Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Career girls

I'm not a lawyer (although I was admitted to law school!), so I'm not qualified to weigh in on the specifics of Elena Kagan's legal talents. But as someone who has done a certain amount of thinking about the structural problems that confront professional women, I find Doctor Cleveland's post on Kagan's alleged careerism--and the "unnaturalness" of her having sacrificed aspects of her personal life in the service of that careerism--to be dead on.

Noting that "one 50-year-old nominee [John Roberts] was presented as brilliant, poised, and prudent while an essentially identical 50-year-old nominee is presented as a repressed, wonkish automaton," Dr. Cleveland concludes that charges of careerism
[are] meant to summon up familiar anti-feminist stereotypes about career women, and about the horrors of sacrificing one's "natural" maternal destiny in order to pursue a professional career. The point of those stereotypes is not to deal with the genuine difficulties facing women who want both motherhood and careers, but to intensify those difficulties, and to make the option of forestalling or foregoing motherhood appear illegitimate. The argument is that women who aren't mothers, and most especially women who aren't mothers because they have been pursuing careers, aren't real women at all. And of course, since they're not real women, they don't know what they really want.

[. . . .] Elena Kagan isn't any more of a careerist or a nerd than John Roberts was. Who could be? And no one imagines Roberts as less authentic or less human, let alone less manly, because he delayed marriage until after he was forty. No one faults a man who postpones starting family life while building his career.
He adds, "To treat the fact that Kagan is single as some inexplicable oddity, which must be hiding a deep personal secret, is to indulge in the luxury of not having to notice certain basic facts."

Word up. Go read the whole thing, and then the follow-up post.

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