Motherhood a Prerequisite for Justice-hood? Please!

On President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan–First let me say that if our society truly believed that parenthood was an OPTION in life the ludicrous discussion out there of late would not need to occur…Mothers and fathers wishing Kagan was a mother (to show daughters you can have it all) sends the “wrong message about our society, our natalist ideals, about our gendered expectations. Kagan is a wildly successful woman who is also childfree, and…sends a difficult if honest message. Sometimes, we can’t have everything we want. And sometimes, we don’t want the “everything” other people prescribe.”

Not Washington Post writer Richard Cohen’s take at all. In his piece, “Elena Kagan Does Fear Locusts” he says knowing Kagan’s sexual orientation would be interesting (others are arguing about whether it is better to call her single or unmarried–!), but what we really need to be concerned about is that she is not a mother.  He talks about how mothers experience a loss of control, they are humble and have empathy– all of these things Kagan must NOT have because she is not a mother.  First insult — oh I see — non -parents can’t possible have these qualities.  Next, to ludicrousness: since when are these things part of the screening process? Do we ask ourselves “Is he a father?” when it comes to male Supreme Court nominations and wonder if he is right for the job if he isn’t? Shouldn’t their legal qualifications be the focus, not whether they chose one life experience over another?  Cohen’s remarks reflect pronatalism at its height–trying to take it all the way to the highest legal chamber in our country.

NY Times journalist Lisa Belkin takes another view that is less annoying but also comes from a natalist position.  Her bottom line is “it is still harder for mothers to reach the top.” I say it is still hard for ANY woman to reach the top.  First and foremost, we need more women, mother or not, to make it to high level public and private sector positions in our country. Our Congress has more women than ever before, but the numbers still aren’t great. The current Congress has 76 women out of 435 serving the U.S. House and 17 out of 100 in the U.S. Senate.  And we are not alone–the UK has the same issue when it comes to women leaders.

The kid and career dilemma is only one aspect of why we don’t see more women in higher positions. According to recent research by Pew Research Center, Americans believe women have what it takes to be political leaders–69% of those surveyed say men and women make equally good leaders.

From the report:
“The paradox embedded in these survey findings is part of a wider paradox in modern society on the subject of gender and leadership. In an era when women have made sweeping strides in educational attainment and workforce participation, relatively few have made the journey all the way to the highest levels of political or corporate leadership.

Why not? In the survey, the public cites gender discrimination, resistance to change, and a self-serving “old boys club” as reasons for the relative scarcity of women at the top. In smaller numbers, respondents say that women’s family responsibilities and their shortage of experience hold them back from the upper ranks of politics and business.

What the public does not say is that women inherently lack what it takes to be leaders. To the contrary, on seven of eight leadership traits measured in this survey, the public rates women either better than or equal to men.”

But when asked specifically what accounts for a slow movement toward gender parity in top political positions, about half of all surveyed said a major reason is that Americans simply aren’t ready to elect a woman to office. The report indicates that more than four-in-ten (43%) say a major reason is that women who are active in politics are held back by men, and 38% say a major reason is that women are discriminated against in all realms of society, and politics is no exception.

But some say we still need to show young women that you can “have it all” on the kid and career front.  Holly Robinson’s in her piece on the Huffington Post seems to have perspective. She say, “The way our society is currently structured, with so little parental leave and no subsidized child care, and very little support in the home by relatives, women can’t have it all. Neither can men. All we can do is make our best choices, sacrifice what we must, and hope that we’re doing the right thing for ourselves and for the people who depend on us. That’s the answer I’ll give my daughters.”

Interviewing and tracking the childfree singles and couples for about ten years now, I have often felt that it is gaining a bit more acceptance with each generation. But the response to Kagan’s nomination stops me in my tracks, and tells me we have a long way to go. I continue to think it starts and ends with chipping away at natalistic values that keep kids and their parents at the center of the universe.

Weigh in, please!

3 thoughts on “Motherhood a Prerequisite for Justice-hood? Please!

  1. I don’t see why Kagan’s being childfree is a big deal, either. It was only one year ago that we had another never-married, childfree woman nominated and confirmed (Justice Sonia Sotomayor) to the U.S. Supreme Court. And she replaced a never-married, childfree man (Justice David Souter) on the High Court. Souter’s childfree status was hardly, if ever, mentioned 10 years ago.

    1. Yes, why wasn’t Sotomayer dissected for her never-married, childfree status I wonder…re Souter, the guys get off easier until they have affairs…~L

  2. I have come to absolutely abhor the phrase “have it all”. My supervisor (also a mom) recently said this about women who have a career AND have children, that they “have it all.” To which I (a single woman who doesn’t want children) responded “having it all means something different to everyone.” Ahhh, the backpeddle ensued! She tried to save herself by saying something like “of course … you’re right!” For me, if I have it all, then what else in life is there to aspire to? Honestly, I hope I die NOT having it all for I want to continually learn, grow, see and do new things. There’s too much to accomplish in a lifetime! It’s way too easy to just pop out a kid and claim you have it all! There’s nothing hard about that!

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