Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Women On the Supreme Court Used to Have More of "It All"

Sylvia Ann Hewlett has documented the difficulties that very high achieving women have in "having it all" - marriage, children, and high-powered career. Hewlett's main finding is that women who do have it all are likely to have married young and traded off career steps with their husbands. However, there has been a paradoxical effect of opening more opportunities in public life to women since the 1970s. Women who seek the top careers are likely to put off marriage and children in favor of launching their careers first - and later run out of time.

Mrs. G. asks us to consider the case of women on the Supreme Court:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg married in 1954 and has two children with well established careers.

Sandra Day O’Connor married in 1952 and has three sons.

Sonia Sotomayor is divorced without children.

"I think there’s a codicil about women having it all, over a lifetime," she wrote to me. "If they thought in the 1950s that there was no chance of ever hitting the Supremes" they would marry, have kids, and pursue whatever career was open to them. However, "it didn’t work in the '70s and after for women who thought there was a chance of" making the Supreme Court, so they "gave up other things to go for the gold."


Tami Martin said...

We can have it all, but not at the same time. And sometimes, we really can't have everything. We have to make choices. It's not always fair or equitable but that's life.

pat said...

How selfish women sound wanting to have it all. Men don't have it all. Why does anyone need it all? That is what our culture has become I guess.

VA said...

It's not selfish to want a fulfilling career and a satisfying family life, if that's how we're defining "having it all." Many, many men have both, because their wives are there to take on primary childcare and to support their husbands' careers. (Dr. Weston can give plenty of info on how marriage can help men become high-achieving professionally.) And it is becoming more possible for women, especially as companies recognize the importance of childcare, flexible schedules, etc, for BOTH parents.

I've not heard Sonya Sotomayor express regret about not having children. Perhaps she feels that she does "have it all." Either way, it's great to see another accomplished woman in the corridors of power!

Tami Martin said...

I would define having it all as not having to choose between important aspects of life.

It's rarer and rarer that a woman can choose to only have children. Most have to work. But if one must work, one should seek something they can enjoy or at least find fulfillment in.

Most men, historically, don't have to choose, as VA said. Women, however, do. Children first, then career? Career first then hope there are still a couple of eggs left when I want to have kids? Juggle both? Take less of both?

For good or for bad, we have to make those choices. And from what I've seen in looking at the world around me today, men are making those choices now too. Of course, if you note the rate of reproduction and how it's dropping, it's pretty clear that having kids is NOT what people are choosing.

Gruntled said...

I think as a general rule that both men and women are better off finding their spouses and having kids early, so they can trade off career steps after that. Kids do slow careers, especially for women. I think that has more to do with what women want than with how society limits women.

All that said, I think even now women can marry, have kids, and still make it to the Supreme Court.

Fran said...

Let's get away from men, women, black,white, brown etc. Let's judge by people by their words and behaviour. That's fair isn't it?

Mrs. G said...

In the seventies and eighties, ambitious women thought the smart schedule was to build career first and add children when they'd gotten pretty far up the ladder. The tragedy in Hewlett's research is that female fertility made that very difficult.

For younger women, launching in the 1990s and this decade and the next one, I think it's wise to consider having the kids early and the biggest career push after that.

What I loved noticing was that both Justice/grandmothers actually did things in the order that looks wise today--way back in the 1950s.

Anonymous said...

Children aren't accessories. Are they?