Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are examples of female lawyers who have it all: success in both their personal and professional lives. They both reached the pinnacle of the legal profession — a seat on the Supreme Court — but also raised families, blessing the world with judicial opinions galore, children, and grandchildren. They had time for dicta and… Well, you get the picture.
What about the most recent two females anointed with the holy SCOTUS water: Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor? They both have incredible résumés, which helped get them to One First Street, but neither one had a family to move down to D.C. with them.
On the other hand, the most recent male nominees to the Court, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, are both married with children. They did not have to sacrifice family for profession. (Of course, that’s assuming you see “no children or significant other” as a “sacrifice.”)
Some studies have shown marriage is advantageous for men, but disadvantageous for women. Single women often make more than single men. An old article from Forbes points out:
Without husbands, women have to focus on earning more. They work longer hours, they’re willing to relocate and they’re more likely to choose higher-paying fields like technology. Without children, men have more liberty to earn less–that is, they are free to pursue more fulfilling and less lucrative careers, like writing or art or teaching social studies.
It is next to impossible to balance a full-time legal career with marriage, children and regular trips to the gym. It’s no coincidence that the two women most recently nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court — now-Justice Sonia Sotomayor and nominee/U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan — are unmarried and childless.
Can women not have it all? Elie — married and male — and Kash — single and female — opine and offer a poll, after the jump.
ELIE: We are a society obsessed with unattainable ideals: D-cups on size 2 women, alpha males with a sensitive side, environmentally-conscious SUVs, light beer. The modern desire to “have it all” is just another outgrowth of our childlike need to live in a world without consequences.
That world doesn’t exist. There are always consequences. The best one can hope for is to choose the version of unfulfilled sadness that suits them best. The people who prance around claiming that they are getting everything they want out of life are either wildly self-delusional or are some “low-expectation-having-mutherf*****s,” to quote Chris Rock.
Can you have a thriving Biglaw practice and a family? Sure. So long as you pay or bone somebody else to take care of that family. Somewhere north of, say, 2,400 hours a year, your domestic life just breaks the hell down, unless you have somebody else whose primary job is to run it for you. While you can technically have a family at those hours, you can hardly call yourself an active participant in your domestic bliss.
I love it when male partners say to me “yada yada, I bill 3,000 a year, here take a look at my
cock book of business, but I still am able to make many of my son’s baseball games.” Oh really, I’m sure all that absentee fatherism is made up for because you sit in the bleechers checking your BlackBerry. Lemme ask: is your kid even good at baseball? Does he like it? Is he floundering around, buried in left field, because from the ages of six to 13 you spent approximately two hours in total shagging fly balls with him?
At least Biglaw men only feel the need to pay passing lip service to their domestic bona fides. “I work so my family has a house, food, and a college education fund” is still pretty much all we ask of fathers in our society.
Biglaw women are more screwed because society expects more from mothers than “I pay the bills.” It’s BS, but it is where we still are. So on top of paying all the bills (to say nothing of actually carrying a child to term — you know, something that might get you laid off from K&L Gates), Biglaw women are also expected to invest the emotional and caretaking energy a family needs.
Which is impossible to do while billing the hours Biglaw requires. Not difficult, not challenging, it’s straight-up impossible. Biglaw women can break themselves in two and put on a cosmetically enhanced face and claim that they have the perfect job and family and life, but the only people stupid enough to buy it are younger women who want to be in Biglaw and aren’t yet able to deal with the fact that their career choices will have consequences in other areas of their lives.
Unless you were born into comfortable wealth, or born too stupid to ever really make something of yourself, you’re going to be dealing with a series of painful trade-offs until the merciful end.
People who say they have it all don’t really have it all — they’re just using a decision matrix for choosing between bad options that works for them. I quit my Biglaw job because I care about what I’m doing more than how much I get paid to do it. That’s not a right choice (I really like money), or a wrong choice (but not that much, damn). It’s just a choice. Someday I could write a million-dollar book and trick my wife into bearing me children; would I have it all then? No. I’d be old and have impudent street urchins running around my house, taking my hard won money and ruining my ability to peacefully enjoy my career success. And I bet it’d be a lot harder to write the second million-dollar book when my train of thought gets broken because my four-year-old was too stupid to keep her head away from an open flame.
Excuse me, some kids just hit a baseball into my yard, and I have to go terrorize them since their parents are at work and clearly too busy to keep their children under control.
KASH: Well, if you don’t have it all, I do hope you have a lot of time this evening, since Elie’s harangue on “having it all” was longer than the list of single Biglaw females in NYC.
At an awards ceremony for female lawyers in Chicago last month, a bunch of very impressive women took home awards for their career success, and had partners and children to thank in their speeches, suggesting you can have it all (in the Midwest). But that’s anecdotal evidence, as is the trend suggested by the most recent nominations to the Supreme Court.
It’s hard to look past anecdotes, though. When women’s groups measure female success, it’s usually by the number of women in partnership and judicial positions, salary comparisons with men, and their educational attainments. There’s not really a number for: “Did you want to have kids and a romantic partner, and has that worked out for you?” Rating “work/life balance” on a scale of 1 to 10 doesn’t capture that dynamic either.
Ann Gerhart rounded up some pretty damning statistics for her Washington Post piece on the inability for women to be both successful and fertile in the legal profession. A brief excerpt regarding the larger world of women:
The fertility rate for American women, when broken down according to education, is lowest for those with post-graduate degrees and highest for those with no high school diploma. And in a 2003 international survey of 100 men and 100 women in top jobs at 10 major U.S.-based corporations, 74 percent of female executives had a spouse or partner who was employed full time; among men, 75 percent had a spouse or partner who was not employed at all.
(President Elie Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho here: yes we saw Idiocracy and know of our bleak future.)
The fertility rate for men does not follow the same patterns.
It’s hard being an ambitious woman. You do have to make sacrifices: stay at the office until midnight working on a memo for a partner or go bar-hopping with your friends? Men have to make the same decisions, and the plight of being a single man is certainly sympathetic as well. But men can start families later than women can thanks to biological differences, so the years in which you have to work hard to pave the way for a life of success — your 20s and early 30s — are of greater value lost for women. And while men become more desirable with advanced years, women become less so, thanks to our superficial society. Yeah, I don’t really buy the premise of Cougar Town.
Oh wait. Am I supposed to be the one making the argument for being able to have it all? Did my married colleague punt that to me: a single woman who has torpedoed a series of relationships in order to achieve the wild success, incredible fame and seven-figure paychecks that come from being a legal blogger?
Well, it’s easier to “have it all” if you don’t live in a city like New York. My understanding is that people don’t spit on you if you leave work at 6 p.m. in other places around the country.
Beyond that, you just have to make a really deliberate effort to seek balance. If professional women do long for family and an impressive job title, they have to be as serious about seeking a mate and making time for family as they are about climbing the ladder at work. Being able to afford great child care helps a lot.
There are some serious challenges — one of which is the societal perception that women who are serious about their careers are even more serious about taking their birth control religiously.
Readers, what do you think? Can women have it all? If you’re a woman who does have it all, perhaps you can make a better argument than I have.
Click here to see the poll results.
Four Things Every Recent Female Law Grad Needs to Learn [Texas Lawyer]
The Supreme Court needs more mothers [Washington Post]