Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

The Maternal Wall.

by Meredith O'Brien


When CBS’ The Good Wife [1] commenced its first season this fall, it began with Alicia Florrick -- who’d left the legal profession for more than a decade in order to raise her two children and support her husband Peter’s political career -- being compelled to return to the work force. Her husband had resigned his state’s attorney post in disgrace and was in jail on corruption charges. She’d had to sell their home in the suburbs and move to an apartment in the city where her mother-in-law was helping her look after the children.


After enduring a series of put-downs about her decision to leave the workforce, Alicia was offered a temporary position at law school buddy Will Gardner’s law firm. But there was a catch. The firm only had room to hire one full-time junior associate, so Alicia would have to compete against a cut-throat, unattached, fresh-from-law-school twentysomething named Cary for the open spot.


For the entire season, Alicia has had to grapple with her husband’s legal woes (he was in jail then released under house arrest), the fall-out and humiliation stemming from Peter’s now-public infidelities (including some taped interludes which were on YouTube), her teenaged children’s issues with the tumult in their lives and her former friends giving her the cold shoulder because of her husband’s misdeeds, all while proving herself to be a smart, capable and talented attorney to her superiors. She had to work extra hard to prove to that, despite her temporary career detour, she was committed to the firm.


In a recent episode, the firm’s partners finally had to choose between the smarmy Cary and Alicia. Will, Alicia’s college friend and someone who’s had a romantic interest in her, said that when he and the other firm’s partner, Diane Lockhart, would decide who’d get the junior associate position, “You have my word, when we decide, nothing else will enter the picture other than your work.”


Well, that wasn’t entirely the case, as evidenced by this exchange between Alicia and Diane, who’s not married and has no children (but then again, Will’s unmarried and has no kids either):

Diane: You’ve more than proved yourself, but we’ve never seen an economic climate like this.


Alicia: I’ve second-chaired a lot of winners.


Diane: Yes, and so has Cary, who set higher billable hours, and his receivables are coming in high. And immediate.


Alicia: So, I don’t understand, have I lost?


Diane: It’s not subjective. It’s who keeps the doors open. Cary doesn’t have a family. He’s in here every night at 9, every morning at 8.


Alicia: Then I’ll work harder.


Diane: And so will Cary.


Alicia: I don’t know what to do. I’ve worked hard. You say that’s not enough, so I’ll work harder. You tell me Cary can work harder still. So what do you want? Tell me what you want because I can’t lose this job.


Diane: You’re not Cary. You can never be Cary. But you don’t have to be. . . Your name, your connections, you’ve been reluctant to use them. . . I want you to want the job.

Alicia, with a family relying on her to be the breadwinner, reluctantly found herself heeding Diane’s advice and appealing to her husband’s slippery campaign consultant Eli Gold – who’d been looking to ingratiate himself with Alicia so she’d agree to help with Peter’s campaign to recapture the state’s attorney’s post. Alicia asked Eli if he had any clients who’d be interested in being represented by her law firm, a move she hoped would bolster her chances of getting the junior associate’s position.


The savvy political consultant did Alicia one better and brought his own business to Alicia’s firm just as Will and Diane were making their final hiring decision. “We’ll have to talk about your husband’s campaign,” Eli told her his way out. By calling in this favor, Alicia proved she was willing to use the only card she had which could trump Cary’s I-don’t-have-kids-so-I’m-not-distracted argument: Her political connections.


But had Alicia possessed no political connections, had she not been married to a well known, albeit shamed politician (but scandal hasn’t stopped Eliot Spitzer from appearing on TV, has it?), she likely would’ve been shown the door, penalized for having a family because the young guy against whom she was competing has no life outside of work and no children and for that he’d be rewarded. Washington Post writer Ann Gerhart recently wrote about mothers in the legal field [2] and said that there remains a “maternal wall” which she described as “a persistent set of assumptions that devalue women in the workplace when they have children.” What kind of assumptions? “Once a hard-charging lawyer becomes a mom, she will slack off and put her family first, or her brain just won’t be as sharp anymore,” Gerhart said.


Funny thing though, when it comes to TV dramas, how often is it that we see a father getting passed over for a job because he has a family? If you can think of examples, I’d love to hear ‘em.

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