The way we’re currently discussing Elena Kagan in the media is akin to how we often deal with leadership that seems different from the traditional straight White male model. We want to know: Who is this woman nominated by President Obama to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court of the United States?
On Friday The Washington Post ran the headline “Is sexual identity our business, or are we a nation of busybodies?” Staff Writer Karen Tumulty explored the rumors that Kagan may be lesbian and considered the possibility that one’s sexual orientation may relate to how one engages in her work. (Full disclosure: This blog used to be called “It’s Everybody’s Business,” which is clearly our take on the issue.)
Putting aside the issue of determining her true sexual identity, we Americans are grappling with what it would mean to have a 50-year old unmarried White woman on the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the United States. So many questions underlie the debate about her sexuality. Do authority and leadership only live in men? Can a woman lead effectively without attachment to a man? Can femininity and gayness coexist?
In other words, we’re working to “take in” a woman who may soon acquire a great deal of authority with which to influence our lives. During the most recent U.S. presidential election, we did the same with Barack Obama — Was he Black enough? Was Michelle too Black? Was he even born in the United States? — all in service of internally processing the prospect of being led by the first non-White President of the United States.
To bring this closer to home, we often banter fervently about new leaders in the organizations where we work. And the discussions can get intense when the leaders don’t look like traditional poster boys. It’s totally normal, we’re just doing our best to adapt and authorize these individuals to work in their formal roles.
Photo of Elena Kagan by dsearls.
Now it’s your turn for commentary. How have you and your peers dealt with the prospect of a less-traditional embodiment of leadership at work?