According to a recent NY Times article, the labor market is difficult for mothers. The latest proof? The last three male nominees to the Supreme Court have been married, with children. The most recent three women, on the other hand, are single and do not have children. Conclusion? It’s really hard for women to make it to the top if they have kids. Is that a Pulitzer I smell, or is it the heady mixture of Old Spice and Coors Light at writer David Leonhardt’s self-congratulation for sensitivity party?
Leonhardt has not been the first to note that these women are single. For Elena Kagan, this fact plus a photo of her playing softball spread speculation that she is a lesbian. When considering both nominations, many agreed that a woman without children didn’t have the authentic (impossible) work experience that a real “working mom” has.
Several writers even lamented that Kagan was not a “mom,” so that young women could have a role model of a woman justice who made it even with family obligations to juggle. One writer went so far as to claim that the Court needs a mother because:
If Ginsburg is the next justice to step down, the court could be transformed into a body with no mothers -- otherwise known as people who know what it's like to come home from work and spend a night picking lice out of a kid's hair.
Thank you, Ann Gerhart, for explaining what a mother is. Your definition would just as easily apply to a chimp. Couldn’t it also apply to a father? Apparently not.
NYT contributor Leonhardt wrinkles his brow disapprovingly at the problems facing mothers today, and supports a progressive agenda designed to address it: preschool; paid leave; more options for flexible or reduced work schedules. How, Mr, Leonhardt, do you propose to create a part-time job that puts a mother on a path to the Supreme Court?
Two common threads run across all of these laudable policy ideas. First, they involve government or business assuming some of the burden that women disproportionately bear. Second, they require no changes of roles and expectations within families. The writer laments that with strained budgets, the government is unlikely to provide much help right now but doesn’t even explore whether men can afford to step in. Chief Justice John G. Roberts is among the most admired attorneys ever to take the bench. Surely he could learn to pick lice out of a kid’s hair.
The article flirts with involving fathers in our quest for a Supreme Court “mom.”
The best hope for making progress against today’s gender inequality probably involves some combination of legal and cultural changes, which happens to be the same combination that beat back the old sexism. We’ll have to get beyond the Mommy Wars and instead create rewarding career paths even for parents — fathers, too — who take months or years off. We’ll have to get more creative about part-time and flexible work, too.
But alas, dad must only step in once others have crafted a rewarding path for him. Lice-picker-in-chief, a career path that is available now and is held by millions of women, is not such a path.
I have been watching this storyline unfold with incredulity and, increasingly, with rage. I reject the notion that I am a louse picker, and will not accept that I and other women will be labeled as such until our nation pulls together the money to help out. Having worked in politics for much of my career, I am not hopeful that these policy changes will come in time for my daughter to become a Supreme Court justice with three louse-prone children. Nor am I confident that they would be enough; you can’t be Solicitor General part-time.
We need to change private policy. While we still have a “mommy track,” more daddies have to take it. Step up boys. Couples, avoid the default path of the wife doing 70% or more of the work. If we must have breadwinner tracks and “rewarding” (but not Supreme Court-bound) part-time tracks, let’s put an equal number of pink and blue trains on them. I predict that even before we achieve much-needed legal changes, workplaces would begin to see men and woman as more equal, and even view balance as the default mode.
Public policy must change. For millions of single parents, an in-house shift is not feasible. We can, however, change the lopsided burdens placed upon men and women in our society, starting now. That’s not only a woman’s work.