Is This Your Idea of a ‘Relatively Narrow’ World?

Will your life always be described as ‘narrow’ if you are single?

Posted Jun 10, 2010

I had my next post all thought out and I was about to write it when I came across an example that was too telling to pass up. Living Single readers know that I like to compare media reports of, say, scientific studies, with the actual versions in the journals to show what gets distorted or omitted. Same for biographical sketches of people in the news - they don't always reflect the bigger picture of what could have been said about the person. Sometimes, though, you don't need to look beyond just those observations reported in the story itself to wonder what the reporters were thinking. So it is with an article that just appeared in the Washington Post.

The story is about a high-profile person in the news. You may realize who she is right away, though I'll wait until later to reveal her identity. There is a lot that you may already know about her, or could find out with a quick Google search, but here are a few of the facts about her life that were included in the story:

  • She grew up in New York
  • She's worked in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • She's studied in Oxford, England
  • She loves the theater
  • She participated in a book club that included journalists, attorneys, an expert on health care and one on equal opportunity, where she was regarded as ‘ultra-bright' and with ‘a wonderful quirky humor'
  • She's been described as ‘more interested in what other people were working on than in talking policy or spinning'
  • She was the student editor of the newspaper when she was at Princeton
  • She can show great warmth and humor in her interactions with people who are very different from her politically
  • She's a fan of opera
  • She's run a department of 50 people
  • She's argued cases before the Supreme Court
  • She's owned a wonderful home of her own
  • She has ties to the Clintons
  • She loves books and has collected hundreds of them
  • She entertains often
  • She's good at poker
  • When she was interviewed for a job as President of Harvard and did not get it, ‘hundreds of law school students threw her a surprise party to celebrate still having her as their dean'
  • She's considered a loyal and totally trusted friend, there at times of crisis or during celebrations
  • ‘She reads books about Afghanistan while on summer vacation.'
  • She's President Obama's candidate to become the next Supreme Court justice
  • Since her nomination, she's visited with 61 senators
  • Oh, and she's only 50 years old

To confirm what you already know, the article is about Elena Kagan, who has always been single and has no children.

You may want to skim that bulleted list once more before reading the Washington Post's summary of its story:

"Kagan has many achievements, but her world has been relatively narrow."

Maybe the condemnation of Kagan's world as "narrow" has nothing to do with the fact that she has always been single and has no children. When I was writing Singled Out, though, I found that Condoleezza Rice got the same dismissive treatment about supposedly having no life, despite an impressive array of interests and talents. At the same time, high profile married men, who - based on their biographical records - really could have been described as having no life outside of work - were never belittled in that way.