Lawyers and chick lit and sperm, oh my!

The Sunday New York Times: Now with more chicks.


Rebecca Traister
March 20, 2006 5:10PM (UTC)

I swear, some weekends the Sunday New York Times feels like reading Broadsheet on newsprint. This was one of those weekends.

First there was the story about why, with law schools turning out classes half-filled with women, and big law firms hiring women at a comparable rate, in 2005 women still made up only about 17 percent of the partners at major firms (up from 13 percent in 1995. Way to go. Sort of). The piece explores what exactly is creating a population of women who disappear sometime between getting their gigs and making partner. Does it have to do with billable-hours culture, the awkwardness of finding mentorship when most of the available mentors are older men? Low-profile case assignments, institutional inflexibility for mothers? It's a fascinating, sad piece that seems to illustrate the old saw that the more things change, the more women still don't make partner. Interestingly, it was also Sunday's most e-mailed story.

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Next up was the magazine's cover story, billed as the tale of the strange relationships formed between single mothers by choice and their sperm donors. The story by Jennifer Egan (whose work I am usually crazy about) took a dismaying zoological approach to these exotic creatures known as single mothers. Part of the point was that the practice of insemination using donor or a friend's sperm is becoming so common that communities of single mothers are forming, sometimes around a common donor father. But a lot of the story was devoted to detailing the failed romances and fertility challenges faced by women who chose to reproduce on their own. I came away feeling that as much as Egan proclaims that single motherhood has been stripped of its stigma, it still bears the stench of failure and hardship, rather than of hope, autonomy or choice.

A feature about the rights of unwed fathers to prevent their girlfriends or ex-girlfriends from giving up unwanted children for adoption got a lot of ink. This issue seems to be related -- as a direct inverse -- to last week's move to allow fathers who do not want unplanned children to legally free themselves of responsibility for them. Then there was a piece about a New Jersey proposal to make pregnancy grounds for getting a handicapped parking space: liberating breakthrough or pathologizing of pregnancy -- you decide. And Rachel Donadio had a New York Times Book Review essay about the proliferation of chick lit "from Mumbai to Milan, Gdansk to Jakarta."

Also in the Book Review was a hilarious Walter Kirn review of the Harvey Mansfield book "Manliness" in which Kirn compares Mansfield's work to the kitschy cheese of Hans and Franz of "Saturday Night Live," and a very unfunny column by David Brooks about the same book. When I read its first line -- "Let me tell you what men want" -- the voice of Bert Lahr as the "Wizard of Oz's" lion singing "Each rabbit would show respect to me/The chipmunks genuflect to me" trilled unbidden through my head. I don't know why. Brooks' real answer to what men want is: "Recognition. Men want others to recognize their significance. They want to feel important and part of something important."

And so, as Dan Rather would sign off: Courage.


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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Broadsheet David Brooks Fiction Love And Sex The New York Times

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