Will Amy Coney Barrett Arise as a Mother?
The Twitter battle over ACB’s work-life balance begs the question: Is it time to stop hiding “mother” from our resume?
In the book of Judges we are introduced to Deborah as the “wife of Lapidot”. Such is Lapidot’s entire role in the story of one of Israel’s most infamous prophetesses who, equal parts mystic and warrior, “arises like a mother” to conquer a foreign army on behalf of her people. We do not know if Deborah is an actual mother, and, if she is, we can only presume Lapidot is hard at work at home tending to the brood. These children (if they did exist) do not figure into Deborah’s story. She is prophetess, warrior, and judge in that order. And shouldn’t that be enough?
A modern feminist’s reading of the Deborah story would more than affirm the ancient Israelite woman’s career-given power. Yet the pantsuit litmus test does not apply evenly across the board. In the case of the latest Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett, feminists can’t make up their mind as to how her motherhood should figure into her professional biography. Coney Barrett is a successful career woman and mother of 7 children who, like any other suburban soccer mom, packed up the minivan with kids and snacks for a Saturday afternoon outing. Only, unlike most mothers, she was driving off to be publicly nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. Therein lies the glitch: it is one thing for a career woman to balance the demands of work and motherhood. But when she’s a public figure having kids — especially more than one or two — it is a whole other thing altogether.
Despite what progressives like to believe we are still a fairly liberal society. Your private life is your business. But, when you walk into the public sphere every single choice you’ve ever made is up for scrutiny. Coney Barrett with her 7 children and active Catholic faith flies in the face of preferred feminist narrative. Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul might have loved her, but Hillary Clinton and her Pantsuit Nation do not approve. No amount of career success can redeem a woman so subjugated by patriarchy that she dared to birth five children, adopt two more and attend a weekly Mass. Who knew Handmaids drove minivans and left their husbands at home to do the diapers and the dishes?
Still, the most intriguing reaction comes from conservative women wondering why no male nominee to the Supreme Court has ever been asked how he balanced work and home life. “How do you manage to work and take care of all of those children?” isn’t a fair question if we’re playing by feminist rules. While this would be a true point if we were playing an honest game, conservative women would be wise to retain the upper hand instead of sinking to their opponents’ dirty level of double standards. Asking a woman how she manages motherhood and career is a necessary question. Not because we need to know the woman’s answer, but because it is a gauge of who we are as a nation. The question itself highlights the fact that motherhood cannot be compartmentalized on a resume, and because it cannot be so easily controlled we are terrified of its power.
It is not the presence nor the absence of Deborah’s children that matter to her biography. In the Biblical account of her life it is observed that the rulers of Israel “ceased …until you did arise, Deborah, that you arose a mother in Israel.” The New Living Translation goes so far as to indicate that the villagers themselves would not fight “…until I Deborah arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.” Deborah did not arise as a prophetess, a judge, or a warrior. It is only when she arose as a mother that the leaders and the people of Israel had the courage to fight.
Motherhood is a role of inexplicable power. It cannot be controlled, although its opponents have tried their hardest to contain it for 60 years with synthetic hormones and suction machines. It cannot be contained by mere promises of the freedom of sexual independence. It cannot be replaced by any paid work; millions of women are not paying tens of thousands of dollars to repeatedly poke themselves with needles in order to get ahead in their careers. Motherhood is the seat of power upon which all women are praised or damned, and once seated there they realize that neither praise nor damnation truly matter. It is motherhood that gives us the ability to rise up in the face of our enemies unfettered. It is motherhood that redefines our understanding of pain and fear, of what we can and cannot control.
The telling image of our culture’s battle with motherhood did not come from the Amy Coney Barrett press conference on Saturday, September 26. Rather, it came from the doors of the Supreme Court. While one young woman lay on her back weeping over the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, four more women, reportedly Amy Coney Barrett supporters, stood with hands on the doors of the Court in prayer. Reducing this to a mere political moment strips it of its message. With RBG gone, feminists lay prostrate, knocked to their backs in mourning, questioning the future of American women. The four women standing in prayer present the answer: It is time for the prophetesses, warriors and judges to arise as the mothers our leaders and our people so desperately need.