Sisterhood Blog

Looking at Elena Kagan, and Seeing Myself

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Elena Kagan (click to enlarge)

It has been an incredible week for Jewish women. The confirmation of Elena Kagan as the next Supreme Court justice, bringing the total number of women to three and the total number of Jewish women to two, has the effect on me of lighting fireworks in my soul. Despite all the rubbish women have to put up with in society and in Judaism, this is a moment when I can put that all aside and think, “Yes, Jewish women can!”

One of the greatest moments for me in the process that began with President Obama’s May 10 announcement of her nomination, was watching law professor and former prosecutor Paul Butler on PBS NewsHour analyze the significance of her appointment. After coolly describing some of her many strengths — pragmatism, moderation, swift negotiation, mental agility, and wit — he diverted from his dispassion, smiled and said, “She’s brilliant and she’s charming!” Wow, I thought. Really smart people love and appreciate her. That is just so wonderful.

This was quite a comforting experience for me for deeper reasons as well. When she first entered the public scene, it was inevitable that her appearance, her sexuality and her personal life would take center stage — and it did, as my Sisterhood colleagues noted. We’ve all heard stories about how appearance matters in professional advancement — how traditionally attractive people are not only more likely to get the job but are more likely to be considered smart and competent, regardless of what their resumes or performance indicate.

So of course there are people in this world that looked at Elena Kagan and saw what some men I know see: double chin. What can I say? I look at Elena Kagan and see myself. (I love that we almost share at least a first name). I’m short, I have gray hair and a zillion wrinkles, and lots of extra flesh where it shouldn’t be, and I’ve had a double chin ever since I was a teenager. I, like so many other women I know, look at myself in the mirror and think, ich. Sure, I write about feminism and body image and I can talk the talk. But at the end of the day, all I see on myself, really, is the double chin.

But now that Elena Kagan is up there, I think to myself: It’s time for me to get past my own chin. When Paul Butler said “She’s brilliant and she’s charming,” I thought, he doesn’t even notice her chin! That made me just cry. To be loved, double chin and all, for her wonderful skills and personality, well, that is just a gift. To be seen and appreciated for all her wonderful qualities, for her mind and heart and terrific wit, well, that is the dream of all women, isn’t it?

Even those of us who are trying so hard to speak out on behalf of other women still struggle with our own inner demons. I guess it’s time. It’s time for me to admit the truth about how I feel about my own body. And it’s time for me to let it go, to love my chin and my own flesh, and to dance for joy at the possibilities for women in this world. Thank you, Elena Kagan, for being brilliant and charming, and for reminding us that we deserve love and respect and the admiration of good people. Justice Elena Kagan is my new hero.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Supreme Court, Elena Kagan

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.