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

Smarty Pants.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

DC is buzzing about Elena Kagan, President Obama’s latest Supreme Court nominee, whose confirmation hearings begin in June. Senators, opinionistas and media makers have all weighed in on whether Kagan, our country’s solicitor general and former dean of Harvard Law School, will make a worthy Supreme Court justice when she’s never actually been a judge.

 

What’s generated the most surreptitious buzz, however, is the question of whether the never-married, non-mom Kagan can fairly represent the interests of American women when she’s never had the experiences of being a wife or mother – plus some snarky speculation about why she’s not been married in the first place.

 

Predictably, there have been cries of bias and prejudice and double standards for women. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus dug deeper with “She’s not gay, okay?” in "A Smart Woman With Fewer Choices [1]." “The brutal fact is that a never-married woman tends to not have the same array of choices” as a never-married man in his 40s or 50s, Marcus went on to explain, veering perilously close to Newsweek’s 1986 erroneous claim [2] that educated women over 40 had better chances of being killed by a terrorist than finding a man to marry. In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd [3] deftly shot down the ridiculous debate over Kagan’s personal life: “It’s inexplicable, given that this should be Kagan’s hour of triumph as potentially only the fourth woman ever to serve on the highest court.”

 

Like Dowd, I’ve got the feeling that Elena Kagan has solved bigger problems than finding a man. But this public riot about the challenges facing smart, single women brings up what I observe to be a bigger problem for successful unmarried gals -- finding FEMALE friends who are not intimidated by their success or suspicious of their unmarried status. The bias against brainy, independent women comes from America’s entire society, not just men on Match.com.

I know driven, competitive women pressured to tone down their success when it comes to finding female friends, especially amidst moms who’ve made the choice to scale back on careers to raise children. The very accomplishments that make single men a catch label a woman a sexual suspect, one of those women who “put work first.” I myself have heard many ambiguous comments from nonworking moms about what a rush I’m in all the time, or how long it’s been since they’ve had to wear pantyhose or travel for business. Ostracism by women – the sisterhood most of us have rely upon and feared since kindergarten - cuts far deeper than rejection by romantic prospects, especially as one grows older.

 

Instead of appreciating the value of different choices, why do we sometimes turn on women who’ve embraced different work/children priorities? Here’s my diatribe from the Mommy Wars [4] introduction:

 

Working moms might conceivably be grateful to moms who stay home and run our schools, our communities, a good chunk of our kids’ worlds. And stay-at-homes might arguably appreciate the working moms staying late to get the big promotions, fighting to increase women’s presence on company boards and the front page of The Wall Street Journal, campaigning to win elections. Without the money, the power, and the loudspeaker successful careers bring, women will never have the collecting bargaining power to make the world better for ourselves, our children, and all the women who can’t leave abusive husbands, the ones who wear veils, the moms who earn less than minimum wage cleaning houses and don’t have choices about birth control or prenatal care or any other kind of care.

 

Forget about men. Until WOMEN can accept the full range of other women’s choices, tensions between working moms, stay-at-home moms, and unmarried or childless women will thrive – needlessly and self-destructively. Women like Elena Kagan, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Shapiro and Carly Fiorina constitute the war heroes among us, platoon leaders in the war for equal rights, equal pay and a society that respects women’s choices, even when these choices include not having children and not getting married. These women have put work first. That’s not a dirty phrase. Because in doing so, they’ve put all of us first. In return, the last worry on these women’s minds should be acceptance and support from other women. These women make enormous sacrifices – giving up experiences that many of us would never, could never forgo – so that the rest of us don’t have to.


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