Gutgold, Nichola D. the Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options

By McGowan, Angela M. | Women's Studies in Communication, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Gutgold, Nichola D. the Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options

McGowan, Angela M., Women's Studies in Communication

Gutgold, Nichola D. The Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012. 1+ 143 pp. $27.99 (paperback). ISBN- 13:978-0-7391-7252-0.

The Rhetoric of the Supreme Court characterizes the institution as having "received little attention in the press and scant academic consideration for their communication styles and rhetorical strategies" (p. 5). Nichola Gutgold critically analyzes the persuasive strategies employed by four U.S. Supreme Court women. Gutgold chronologically guides the reader through the lives of the first women justices, beginning with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Although themes of struggle and perseverance dominate, each woman's decisions reflect a unique rhetorical imprint.

Gutgold recounts the initial difficulty women experienced within the law profession, a contention supported by examples, testimony, and statistical analysis. Reading about female suppression solidifies the significance of Gutgold's analysis, particularly because "the Supreme Court remains one of the few institutions still shrouded in mystery" (p. 5). Nevertheless, Gutgold illuminates how the women's unique experiences and perspectives have influenced their rhetoric.

Gutgold's contribution to our understanding of women's political rhetoric is twofold. First, she builds on previous studies of women and rhetoric, such as Campbell's (1989) Man Cannot Speak for Her, noting historical exclusion from accounts of the public sphere. Gutgold's study is the first scholarly examination of the women Supreme Court justices' use of feminine style. Consequently, we learn that female justices often use narrative structure, personal tone, and audience participation when they address the public and the Court. Most notably, each justice discusses her lived experiences.

Drawing on Campbell's (1989) theory, Gutgold describes Justice O'Connor's feminine style as a public speaker. In each of her speeches, Justice O'Connor educates audiences about women and the law by self-disclosing her personal struggles for acceptance in male-dominated spheres of influence. In her narrative, Justice O'Connor applies historical figures' testimonies. Justice Ginsburg's speeches likewise reflect a feminine style that interprets women's issues as lived experiences (Blakenship & Robson, 1995). In her first national speech, for example, Justice Ginsburg disclosed "feelings for her family, her devotion to women's rights, and the significant obstacles she faced as a young, Jewish female lawyer" (p. 46). As such, Justice Ginsburg retells the past, quoting women such as Sarah Grimke. Akin to Justice O'Connor, Justice Ginsburg's speeches teach audiences about the law and the workings of the Supreme Court.

Second, Gutgold's analysis of each woman's confirmation hearing, written opinions, public lectures, and personal interviews creates rhetorical biographies of the first four female Supreme Court justices. This is noteworthy because, as the author argues, "by examining the words of the first four women on the Supreme Court, we can begin to appreciate the rhetorical sensitivity each one employs to become and remain a vital voice on the bench and in society" (p. 12). By calling attention to particular moments in the justices' histories, Gutgold reminds us that the women justices have significantly advanced the "mission of gender equality and changed the lives of American people and American society" (p. 66). Gutgold's critical analysis elucidates how female justices challenged hegemonic norms.

Although she does not draw upon Cloud's (1996) work, Cloud's discussion of the biography as a rhetorical genre can be used to discuss Gutgold's analysis. Cloud deems rags-to-riches biographies as problematic, because authors gloss over structural inequalities that function as obstacles to success. Gutgold's narration of the justices' biographies come from the justices' own recollections, and in turn, the justices reproduce their own success stories.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Gutgold, Nichola D. the Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?