Every now and then, the Parade magazine that comes in my Sunday newspaper actually runs an article of value and interest. This week, a David Gergen interview with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is worth reading. O’Connor is one of my idols – she inspires me to think more and do more. She is a woman worth emulating.
Gergen asks her about her experience in 1952 when, as a top law graduate from Stanford, she was unable to find a job. Why? It wasn’t because the economy was bad or she was shy or incompetent. It was because she was a woman. Stop and think about that for a moment. In 1952, no one would hire one of Stanford’s brightest prospects simply because she carried an XX pair of chromosomes. It’s a thought that makes me want to find every woman I know and shake her furiously while screaming, “Forget about what’s between your legs! It’s the gray matter between your ears that matters!” In order to jump-start her career, O’Connor ended up working without pay in the one firm that was willing to take her on.
O’Connor has had a remarkable life – not just a remarkable career. She succeeded as a lawyer, a judge, a wife, and a mother. She continues, at age 82, to succeed as a mentor and advocate for public life. At the end of the Parade interview she is quoted as saying, “I had a good life, and the reason it was a good life is because I stayed busy doing the things that mattered to me. If I stopped doing that, I think my whole life would disintegrate. I want to feel like, to the extent that I’m able to, I can still make a difference.”
When I’m done shaking the women around me I’m going to ask, “What matters to you? What are you doing to make a good life?” If any of them say they’re going to spend all their time popping babies out of their vaginas I’m going to shake them again. Any Ho can have a baby. What is she going to do with her brain? What is she going to do to make a difference in society? What, at age 82, is she going to say to her interviewer? Or, perhaps more appropriately, is she going to contribute anything to society that warrants an interview? What business matter, what civic cause, what social injustice is going to stir her passions?
Lives well-lived are not gender-dependent. O’Connor shows us that, despite the centuries-old XY Chromosome Conspiracy to keep women out of the public sphere (unless their bodies are on public display), women can make a difference.
How are you going to make a difference?
To learn more about Justice O’Connor, I recommend Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice by Joan Biskupic. In addition, O’Connor has penned two autobiographical books worth reading: Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest and The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice.
Edited on 1/13/13 to add this excellent graphic from The Idealist on Facebook: