Hooray for Marcia Clark. Whether or not it was savvy prosecutorial strategy, the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case struck a blow on behalf of working single mothers last Friday when she told Judge Lance A. Ito that she could not be in court all evening because she had child-care problems.
Faced with the possibility that a key defense witness, Rosa Lopez, might flee the country for El Salvador before testifying, Ito appeared ready to continue the court hearing in an unprecedented late night session. Clark, 41, is a single mother with two young children, ages 5 and 2.
For a working woman to speak the words child care in the professional setting of open court constitutes an act of bravery. It's an admission that you not only have a private life, but also have little people at home depending on you. Such an admission can be a dangerous career move, provoking the suspicion that you are not quite a player, not fully committed to the game. Every working woman dreads having it be discovered how alone she really is in meeting her family's needs. The model female employee--who never takes off a day from the job because of her children--still exists. A loyalist to the corporation, she is a traitor to herself.
If the burden of getting children to the doctor's office or supervising homework is great on working mothers in general, the pressures on single mothers are in a class by themselves. Single working mothers usually go out of their way to avoid calling attention to their unique status for fear of hitting yet one more barrier to occupational success. We send our children to the doctor with the baby-sitter and get the report from the dentist via telephone just so the work schedule can go on unaffected. And we pretend that everything is under control even if it's not, whispering in the hallway pay telephone to iron out crises so that no one at the office will think something is amiss.
Interestingly, single fathers seem to have no such problems. Their concerns for children are public and applauded. On those men who participate actively in their children's lives, an angelic halo of selflessness typically descends. Men in the workplace take time off with impunity to pick up even their adult children at the airport or to care for the sick family dog. Yet they run no risk that others will question their professionalism: Our contemporary institutions love a "sensitive" man. One lawyer I know likes to tell of how a judge stopped a trial on a moment's notice because he had a child in duress. Women are expected to juggle, to have backup in place, to carry on no matter what turbulence life may bring--and to do it privately.
By Monday morning, Clark was business-as-usual, her child-care problems subordinated to the need to win the case. But if defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Ito and other men are confused by this switching of gears, they are perhaps to be forgiven. Men who second-guess women on motherhood issues often are demonized. Nevertheless, when legitimate child-care needs arise, they must take precedence, no matter how it looks. And in the courtroom last Friday, there was both truth and justice on display when the trial finally adjourned and the words child care were uttered, for all the world to hear.