Amy Coney Barrett’s Hearing Shows How Sexism is Still Apparent in American Politics

Amy Coney Barrett’s historic, and controversial hearing proved how relavent gender equality is in politics. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call from Rolling Stones)

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Amy Coney Barrett’s historic, and controversial hearing proved how relavent gender equality is in politics. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call from Rolling Stones)

On October 12th, the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett began. The topic of family was a major theme throughout much of this hearing. With 7 kids at home, Congress was curious how she balanced her important job and her role as a mother, leading to questions that wouldn’t usually be asked of a male counterpart.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September, there were a lot of questions about whether Donald Trump should nominate someone, with the election right around the corner. Mitch McConnell’s effort to block President Obama’s nominee 4 years ago, 9 months before the election, was ignored as Donald Trump was able to nominate Amy Coney Barrett just weeks before election day. Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent a lifetime in the face of adversity before joining the Supreme Court where she created a liberal majority and fought hard against gender discrimination in landmark cases. Many people believe that Barrett’s views about many issues could be very harmful to women and could potentially threaten everything Ginsburg did for gender equality.

Barrett is only the fifth woman and the only mother of school-aged children to be nominated to the court. At the age of 48, she will be the youngest justice in our current Supreme Court. When asked about Barrett, Ms. Halloran, a U.S. Government teacher here at Allderdice said, “She certainly has an interesting family situation that may provide a different perspective. Hopefully, she can use her role as a mother to think through decisions that will impact her children and the future of the country.” A conservative and religious judge, Amy Coney Barrett’s beliefs are driven by a strict originalist interpretation of the constitution. Her judicial opinions show support for gun rights and “an expanded role for religion in public life,” says the New York Times. She has also clearly come out against abortion, and she may play a role in overturning Roe vs. Wade.

During the hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein asked Barrett “You don’t have a magic formula for how you do it and handle all the children and your job and your work and your thought process, which is obviously excellent, do you?” Barrett answered by saying, “It’s improv.” Feinstein

New York Times analysis shows the significant difference between any of the recent male Supreme Court hearings and with Justice Amy Coney Barrett.(A Sharply Split Screen, New York Times, 2020)

wasn’t alone in making comments like this, throughout the hearing Congress continuously pressed Barrett for information on her family and her role as a mother. While Barrett’s hearing isn’t the first Supreme Court nominee hearing to have the topic of family included, the prevalence of this topic throughout almost the entirety of the hearing is unique. “As the Supreme Court has become more politicized, family has become a strategic way to humanize a nominee.” says the New York Times. But the analysis below illustrates a distinct difference.

So, then the question must be asked, is there any real difference between her and a male counterpart? Antonin Scalia, another Supreme Court justice, had 9 kids, even more than Barrett. But “of course, Barrett and Scalia are also different in another way: She is a mother, not a father.” (New York Times)

At the hearing, Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy wanted to know how the Barrett house functions efficiently even though she has such a high power job. Most of the other men who were nominated to the Supreme Court that had come before her were fathers with high power jobs as well. But because Barrett is a mother, her role in the family prompts significantly more questions about how it works. Some people even critique women in politics for how they approach family life. One only has to look back to Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice-presidential run to see the family debate play out. Palin, who was the governor of Alaska at the time, saw her parenting choices scrutinized by the media and some Democrats. At the time, Palin had five children, including a baby with Down syndrome. Critics wondered if she was neglecting her family to run for office.

Women are also often stereotyped to be responsible for the “housework” at home and managing the family. Senator John Kennedy said, “It’s a sincere question. I’m genuinely curious. Who does laundry in your house?” Although Kennedy may have been genuinely wondering, it highlights how women are viewed and the scrutiny many of them face as mothers and politicians. Barrett just smiled and laughed politely in response to many of these comments.

Even if some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are mystified by how she does it all, it is clear the nominee was ready to field questions that many of the men who have sat in that same chair have never had to answer,” says NPR host Ailsa Chang.

Amy Coney Barrett’s experience is not the only reflection of how the different genders are treated in today’s political world. Women candidates have to fight hard to be respected, facing so many gender stereotypes and prejudices. For example, women in politics must walk a fine line between assertive and aggressive. Studies show that gender biases can make a woman appear more condescending and angry while a male counterpart may just be considered confident and passionate. In Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential run, critics thought her attitude was disrespectful, even though her opponent got away with much more disrespect during the course of the election. In this year’s election, Senator Kamala Harris did a successful job of avoiding this at her Vice Presidential Debate, when she told Vice President Mike Pence to stop interrupting her. Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University said, “her polite response to the interruptions was brilliant and relatable to any woman who has experienced being talked over.” In today’s politics, women always have to strategically plan on how to overcome gender stereotypes, in order to be treated equally to male candidates.

On October 26th, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by Congress, and will officially become a member of the United States Supreme Court, giving it a definite conservative majority. Her role as a mother, and as a woman will be instrumental, and may bring a new perspective to the Court. As a Justice, Barrett will have major impacts on our judicial opinions, and the future of the country.