Tuesday, June 29, 2010

unmarried without children: qualified for the job?

President Obama has chosen Elena Kagan to become our next Supreme Court Justice. As she is going through Senate Hearings, her political career and personal life are, understandably so, under the magnifying glass. One of the areas of focus on the media has been the fact that Elena Kagan is not married and does not have children. Some wonder if she can bring a true woman's perspective to the table if she has not experienced marriage or motherhood.

In our nation's history, only 3 out of 110 Supreme Court Justices have been women. This short list includes Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and recently appointed Sonya Sotomayor. While justices O'Connor and Ginsburg were appointed while married with children, their children were already grown. Sonya Sotomayor is divorced and does not have children.

The question of whether a person who has not been married or had children can do a good job as a Supreme Court Justice is not what I am pondering today. The spotlight on Elena Kagan is highlighting how career and motherhood can collide, especially in high-powered, very demanding careers. Patricia Millet, a frequent advocate before the Supreme Court, refers to it as an inhuman juggling act saying "At least once a week, I do come pretty close to saying 'I just have to give up. I can't keep this going.'"

The question of whether a working mother can have it all is not new. I don't doubt that a married woman with small children can excell at such a high-powered job, but I do wonder if she can do so and sustain a reasonable quality of life. Does a woman need to postpone having children, wait until they are grown, or not have them at all to make it to the top?

What do you think?


  1. Tough question, so I think I can only answer for myself and the kind of personality I have. I would not be able to do it, I would have endless amount of guilt and be unhappy about leaving the care of my family to someone else. But, everyone is different and excel in different ways...so I guess it is possible depending on the woman. Great question.

  2. I know what you mean, Melissa. Ultimately it is up to us and what makes us happy. I remember seeing a rare instance when Barbara Walters was interviewed and she talked about how it worked for her at the time, but that it did not work for her young daughter so they had a lot of conflict during those years. I do think that, as dads step in more, women are able to have more peace of mind. Just like Michelle Obama decided to dedicate herself to her daughters during her husband's presidency, knowing fully well that he'd be incredibly busy, so could a husband of a very busy woman. Definitely a tough question no matter the circumstances.

  3. It just seems like women get much more attention from the media on this topic. There have been 6 men in the Supreme Court Justice who were unmarried and did not have children. I wonder if they received as many criticisms? I do understand, however, that some women may want someone like them representing them "we finally get another woman, let's make sure she represents the majority of us"... The way I see it, I think she'll do a good job.