Monday, April 26, 2010

A Mom on the Court

Peter Beinart, who has a column on The Daily Beast, a "working wife" and a two-year-old daughter, wants Obama to nominate a woman who has kids to the Supreme Court. As Jezebel notes, Beinart is being provocative here. He writes:

"It’s important (to have women with kids in positions of power) because otherwise, the message you’re sending young women is that they can achieve professionally, or they can have a family, but they can’t do both. And without quite realizing it, that is the message our government has been sending. According to the Census Bureau, 80 percent of American women over the age of 40 have children. But look at the women who have held Cabinet posts in the last three presidential administrations. Only two of the Clinton administration’s five female Cabinet secretaries had kids."

Reading Beinart's piece, I felt like I was talking to a new, nice and very earnest dad at a birthday party. Why can't you ladies have it all!?! We'd nod over the general unfairness of workplace requirements and division of family labor. Maybe I'd mention the piece I read in the Wall Street Journal back before I had kids explaining how a lot of women who worked while their kids were young found they really needed to scale back on office time when their kids were in middle school. Wow, we'd agree, it's terrible. Right before I wandered away to get more seltzer, me and Pete would really break some new ground in that conversation.

Of course I'm all for women with kids succeeding in the workplace, but, of all the messages our President has to send with his next Supreme Court nominee, one that reassures women that they can work at the highest levels and have kids need not be one of them. Really. Because if I've learned anything from five years of motherhood, it's that no two women do it the same way and since everyone's pretty much doing the best she can given her own special circumstances and family needs, shining examples of extreme success are nice, but they sure aren't roadmaps.


Carolyn said...

Could not have said that any better!

Robin Aronson said...


Robin Aronson said...

And nice to see you Carolyn!

hilary said...

Just catching up the news after the wkend and wanted to catch up with you. Very provocative post, although as someone who believes that the last feminist issue--or more properly the first--is supporting mothers who work outside the home I must say I disagree. Yes, of course, all moms are just doing their best to get by. That however does nothing to address the country's dearth of women with children in government; a number lower than any other post-industrialized nation. This fact, most would agree, contributes to its dearth of genuinely family friendly policies. The lack of such policies hurts all families--particularly the majority who can't choose for moms to cut back when their kids are in middle school. Put differently the fact that our government is run by men whose wives mostly do not need to, or do not choose to, work outside the home or by single women has contributed to a problem that hurts all but the very, very wealthiest families. So, I say, yes, while not certainly the only issue, putting a woman on the court who confronts the struggles that the vast majority of women in this country deal with deserves our support not our derision.

So that is my peace, my friend.

Robin Aronson said...

Well this goes right to the whole chicken-egg question. Where do family friendly policies originate? What drives not only their implementation, but a true and robust embrace by the public and private sector? Sure, typically men who have a wife and kids at home haven't had the same kind of choices women do and that makes them less sensitive to the issues women and families face and less innovative in coming up with policies to address those difficulties. I can't speak to the numbers of women with children in government in other industrialized societies--I don't know those figures. I get all that. And still, I don't think motherhood is a top line resume item for a Supreme Court nominee right now. It'd be fantastic, for sure, but, for me, given the make up of the court, recent decisions like the one giving corporations the status of individuals in elections, it's not central. If Beinart's purpose for suggesting it was to spark discussions like this, well, then job well done. Beyond that, we'll see.

Robin Aronson said...

I'd underline that I suggested a woman with kids nominated to the Court wouldn't be a roadmap. Her path would be, obviously, exceptional in many ways, but I'm not sure it would help other women actually get or stay in the work place, at least not in the way Beinart suggests.