Stay-at-home-mom redux. or What? Sexism?

Last year, after my first posts to this blog– I got a bad case of eczema– something I had in babyhood but hadn’t had for a long, long time.  My dermatologist said “who knows why these things surface?”  I think it had to do with fear that rose as I put myself out there.  You are a small and supportive group of readers, but nonetheless, I think i got scared and eczema was what showed.  I want to speak my mind out here in the world; and at the same time there is some terror about being truly visible in any way.

One of the next most terrifying things I have done, other than to begin writing this at all, was to write, a couple of weeks ago, that for now what I am is a stay-at-home-mom.   The feelings that clambered up in me after that post were– well stunning, on the internalized sexism meter.  I felt as though I had written– “Hello world, I am a failure.  I don’t know how to do anything.  I am a trivial, insignificant woman and I don’t earn a paycheck.”  Even though I am exactly the same woman who has done many, many things and is very competent.  I have often known I am very competent at many important things– including paid work and unpaid work and including mother’s work.

But after that post was up, I thought seriously, for the first time, about pulling a post off the blog after it went up.  Hmmm.

Related topic, different setting.  I have a great, close friend, D.– who has been one of my closest friends since our early 20’s.  I have started whole pieces about her, because she figures so prominently in my life and in my heart too.  But for now I will leave it at this.  She is a fiercely competitive, very successful, tough, feminist litigator.  She also loves me deeply and enthusiastically and is deeply loyal to me– and I always know that she loves me.  She loves me for qualities of mine, entirely unrelated to the interests, skills and focus that have made her an excellent litigator.  I’m a heart person for her; a poet, an unwavering safe harbor.

Nonetheless D. and I do lawyerly things together once in a while and she asked me to go with her yesterday to hear oral argument in the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case which was being argued at the United States Supreme Court. (Yes, you can figure out from which city I am writing.)  I’m a lawyer.  I am actually admitted to the Supreme Court Bar though I never have and never will argue before the Supreme Court.  I decided to go–not at all for any networking or future job-finding purpose, but because I am still stunned/outraged by the depth and breadth of sexism and I thought this a pivotal moment, at least in one arena, in our national history on the sexism front.  I thought it would be a good thing to witness.  Also I love an adventure early in the morning with D. and we had to get there and line up early.

As it worked out D. and I stood in line a long time and had long, separate conversations with different people.  A woman who is also (besides D.) a long-time feminist litigator– and a long-time acquaintance of mine– showed up.  I was deep in another conversation– but she slipped in next to us and started talking and eventually she asked me where I’m working these days.  I said “I’m not working right now”.

On a bad day I might have felt embarrassed or depressed, but yesterday the cherry blossoms were out, I’d had an amazing conversation with a Somali cab driver on my way to the Court, and I was feeling good– very good, about my life, my past career as a lawyer, and hopeful about whatever I will do next.  I was happy to be going to the Supreme Court and happy to be coming home again to do writing and mothering things.  Just happy.  I answered enthusiastically that I was doing well, had left a job that had never been good and was not working now while I decide what next.

She said “Oh”.  I can’t capture the tone in a blog.  But it was that kind of “Oh” that revealed that she felt startled, glad she wasn’t me and like she needed to quickly summon some way to act positive, polite.  It was an “Oh” that couldn’t have carried more unspoken meaning than if I had said, “Actually I was recently convicted of a crime of moral turpitude and am leaving directly from this very Court to spend the rest of my days in prison– that’s what I’m up to”.

There was a sad irony getting this “Oh” right there in line to hear a sex discrimination case argued at the Supreme Court, from this woman who has been a fierce and successful fighter for women’s rights.  A woman who, somewhere in her heart of hearts, apparently doesn’t think much of women who do anything other than litigation.  (And, to state the obvious, women who do things other than litigation are– well– almost all women throughout the world.)

was annoyed, but I don’t write this to be snarky to that woman. My point is that internalized oppression sits there– like the unseen roots of some huge tree– just like the sexism that sits there unseen by either Wal-Mart or the Supreme Court, and yet is so obvious.  Stark.

Unfortunately the day got only sadder on the ending-sexism front once I had listened to most of the Justices’ questions (some hostile, some so oblivious I wondered what world they inhabit) of the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case.  But that is a blog post for another more lawyerly day which may or may not ever arrive on this writing, thinking, reading, activist, organizing and mothering blog.

3 responses to “Stay-at-home-mom redux. or What? Sexism?

  1. Oh Laura. What an interesting post. Thank you for writing it. I am very curious about your experience at the supreme court. I am very impressed, too. What an opportunity. What an interesting life you are living. I can also understand the issues involved in telling people you know about what you are doing right now.

  2. We are complex beings. This is why we are interesting (& why I often feel my blog at least goes every which way).

  3. Flora Spiegel

    Right on Laura! I know exactly the tone of ‘Oh…’ you mean — heard it myself *so many* times when I was out of work and am sure I will hear it again if I continue to be a stay-at-home mother. And it was always other professional women I got it from, too, I’m afraid, like they’d suddenly come face to face with their shadow self, a woman who’d chosen a path they’d contemplated and rejected for whatever reasons. It seems crazy that 2 short generations ago caring (for children, for elderly relatives) was considered a decent full-time job for a woman. Because it is. Maybe not for your whole life, but certainly for a few years here and there whenever circumstances demand or allow. I am proud that we are in the same profession right now!

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