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Mummy Dearest

The Careerist

July 14, 2016

May-Leadsom-Article-201607121252It's been way too long since I've written about Mommy Wars. Thank goodness our sisters across The Pond are giving me an excuse to wade into one of my favorite subjects.

In case you missed it: Britain, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, is about to get a new prime minister. And two women—energy minister Andrea Leadsom and home secretary Theresa May—emerged as the top contenders.

Women in the lead to run the U.K. is awesome, but then Leadsom tried to get points by playing the mommy card. A mother of three, Leadsom essentially said motherhood makes her the better choice in comparison to May, who's childless. Leadsom told The Times of London:

I am sure [May] will be really sad she doesn't have children so I don't want this to be "Andrea has children, Theresa hasn't" because I think that would be really horrible. But genuinely I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.

There you go: Women who multiply are superior. You can have impressive credentials, fabulous work experience, amazing management skills and the ideal temperament but if you're not a mom, you're not quite the total package.

To call Leadsom's remarks retro and smug would be kind. Thankfully, the reaction to Leadsom's comments was swift and furious. Facing an outpouring of condemnation (even by her conservative colleagues), Leadsom quickly apologized to May and exited the race, citing the destabilizing effect that a drawn-out contest would create. May is expected to become prime minister when David Cameron resigns.

Leadsom’s comments about motherhood were a bid to win points through a tired refrain. The chant goes like this: Moms are more emphatic, more vested, more attuned, more nurturing, more patient—just more. And if you don't believe this, you're probably not a mom. Of course, some of the mom-praise is just a pep rally cry, but there's also the subtext that childless women are unnatural or pitiful.

Take, for instance, the way we tend to scrutinize female leaders. We might praise their professional achievements, but we judge them by what's going in their personal lives. Remember the lament about how two of the three female justices on the Supreme Court are unmarried and childless, and what a sad state of affairs that reflected? Maybe Justices Kagan and Sotomayor's personal lives are off the table now, but I still sense that childless women are viewed as something a bit strange. You see this in law firms where younger women will tell me that they don't regard some of the female partners as role models because they live sad lives without children.

What all this suggests to me is that motherhood still defines women's mission in life—even when the job has nothing to do with being a procreator.

Guess we haven't evolved as much as we fancy.



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Interesting observation - I think you are right. I haven't had children as yet and sometimes get the impression that I'm perceived as not having achieved or succeeded until I know what it's like to have children. Parents no doubt develop skills that childless people do not, however I agree that this fact should not take away from what those people have accomplished. Childless people can still make effective policy decisions that affect families. I think mindsets like this will probably take many generations to really change.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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