THE BLOG
05/15/2010 05:29 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Now We're Supposed to Fret that She's Not a Mother?

Are you persuaded that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is not gay, and that it should never have mattered anyway? Good, because now we can move on to her next supposed shortcoming.

"The Supreme Court needs more moms," proclaims the headline of Ann Gerhart's story in the Washington Post. I don't mind Gerhart making her case for this cause. We can debate that (though that won't be the main mission here). What I do mind is the way she marshals her arguments. Usually, it is not what she says that's wrong, but what she implies or doesn't say.

Let's start with her bottom line:

"Motherhood offers a one-word verifier. It signals a woman with an intensity of life experiences, jammed with joys and fears, unpredictability and intimacy, all outside the workplace. Much of the time, it's the opposite of being strategic and assiduously prepared."

Maybe so. But I don't like the apparent assumption that women without children do not have "an intensity of life experiences, jammed with joys and fears, unpredictability and intimacy, all outside the workplace" unless they can prove otherwise. By women without children, Gerhart seems to mean single women (as will become clear in the next example).

In her insistence that intense life experiences must happen outside of the workplace in order to count, Gerhart is perpetuating the work vs. life dichotomy that is so commonplace (as illustrated, for example, in the Shriver Report). Why not value work experiences that are so engaging that they, too, offer intensity and unpredictability?

Also, why frame careful preparation as a bad thing, and (if you are advocating for mothers) as something that "much of the time" is not characteristic of mothers?

Now check this out. Referring to mothers who have served on the Supreme Court, Gerhart says:

"Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the bench in 1981 and 1993, respectively, benefited from high-achieving husbands who held the Bible for them as they were sworn in, supported their aspirations and sacrificed for their careers."

True, O'Connor and Ginsburg are mothers, but having a husband is not part of the definition of motherhood. At least 9.9 million women are single mothers (a number that's been increasing).

Also, I think a woman needs a husband to hold the Bible like a fish needs a bicycle.

Gerhart leaves the impression that having a husband is solely a plus. When Sandra Day O'Connor stepped down from the Court to care for her ailing husband, I wished she were single so she would have served longer. With apologies to my Italian compadres, I'd prefer a Court with more O'Connor's and fewer Alito's. It's a preference that has nothing to do with ethnicity.

Here's a stereotype that readers may find all too familiar:

"In saying he wants justices who have 'heart' and 'empathy,' and who understand 'how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives,' Obama has invited us to ask who has a life outside work and who doesn't."

Guess whom Gerhart sees as not having a life?

(Do you think that Dahlia Lithwick and Hanna Rosin were floating the same [continue reading here])