Women in the Law

Kagan Didn’t Have ‘Paradoxical Freedom’ Benefiting Ginsburg, O’Connor

Neither Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg nor Sandra Day O’Connor chose between career and children.

O’Connor had three sons and a 56-year marriage before her husband’s death, while Ginsburg had two children and has also been married for 56 years. A New York Times magazine article wonders if the discrimination they faced made motherhood easier.

“Not much was given to or expected of women then, which created a paradoxical freedom,” the story says. “Ginsburg was pregnant with her first child while she was a law student. Because no top-tier law firm would hire O’Connor, she took a series of slower-track jobs, then spent five years as a stay-at-home mother.”

Both O’Connor and Ginsburg were trailblazers who helped make the way for lawyers like Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the story says.

“But as women’s paths ascended, they also narrowed,” according to the Times. “Expectation brings obligation, and Sotomayor and Kagan were of the generation facing new tradeoffs. Pursue the career and sacrifice the family. Have the family and ratchet back the career. True, the stigma of not marrying or having children waned for this younger generation, making it more of a deliberate choice for some. But still, roads had to be chosen. There would be no taking five years off to stay home with your children if you hoped for a seat on the Supreme Court.”

The story cites a poll of “high-achieving women” taken in 2000. One-third of these women were childless at the age of 40; the childless statistic rose to 49 percent for those earning $100,000 or more at that age.

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