is careful and cautiously deliberate in her communication.  She writes her own speeches, with “lots of research assistance” from her able and bright law clerks.   She said, “Sometimes a law clerk will draft a speech, and it is helpful for me to see how another good mind would put it together.  But I re-write.”

She enjoys public speaking and a quick glance at the Supreme Court Website shows that she is speaking in public these days more than her Supreme Court colleagues.  She felt especially good about her most recent talk in San Francisco when she accepted the prestigious ABA medal. Reflecting back on her advocacy work on behalf of the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU in the 1970s she said, “What a luxury I had to be an advocate for people who needed my services and for a cause for society.” 

In less than two months there will be three women Supreme Court justices serving together for the first time since the Court began in 1790.  Referring to women’s expanding  roles in society, she said, “Yes, progress has been dramatic, but lasting change takes time.”   Public speaking and otherwise, Justice Ginsburg has good advice:  “keep in mind your mission.”

 Nichola Gutgold interviewed Justice Ginsburg in her Supreme Court Chambers on August 19, 2010.



Why Doesn’t the Social Page Tell the Better Story?

This past Sunday I started my Sunday morning like I always do:  drinking my husband’s ridiculously delicious coffee and immersing myself in my very good  local newspaper, The Morning Call, and the eminently cherishable New York Times.   My daughter once observed the joy with which I opened The Times is ” like chocolate for you, Mom, isn’t it?” Indeed.  And I love almost every section, but, if the New York Times TV commercial asked me: “how many sections are you fluent in,?” I would say without hesitation:  the weddings and celebrations page.  I linger lustily over  how “Heather Rose met Cyrus Tyler” and how she graduated “summa cum laude” and he “cum laude.”  I read with delight that Samuel Howard wrote B Chatfield “florid” love letters while at Oberlin College.  I wonder briefly if my son will fall in love in college, write impressively good love letters, and then, like a teenager on a junk food binge,  I move to another announcement. 

Recently I read about Penn State President Spanier’s daughter being married in Paris and sometimes I  read about a couple well into the latter part of middle age who have been married.  It doesn’t taint my enjoyment whatsoever to read that “the bride and bridegroom’s previous (several) marriages ended in divorce.”  I believe in love. 

This coming February my husband Geoff and I will celebrate twenty-five years of marriage together.   We are planning a trip to Rome when I’m on Spring Break in March to celebrate the occasion.  I can’t wait.  And frankly, it has me wondering why The New York Times doesn’t tell the real love stories.  Oh, no doubt, being able to survive a courtship while “Spencer spent a year at Oxford and Daisy remained in New York managing the museum” is notable, but I think way  more impressive is a couple who weathers such difficulties as an ill child, a lost job, cancer, making it through graduate school with young children,  the death of a parent, or a failed business enterprise.  It might not sound as glamorous, but it is far more meaningful.   Heck, throw in a cake from The Cake Boss and a dress from Kleinfield’s and I think we have the makings of a new TLC hit show:  “Twenty-five Years.” 

Maybe someday  newspapers everywhere will  begin reporting the real love stories:  the marriages that have lasted twenty-five years or more.  In these times of increasingly negative news, these are the stories that would truly inspire.   If that happens, Geoff and I will be ready for our close-ups.   


Hillary Clinton made a believer out of more young women (preliminary poll shows)

I’ve conducted my “Believing or Not Believing” in Madam President poll to college women, age 18-25 and after a little over 100 surveys have been returned, there is evidence to show that more young women were encouraged by the presidential race of Hillary Clinton than by the vice-presidential bid of Sarah Palin.  The poll asks women to reflect about whether or not the campaigns of these national female politicians made them believe that there would be a woman president in her lifetime.

Out of 102 surveys, sixty-two said “yes” that the presidential bid of Hillary Clinton encouraged her to believe that a woman would be president in her lifetime.  Only twenty-four were encouraged by the vice-presidential bid of Sarah Palin.  Still some respondents were not encouraged by either woman and a handful thought that both women’s efforts turned them into believers.

These are early results that come mostly from Penn State Lehigh Valley classes.  After the survey is distributed in other areas (Cal State Chico, Stonehill, SUNY, PSU University Park) I plan to publish the results.  Some comments about Hillary Clinton from respondents include:  “She was one of the first women who looked like she could win” and “She made me believe that a woman will be a strong candidate.”  Another respondent said, “I knew she wouldn’t win.”  As for Palin, students wrote:  “She made women sound stupid” and “The media focused too much on her personal life and not enough on her politics.”  Another respondent said Palin made her a believer in a woman president in her lifetime because “As soon as Obama won many people were already campaigning for Palin in 2012.”

So, here’s a sneak peek tease about the results.  Stay tuned!


Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor’s casual ease signal progress

With the addition of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the number of women to serve since the court’s inception in 1790 notches up to four.   What is more significant than the number, however, is evidence that the speaking styles and career trajectories of these women show that there are less obstacles facing women entering fields once only occupied by men.   For example, both Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg could not find work as lawyers after graduating law school.  By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan seemed to find easy (and excellent) opportunities to use their legal education. 

 After graduating from Princeton and attending Oxford, and Harvard Law School,  the newest justice Elena Kagan completed federal Court of Appeals and Supreme Court clerkships. She began her career as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, leaving to serve as an Associate White House Counsel  and later as policy adviser under President Bill Clinton.  After a nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which expired without action, she became a professor at Harvard Law School and then became dean.  Her relaxed and humorous answers at her confirmation hearings suggest  an ease with herself, the mostly male questioners and her intellect.  By contrast, the confirmation hearings of Ruth Bader Ginsburg demonstrate the extreme caution, seriousness of self and situation and sense on the part of Ginsburg that there was no room for flippant or casual exchanges.    A look at Ginsburg’s confirmation hearing demonstrates the cautious responses.  Before her, Sandra Day O’Connor’s confirmation hearings show a deliberative and careful demeanor and even a nod to the “conduct” of women who went before her as leaders.    During her confirmation, that Kagan remarked about her need to get her hair done more (if confirmed) her Chinese food consumption on Christmas (“you know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant”), tell more than the answers themselves.     Similarly, Sonia Sotomayor felt comfortable enough to joke during her confirmation hearing and  spoke early and often once confirmed, something new justices, even male, have resisted.  While some of these contrasts may simply be a matter of style, I think they reveal more than that. They signal that women, though still low in numbers, are expressing themselves with more ease and self-assurance and their own unscripted, even relaxed style at the highest level of power.

August 2010
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