On the final day of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Republican Senator John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana used his speaking time to ask a possible future Justice of the Supreme Court one last “sincere” question: “I’m generally curious,” he said. “Who does the laundry in your house?”
Coney Barrett played along politely, laughing as she told the senator that she was trying to get her children to do their own laundry, “but those efforts aren’t always successful.” My colleagues and I were appalled by the question — “ew” and “UGH” being the resounding reaction in our Slack chats. But really, we shouldn’t have been surprised.
We expected this sexist treatment of a woman — any woman — who sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee, looking for a spot on the highest court in the land. But the fact that it was asked of Coney Barrett, who many believe will set the women’s movement back 50 years and then some with her conservative politics, was doubly infuriating. Republicans couldn't seem to get past the idea of the woman who could have it “all” (the family life, the faith, the career), as though feminists throughout the years were just complaining about nothing. Their smug line of questioning reads as a “fuck you” to any woman, and particularly liberal women, who have championed the “leftist” ideas that women should have autonomy over their bodies, the right to healthcare, including birth control, and the right to marry their partners, regardless of their gender.
If she can do it, why can't you?
Coney Barrett’s wardrobe only seemed to confirm her role as the conservative feminine ideal, and the notion that a woman, even a woman in power, should still appear as a woman of a distinct mold. On the first day of the hearings, the judge arrived on Capitol Hill in a magenta, knee-length dress with three-quarter length sleeves. She accessorized with pearls, a compliment to the pleated detail on the dress front, and blush-colored suede heels. She looked nice. She looked pleasant, traditional, and womanly. And I couldn’t help but wonder if a non-binary, an especially masculine person with the same political leanings (however rare that combination might be), or a woman who is less conventionally attractive, would be treated with the same kind of sexist, softball pandering.
As Representative Ilhan Omar pointed out, the Republican defense of Coney Barrett — and specifically of her Catholicism, and their anger toward those senators who questioned her religion’s influence on her rulings — appeared to be rooted in their familiarity with her background. She is accepted because she is known.
Let’s be clear about this: if a Muslim woman was nominated to SCOTUS you would see Republicans lose their mind about her religious background...
“Sharia law” would be trending right now.
Miss me with the pearl-clutching and all this righteous talk about religious freedom.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 12, 2020
On day two, she arrived in a similarly cut skirt suit in a shade of apple red; day three, a purple tweed skirt suit paired with a lavender shell, a Victorian-inspired ruffle at the neckline. Again, she looked nice.
Her looks seemed to tell the Americans tuning in, especially those women who have read headlines about how an Amy Coney Barrett court would overturn Roe v. Wade given her pro-life stance, that she is a woman, so how could she be bad for women?
There were other women, many of whom are Democrats, in the Senate who chose bold, feminine colors, too. Senator Mazie Hirono, who called out Coney Barrett’s use of the outdated, flagrant phrase “sexual preference” to describe gay people’s sexual orientation, as though it were a choice, wore a bold red suit jacket. [Coney Barrett apologized for the use of the phrase, saying that she meant “no harm” to the LGBTQ community; she did not give a clear answer about whether she supports a person’s constitutional right to same-sex marriage.] Senator Dianne Feinstein wore similarly bright suit jackets in shades of purple and blue. Senator Kamala Harris, as well as Feinstein, wore pearls.
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These women’s sartorial choices — a mix of masculine shapes and feminine colors — when paired with their liberal views, give off an air of defiance: Women can be feminine, and still powerful. A feminist is not only a bra-burning stereotype from the 1970s, but a woman who appreciates style and flair. On them, feminine dress has a tinge of irony, a sense of turning femininity, and its place in a patriarchal society, on its head. On Coney Barrett, there is just conservative traditionalism.
If you didn’t know this before the hearings, you certainly knew by Wednesday evening, when the hearing wrapped up, that Coney Barrett has seven children. Robin Givhan, senior critic at the Washington Post, wrote that Republicans appeared “gobsmacked with admiration” at Coney Barrett’s parenting abilities, that she was “not shirking her womanly duty while unleashing her ambition.”
Her preference for Kate Chopin, a woman who, in the late 19th century published a book in which the feminist heroine commits suicide? Proof that she’s good for women. The fact that she has a family? Good for women. Her marital status? Good for women. The fact that she adopted two Black children? She can’t be racist.
Five minutes of critical thinking is all you need to understand that these leaps and bounds made by Republicans — these far-fetched reaches, are about as plausible as the Q-Anon conspiracy theories that are infiltrating Congress. The equivalent of “I have a Black friend, therefore I can’t be racist” excuses.
Don’t be fooled.