Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court, has come out in favor of gender parity in the makeup of the Court. After the recent nomination of Marc Nadon to fill a vacant seat, McLachlin expressed the opinion that it would be better if there were fewer men and more women on the Court.
The is a common attitude. You hear it all the time, and not just with women. “We need more X in politics!” where X stands for the minority of your choice (never mind that women are actually a majority of the population.) I would have hoped someone who has managed to climb to the rank of Supreme Court Justice would have developed some kind of resistance to this sort of illogical thinking, but alas, this seems to be too much to ask.
In the United States, Justice Sonya Sotomayor made a similar argument during her own nomination process. “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
The ironic thing is that there is nothing wise about these sorts of comments, in which sexism is openly on display. Why is having more women on a court per se desirable? Shouldn’t we want the best person for the job regardless of gender? Courts make important decisions that determine the course of history for entire nations. They are not beauty pageants or school plays where everyone has to feel “represented.” If a woman is the most capable person for the job, then she should absolutely have it, but if a better qualified candidate is turned down simply because he is a man, then we have a problem. I thought the whole point of feminism was for the sexes to be treated equally and without prejudice. Prejudice such as that a “Latina” will make better decisions than a white man just because of her race and gender.
We have to put an end to this combative attitude with which the genders regard one another. The fact that implicit assumptions about conflict remain even in the highest level of political discourse is demonstrated by another comment by Justice McLachlin on the makeup of the court:
“I think we have very strong forceful women and the three of us seem to hold our own pretty well.”
Hold their own? The Court is not a battle of the sexes. This type of rhetoric reduces otherwise intelligent, respectable people to petty school children, crying “girls against boys!” in their recess games.
Speaking of schools, the quota system employed by many universities is a perfect example of the problem with treating people as demographics rather than as individuals. When public policy dictates that more qualified students are being turned away because they have the wrong skin color, what does that say about our cultural attitudes towards race and gender?
It’s time to retire this whole idea of “representing” every group with a token member. It promotes division, not unity, and it insults minorities by implying that their race and gender, not their merits, are the reason for their success. True equality means treating everybody like everybody else. That should be the goal, not arbitrary quotas to create the illusion of diversity.