In this week’s Times magazine, Deborah Solomon interviews the Supreme Court’s first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, now retired. While I like and admire Justice O’Connor, I had a moment of distinct annoyance at this exchange:
Do you call yourself a feminist?
I never did. I care very much about women and their progress. I didn’t go march in the streets, but when I was in the Arizona Legislature, one of the things that I did was to examine every single statute in the state of Arizona to pick out the ones that discriminated against women and get them changed.
So do you call yourself a feminist today?
I don’t call myself that.
Is there a label you prefer?
A fair judge and a hard worker.
I suspect that like many women of her generation, feminism sounds too radical to Justice O’Connor, with too many partisan, adversarial overtones for a lawyer who ultimately chose the peace and quiet of an (allegedly) unbiased judiciary over the rough-and-tumble of legislative politics. Normally I’m reluctant to contradict someone when they reject a specific label. But not here. Maybe I’m more comfortable embracing the term “feminist” because the term is less loaded for someone born in 1975 than for someone born in 1930. But, of course, the reason feminism is more socially acceptable these days is because of trailblazers like Sandra Day O’Connor, whose achievements contradict everything the Patriarchy would have us believe about women’s abilities and authority.
But Merriam-Webster defines feminism as: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. You, Justice O’Connor, are a feminist, whether you like the term or not. Not to worry, though. I’ll carry your card for you.