Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Elena Kagan, childlessness and the U.S. Supreme Court

Confirmation hearings began this week for U.S. President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. Her political & philosophical views completely aside, there's been a lot of buzz speculating about Kagan's sexual orientation -- after all, she's over 50, she's never been married, she has short hair AND she plays softball!! (gasp!!)

Also mentioned, but not to the same extent, is the fact that Kagan doesn't have children. I actually read several articles & blog posts when her nomination was first announced, mourning the fact that President Obama had overlooked other well-qualified women candidates who, unlike Kagan, were moms, and how, should Kagan be confirmed, two of the three women on the Supreme Court would be childless. "Put a Mom on the Court," one headline read. "Elena Kagan sends us on the way to a motherless Supreme Court," reads another. (Hint: the author doesn't think that's a good thing.) (Curiously, the writers of both these articles are men.)

There's more. Just Google "Elena Kagan childless" & start reading.

I'm somewhat sympathetic to the argument that American women desperately need role models who have managed to rise to the top while also having a family. At the same time, reading stuff like:
"To me, if a woman doesn’t have a child, she has only an abstract ability to pass judgment on issues where motherhood is concerned."
sets my teeth on edge. I would submit that parents pass many, many judgments on behalf of people without children that don't necessarily serve our needs very well -- and yet nobody seems to question their ability to speak for us.



  1. Geez, is it wrong to want her to be a lesbian? Please let her be a confirmed lesbian supreme court justice. As a parent and an American, I don't think it makes a lick of difference if she is a parent, or a lesbian. It angers me with the heat of ten thousand suns to read that quote considering how many disproportionately straight white men have served without a second thought to their abstract ability to pass judgments on matter of race, sexual orientation and gender, as well as the childless.

  2. "I would submit that parents pass many, many judgments on behalf of people without children that don't necessarily serve our needs very well -- and yet nobody seems to question their ability to speak for us."

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

    I do think it's true that people who have never parented a child don't have as keen an understanding of the day-to-day challenges of parenting (of course they don't), but I can't fathom that lacking this practical experience makes one totally unqualified to pass judgment on issues where motherhood is concerned.

    I've been chastised in the past for having an opinion on parenting without any experience to back it up. Never mind that I have eyes, ears, common sense, a modicum of intelligence, and my own ideas on how I would have parented (which I DID give just a little bit of thought to while I was pregnant). All that, apparently, doesn't count for anything.

    But then what do I know? I'm just a bitter Canadian girl with a busted uterus.

  3. How anyone could think that parental status -- for women nominees only -- should be a deciding factor in a nomination is beyond me. I think this mindset comes from the old belief that mothers are inherently selfless and altruistic (far from it, IMO) and easily swayed by emotional appeals, which should definitely not be a requirement for a Supreme Court justice! (I'm pretty sure this mindset is an anti-abortion rights one, as well, as abortion is the most significant "motherhood" issue.)

    I also think that any harping on Kagan's childless status is a way to call attention to her appearance and subtly question her sexual orientation: the construct is that motherhood is feminine and feminizing, childlessness is not.

    I can point to a few political issues in which I'm a little more interested since I & N were born, and only one in which I'm an absolute mama bear, totally protective of their interests.

  4. Seriously? Someone actually said that? ARRRRGGGHHHggghhh!

  5. have you read this:
    About this very topic!

  6. @ Quiet Dreams: No, I hadn't! Thanks!

  7. There are so many ways this is so wrong. I'm an indignant, seething and spiting mess whenever this sort of questioning comes up.

  8. Such an insightful post. I read this quote from a related article:

    "After all, before Sotomayor's appointment to the court, there were six justices in the court's history who were unmarried and had no children — all of whom were men."

    So much for equality.