Words of Caution for Elena Kagan, There's a Far Touchier Reproductive Issue Than Abortion
Question for you. Today what is the most controversial thing a female candidate can say?
A) I had an extramarital affair.
B) I am gay.
C) I do not want to have children.
Or forget a female candidate. What about the female spouse of a candidate, or a female vying for a major appointment, such as to the Supreme Court? Fifty years after the pill was created to empower women to take their reproductive choice into their own hands, I would argue that the answer is still C.
Before you ask, no I am not basing this theory on any groundbreaking new study on the subject. This is based strictly on anecdotal evidence, including my recent conversations with a variety of women. Not to mention some not so anecdotal evidence, namely the number of children who continue to be born into unloving, unstable and unsupportive homes. But it's also based on the fact that within minutes of Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court being confirmed, a blog post titled, "Elena Kagan sends us on the Way to a Motherless Supreme Court" popped up online, as if her parental status has a single thing to do with her qualifications for the High Court.
For some reason the idea that not all people, including plenty of women, have the desire to become parents, and more specifically, the idea that not all people who can have children, should, remain two of the most taboo things any person, particularly any woman, can say out loud. While endless media coverage has been devoted to the so-called "mommy wars" between working moms and stay at home moms and those who are pro-choice and those who are not, the real gulf, is one so controversial that the media hardly covers it at all: the gulf between those who do not wish to become parents and everyone else who thinks that by shear of virtue of being on this planet and not being a serial killer, you should.
I began thinking about this idea more and more after I mentioned to a well-known editor that I was unsure about whether or not I want to become a mother. I then said, "Although I sometimes get the feeling that even today you're not supposed to tell people that. It's somehow viewed as unladylike." I casually laughed at the silliness of it all. She then replied sympathetically, "Honestly, Keli, you probably should be careful who you say that in front of. There are plenty of people who still react suspiciously to the idea of a woman not being interested in motherhood. It makes them uncomfortable--including many of the so-called open-minded, progressive types in the world of media." (I should add for the record, that she is a fabulous mother herself, and fabulously open-minded about those who may make a different choice.)
But the more I thought of what she said, the more I realized that the few times I have shared this sentiment with others in a social setting (only when asked), the reply has always been some variation of the following, "Oh you'll change your mind. You'd make a terrific mother." I always find this reaction so strange, that people feel compelled by instinct to tell someone whom they don't know all that well--whose temperament they don't know intimately and whose financial situation they don't know at all--that they would make a good parent and should therefore make the decision to become one, in part, based on an acquaintance's input.
When I relayed the conversation with the editor to my own mother (who is another fabulous mom) she shared the story of being in her Home Economics class in high school a few decades ago, during a time when much of the education of young women focused on how to train them to be effective wives and mothers. She told me that when she informed her teacher that she was unsure as to whether or not she would ever become a mom her teacher reacted harshly. "You selfish little thing! How could you not want to open your home to a baby? That's why we're here."