“A surprising percentage of women nominated to top government jobs have no children,” stated a recent Daily Beast story by Peter Beinart about Elena Kagan’s nomination and the gender make up of the Supreme Court.
That chortle you heard all the way across town was me, laughing out loud. Seriously? How can this possibly be surprising? It’s hard enough to balance a 40-hour-week middle management job with homework, soccer, ballet, piano, swimming, play dates, PTA meetings, birthday parties and getting a healthy meal on the table every once in a while. And these women being considered for the Supreme Court are ultra-achievers who’ve probably never worked a mere 40-hours a week in their lives!
Sometimes in the dead of night when I can’t get to sleep because I’m so overwhelmed by my to do list I console myself by the fact that even Oprah, who’s a rock star in every possible way, doesn’t have any kids to worry about. Neither does Condoleezza Rice or Janet Napolitano. And somehow–seriously–knowing that Martha Stewart doesn’t have kids or a husband at home makes me feel just a little bit better about the crazy high wire juggling act that my life can sometimes become.
The most recent census found that 27 percent of women aged 40 to 44 who have advanced degrees are not mothers. At the top end of the work pyramid, only 23.4 percent of women in the workforce are in executive level positions, yet a recent study commissioned by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress (“A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything“) found that now, for the first time in our nation’s history, women are half of all U.S. workers and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families.
So women are bringing home paychecks, just not big ones.
“About 67 percent of married mothers and 69 percent of mothers without a spouse today are employed outside the home. More women become the primary breadwinners for their families, yet they still earn less than their male counterparts. About 67 percent of workers paid at or below the minimum wage are women,” according to Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor Hilda Solis, another contributor to the Shriver study.
In 1967 women made up only one-third of all workers, so this is a dramatic change and the workplace itself has yet to adjust to it. Of course this change has also been exacerbated by the goofily named “mancession,” which highlights the face that more men than women have lost their jobs as a result of the recession. Yet, for the most part we’re still working in environments where policies on hours, pay, benefits, and leave time are designed around the outdated model of male breadwinners who have little to no family care-giving responsibilities. This is not the reality today for men or women.
The reality is that the expectations placed on highly ambitious professionals and on mothers are both so demanding that it’s incredibly difficult for women to have it all.
So, sure, it would be great to have another mom on the Supreme Court so that she could have play dates with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s kids. The kids could go arbitrate playground disputes or smack each other with gavels. But can we really be surprised if the next woman on the Supreme Court is not a mom?