Should Kagan Cross Her Legs?

What Women Really Think
May 24 2010 10:21 AM

Should Kagan Cross Her Legs?


It is Washington Post columnist Robin Givhan’s job to scrutinize the style of Washington elites, and mostly she is brilliant at it. Generally, Givhan tries to subject both sexes equally to her high standards of proper public presentation. (Here is her iconic column about Dick Cheney wearing a parka to an Auschwitz commemoration ceremony.) I know Robin from my days at the Post and have always greatly admired her.


In this weekend’s column on Elena Kagan , though, you can see her struggling. She seemed to be forgiving Kagan for what she called Kagan’s "anti-style offensive," because, when making her rounds of Captiol Hill last week, Kagan "embraced dowdy as a mark of brainpower." An old Washington habit that Michelle Obama hasn’t managed to break in us.

But then came this doozy of a style error: Kagan, Givhan writes, "sat hunched over. She sat with her legs ajar." Kagan’s offense was repeated in the caption, which, seriously, comes straight from Ms . magazine circa 1962-"Most women, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, cross their legs when sitting, but not Kagan." First of all, that word "ajar," with its implications of peeking and entry. Weird, and slightly lewd. Second, the phrase "most women." Really? Is that still required? While reading it, I had to look down and check. Are my legs crossed while reading this story? Nope.

I suppose surfaces do mean something in a city where people are in the business of packaging themselves, so it’s worth picking them over. But when the analysis jibes exactly with some nasty old stereotypes-namely, that women should cross their legs for the same reason they should wear corsets and speak only in pleasing ways-well, it’s time to let those go. Particularly for a woman who has been subjected to every kind of euphemism imaginable to suggest that she is not like the other girls.

Photograph of Elena Kagan and Olympia Snowe by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 10:23 AM From Fringe to Mainstream: How We Learned to Panic About Terrorists Crossing the Border
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
The Vault
Sept. 18 2014 9:57 AM “The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire,” Explained in GIF by an Old Children’s Toy
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?