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Supreme Court Nominee Scandal! But, then, who hasn’t played softball (and been photographed doing it)?

May 14, 2010 – 5:42 AM

By Laura Pappano

As long as we’re sharing old softball photos, here’s one of me playing at Yale in 1985.

Q: What does it tell you?

A: Probably not much (except that I’m a righty and played 1B).

The firestorm over the photo of Elena Kagan playing softball may – or may not – have been part of a not-so-secret code wink-wink to suggest that Kagan is gay and add a spicy subtext to the Supreme Court nomination process.

Kagan’s photo, released by the University of Chicago Law School, then, reveals what, exactly? That she’s a righty, too?

The fact is that softball is a popular recreational sport. Last week, Roll Call reported that nearly 300 teams had already registered among the Senate, House, and Congressional softball leagues. New York’s Central Park is also softball-saturated with leagues from the ultra-competitive magazine publishers to the official N.Y.C. Financial Services Softball League.

In fact, who hasn’t played softball? (And been photographed doing it?)

Whether or not Elena Kagan is gay or tuned to gay/civil rights issues cannot be parsed from a photo of her at the plate (though Pat Griffin takes a thoughtful swing at it). If Kagan is gay and wants to share, terrific. It would add to the lived experience of the Supreme Court justices. If she’s not, that’s OK, too.

What bothers me about all the hullaballoo, is that it’s a reminder of the pressure on women to — still – conform to narrow social and gender expectations.  Sure, softball is a popular sport among gay women. (Historically, in a time of rigid roles and repressed sexual identities, gay women found community and support on the softball diamond — and still do.)

But just because an unmarried woman who has risen to the top of her field plays softball, must this be considered “evidence” that she is lesbian?  Good at sports? Single? She must be gay! When I first saw the photos, I thought, Great! Maybe a Supreme Court Justice who cares about women’s sports! Yipee! Most troubling, however, is the possibility that the photo might have been used as a way to signal that or raise questions about Kagan’s sexual orientation in hopes of derailing her nomination.

In other words, this has become just another squeeze play at the plate in which female athletes — or women who merely play competently in a recreational game — must try to slide under the tag. The label is there and ready to be applied: Girly or Gay?

What does it say to the rest of us when someone as smart and accomplished as Kagan is still expected to “prove” her femininity?

  1. One Response to “Supreme Court Nominee Scandal! But, then, who hasn’t played softball (and been photographed doing it)?”

  2. Hardly a scandal. This is the sort of thing that animates the Keith Olbermann crowd (about as credulous a bunch as you’ll find).

    I wouldn’t put anything past Republicans and their hirelings (or Democrats and theirs, for that matter), but Kagan is a relatively uncontroversial nominee. Indeed, it’s likely that few Republicans will oppose her nomination in a material way.

    I thought the photo showed her human side (no stuffy justice she), and it probably helps her if anything.

    By Rob Mars on May 14, 2010

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