Awarding the Fatherhood Bonus to Brett Kavanaugh

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court to replace Anthony Kennedy, has the support of his former law clerks. Nearly 40 of them have sent letters of support, written op-eds, and otherwise run a PR campaign for him.  Here is an excerpt from one by Amit Agarwal, who clerked for Kavanaugh from 2006-2007, writing for Fox News:

Judge Kavanaugh is a devoted husband and father of two girls. Back when I worked for him, he was a brand new dad. I still remember the judge beaming as he played hide-and-go-seek in chambers with his 1-year-daughter, who would laugh and shriek with delight as he sang her name while inching closer and closer to her hiding spot.

From Agarwal, we find that Kavanaugh has written almost 300 judicial opinions, “sits on the nation’s most influential federal appeals court,” and also teaches part-time for Harvard.

But somehow he finds time to coach both of his girls’ basketball teams.

It goes on and on like that. We don’t hear key information that actually measures the effectiveness of a judge: how often are his decisions overturned by a higher court? Instead, we find that he is hospitable to his clerks and their families, that he invites them out for lunch, that he goes to their weddings, that he invites them see the Washington Nationals games and to his annual holiday party. He likes to run marathons and works hard in other areas of his life, too. In fact, when Agarwal was working for him, Kavanaugh was even working New Year’s Day—until his wife called and demanded that he come home! Agarwal explains,

I couldn’t help smiling. Like it or not, the judge was always candid in acknowledging—and gracious in following—controlling authority.

Ha ha! A joke about a nagging wife! We know that Kavanaugh is a human being, just like you and me (except smarter and more powerful) because he is kind to his employees and respectful of his wife and also bothers to parent his own children.

The sexism here might be hard to see. Agarwal is stressing that we can know that Kavanaugh is decent because of how he treats his wife, his daughters, and his employees. Kavanaugh is tender with his children, active in their lives. Those are evidence of a man NOT being a sexist, right?

Above, a question for debate on the delightful parody site Man Who Has It All

Yeah, sure—or, at least, they can be. (A man can coach elementary school basketball and still be a sexist, though.) But, first, Republicans are no longer allowed to make appeals to decency in an effort to support anyone’s political career. Remember that conservative Christians are the people LEAST likely to say that you have to be a moral person to be a good political leader. They have only felt that way since the rise of Trump, when they saw that the ticket to power was to be a immoral slimeball. If Republicans don’t care if a man looks at his own daughter with lust, then the rest of us don’t have to care about Republican fatherhood, either, so please don’t write any more op-ed pieces assuring us that we’ll all just love Kavanaugh as we get to know him.

But, even if we wanted to play this game—that Republicans suddenly care about men caring about their families—Agarwal’s is infuriating. It’s a classic example of the “fatherhood bonus”—that is, the credit that men get in the workplace when they become fathers. In contrast, women suffer a “motherhood penalty.

Every detail that Agarwal uses as evidence that Kavanaugh is a good candidate for the Supreme Court would be used AGAINST a woman if the same thing were said about here. She plays hide-and-seek in her office? Unprofessional. Brings child to work place? Not organized enough to get daycare. Wasting work time. Hospitable to her employees? Ingratiating. Alternatively: Now we should be able to expect her to take care of our emotional needs and be our mother. Works on holidays? Fails at work-life balance. Comes home when called by her husband? Disrespectful of her spouse. How else does she fail to meet his needs, hmmm? Also: Not committed to the job. Will she be controlled by him on the job?

Men don’t get to do less at home AND get public credit for what they do while women do more and get penalized at work for it. Uh-uh. Nope.


PS. I wish that Agarwal had read this advice for writing a non-sexist letter of rec. It doesn’t specifically address the problems of vaunting men for their nurturing skills, but it explains how highlighting those skills hurts women.

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