If there's a woman in America who can deal with "the whiff of sexism," I'm betting it is Harriet Miers.

No woman who made her way in a man's world has a bit of trouble with this issue. These ladies were overcoming sexism before the phrase was coined.

Women of Harriet Miers' generation really were pioneers. Sexual discrimination was to them as a mountain range was to families in covered wagons. An obstacle. Dangerous. But to the pioneers who made it West, just something else to get over or around. The faint of heart need not apply, but the determined strong just kept on climbing until the Promised Land was at hand.

Harriet Miers is a special breed. She had very few role models, but what she obviously did have was determination.

Many, even most educated women who had either the necessity or luxury of working, accepted the then-current reality and taught school, became nurses or librarians, secretaries or clerks.

Harriet Miers obviously didn't accept the norm. She challenged it. She proved herself every step of the way — and from what we hear she did it with grace.

She may have later been helped by the radicals who came after her, burning bras and using the shrill and outraged guilt card to force the male-ordered society to open doors. But she helped them, too, showing the doubting men that women could do the work, could argue the case, could run the firm, could offer the wisest counsel.

Miers cleared the path, the radicals then paved the road, and those of us who came later have turned it into a superhighway. It is how societal change happens, and we can argue about whether it is good or bad. However, I would argue that it is never the victims of discrimination who change the world; it is Harriet Miers and others like her who showed they could walk the walk. Discrimination didn't defeat them; they proved it didn't apply.

The conservative intellectuals who are dismayed by the president's choice are not worried about Harriet Miers' determination, nor are they worried about her religion or her values. They are worried that she isn't brilliant.

To them, brilliance is an assurance that facts will overwhelm feelings, that a brilliant legal mind can be counted on to strictly interpret the Constitution without soft human considerations.

The underlying thinking is that a woman who isn't a proven intellect is much more likely to fall into this trap than a man. Of course, none of these intellectuals would actually say that, because they are, well, worried about being cursed as sexists.

But this isn't sexism; it is experience. Every woman they have seen on the high court has, to them, been either liberal, like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, or too unpredictable, like Sandra Day O'Connor. While men have disappointed them, too — Justices Anthony Kennedy and David Souter to name a few — they also have the experience of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to assure them that it is the judge, not his sex that matters.

It is understandable that they would be concerned about Harriet Miers. There is nothing in her background or record that is absolute proof that she won't go soft on them. At least some of the other women on the list had proven records and past judicial behavior to look to.

Harriet Miers has a record of winning despite great obstacles; she now has to prove to conservative intellectuals that she is as brilliant as they are and that she won't go soft. That's quite a mountain to climb.

Kim Hume is Vice President, Bureau Chief of FOX News, Washington.