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1/19/2007
The Ultimate Girls' Club
Did you catch Diane Sawyer's interview with all 16 of our country's female senators? If not, you can find it here. Part I aired on Wednesday and dealt mainly with the reaction of the senators to Barak Obama's recent announcement and a discussion about whether more women in power would mean fewer wars. (I only found it notable because Diane Sawyer asked Hillary Clinton what she thought of the announcement. I'll let you watch it to see what Senator Clinton said but, no, it's not earth shattering.) Part II aired on Thursday morning and I caught it on my trusty Tivo.

Everything I've read about the interview has focused on the women/fewer wars discussion, but I found the second part of the interview, titled Power Women and Balance, more intriguing. Diane Sawyer asked the senators for their thoughts on everything from family to the differences between men and women. I loved it when Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) told us that the morning before her first floor speech she rehearsed while she made her daughter's peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. I loved it even more when one of the senators admitted that she is addicted to Project Runway. But what really struck me was the response to Ms. Sawyer's question about whether or not it is possible for powerful women to "have it all"? The uniform message of every senator was that it is possible to be a powerful woman and have a family. Clearly, there are limitations. For instance, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) pointed out that women and men need support at home to do both jobs well. A response from Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also gave me pause. She told Ms. Sawyer "You can't have it all," but then went on to say, "but you can be a mom and a senator." The aired portion of the interview didn't expand on Senator Murkowski's remarks, but I'd like to think that she was trying to remind us that we don't have to "have it all." We can't all be perfect mothers, work 80 hours a week, bake cakes, and shuttle our children to every activity known to mankind. But women can hold powerful positions and be good mothers at the same time.

I realize that not all of us are like those 16 amazing women, but I loved hearing what they had to say and I loved hearing their message about work and family. (And, yes, I'm about to start talking about a relatively privileged set of well educated women who have the luxury to "choose" whether or not to work. So sue me. I write about what I know.) All too often, I hear young women lawyers around me worrying about how on earth they will ever be able to have families. Already many of the women in my law school graduating class have dropped out of the legal world. Some of them wanted to be stay at home mothers but some of them weren't left with many options. When you work for a large firm that expects in excess of 2000 billable hours a year (more if you want to make partner) and expects you to be available on a whim 24/7, working part-time isn't really an option and working full time means never tucking your children into bed at night. But not all firms are like that. Mine certainly isn't and in fact prides itself on keeping its lawyers fat, balanced, and happy. (Well, maybe not the fat part but you know what I mean!) The powers that be at The Firm (my firm) understand that lawyers who have time for life are better lawyers and that it is in The Firm's best interest to keep its women from becoming part of the "opt out revolution." Being a lawyer and being a working mom doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition.

The senators probably aren't the best examples of "balance" but they, and other powerful women like them, are part of a changing force in this country. If we want family friendly policies, part-time work options, flexible schedules, and a change in social attitudes that will make working and having a family easier, having high profile Senator moms pushing for them can't hurt. Now I'm not saying that all women must stay in the work force, family or not, and blaze a trail for future generations. Part of the feminist movement was about choice, wasn't it? But only when changing social attitudes push more and more employers down the family friendly trail will women truly have a "choice" about whether to work or not. I'm just happy to hear that the new Girls' Club agrees that the roles of mom and corporate/legal/medical/(insert profession here) maven are not incompatible.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Meena said...

I enjoyed reading your post on "On Balance." I hadn't read it before. I related to it very much (as I am also a lawyer and work full time), although I'm not sure my working is as much a choice as necessity, but anyway...

I didn't catch that interview, but find the substance (about balance) very fascinating. I think the "having it all" discussion is interesting b/c apparently there is some one-size-fits-all ideal of what "having it all" is. I think having it all can mean different things to different people. Sometimes, I feel like I'm close to having it all, but others more successful in their careers may laugh at my assessment. I will never be a partner (doesn't really happen in government practice - :-), I don't know when I'll ever make over 100K, but my job suits me well! Anyway, I think rather than comparing ouselves to the ideal of what having it all means - perhaps we should just look at what WE want, what makes us and our families happy and thrive and let it be.

I am certainly in favor of businesses and government becoming more family-friendly. Hopefully those women will help us arrive there some day!

Blogger bubandpie said...

This post, like Mimi's recent post about her job, highlights the power we have to demand changes in the workplace. Whether by opting out or by finding a family-friendly workplace, women are putting pressure on employers and driving change.

I enjoyed both of your links, and the only thing I would add is that what we want and need in addition to work-life balance for ourselves is a partner who also has that balance. When my husband was interviewed for the articling position he has right now, the interviewer told him that in 30 years, he can count on one hand the times he's stayed at the office later than 6 pm. That's small-town law for you!

If men and women both refuse to accept 70-hour-workweeks, there will be change and there will be equity, both at home and in the workplace.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

I completely agree with you B&P! I couldn't do it if my husband didn't have a reasonable employer too.

Blogger PunditMom said...

LawyerMama, I hadn't had a chance to catch the interview yet and definitely will do that.

I agree with bubandpie -- nothing is going to really change for working women until working men demand the same things. It shouldn't be that way, but unfortunately that's the reality.

Blogger ewe are here said...

I wished they'd run the interview over here; I'd be interested in watching it.

When I graduated from law school a little over ten years ago (Bay Area), wanting more out of life than 200+ billable hours a year was one of the reasons I refused to look at the big law firms. Just.couldn't.do.it. I wasn't even married and kids weren't on the horizon, but I knew I wanted more than that. And I'm glad I didn't go that route.

I do find myself wishing more men would get asked these questions about having it all, etc. I feel like the media does too good a job reinforcing the view that these are primarily issues for working moms, not working dads, by always asking women these questions and not men. Kind of like reporting on what the 'powerful woman' wore at her newsconference when they should be focusing on the substance of what was said.

Rambling a bit, I know. Sorry, a bit tired. But I really liked your post and recap of the show. I'll look for it on the web.

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