Serious props to NPR's Nina Totenberg today. Rather than simply reporting about "concerns over Sonia Sotomayor's temperament" or allegations that she's a "bully," Totenberg actually compared audio clips of questions asked by Sotomayor and those asked by her male colleagues -- or those who would be her colleagues if she is confirmed for the Supreme Court. And -- surprise! -- Sotomayor is no "meaner" than your average justice. She is just femaler.

Judge Guido Calabresi, former Yale Law School dean and Sotomayor's mentor, now says that when Sotomayor first joined the Court of Appeals, he began hearing rumors that she was overly aggressive, and he started keeping track, comparing the substance and tone of her questions with those of his male colleagues and his own questions.

"And I must say I found no difference at all. So I concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn't stand being questioned toughly by a woman," Calabresi says. "It was sexism in its most obvious form."

And what if such criticism came from a woman lawyer? Well, says Calabresi, women can be just as sexist as men in their expectations of how a woman judge should act.

This echoes so many familiar themes. Women in positions of power in the workplace are often considered meaner than their male colleagues who act the same way. And how many times have we seen a woman of color who exhibits strength described as threatening, "fiery," or too angry? (This is why much feminist effort has gone into reclaiming the term "bitch" -- if society is going to use it to describe a woman who is bold and direct, shouldn't we consider that a compliment?)

Listening to the clips, Sotomayor sounds an awful lot like John Roberts -- who did not face any concerns about his "fiery temperament" during his confirmation hearings. Totenberg exposes this talking point for what it is: straight-up sexism, with some racism mixed in for good measure.

--Ann Friedman

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