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Wife, Mother, Judge: How Amy Coney Barrett Challenges Secular Feminism



I deeply desire to be a wife and mother someday. However, like many other young professional women, I sometimes struggle with making career decisions in the present that I fear could adversely impact my ability to prioritize a family in the future. That is because society has placed an emphasis on women’s advancement in the workplace while neglecting to commend the value of motherhood. Many girls see this disproportionately promoted narrative to mean that their professional advancement cannot coincide with their longing pursuit of motherhood.


As I continue to consider what balancing a career and family might look like, I have been inspired by the poise shown by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.


Barrett is an extremely accomplished woman with a stellar professional career—a graduate of Notre Dame law school, a practicing lawyer, a law professor, a circuit judge, and now a Supreme Court justice. But constitutional law is not her only passion. Barrett is also a devoted wife and mother of seven. Two of her children are adopted, and her youngest, Benjamin, has special needs.


In her Rose Garden address, following her nomination by President Trump, Barrett praised her family and explained how her children describe Benjamin as their favorite sibling:


“The president has asked me to become the ninth justice, and as it happens I am used to being in a group of nine — my  family. Our family includes me; my husband, Jesse; Emma; Vivian; Tess; John Peter; Liam; Juliet; and Benjamin. Vivian and John Peter, as the president said, were born in Haiti, and they came to us five years apart, when they were very young. And the most revealing fact about Benjamin, our youngest, is that his brothers and sisters unreservedly identity him as their favorite sibling.”


Barrett’s deep loyalty to her faith, family, and vocation is remarkable. The way she lives out her convictions, both in her professional career and in her home, has inspired many conservative young women, including me.


In her confirmation hearing opening statement, Barrett explained how her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, influenced her career:


“Justice Scalia taught me more than just law. He was devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism. And as I embarked on my own legal career, I resolved to maintain that same perspective.”


Barrett did not decide to accept the nomination to the Supreme Court lightly. Rather, she said,


“I chose to accept the nomination because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the place of the Supreme Court in our Nation.”


These words underscore her wisdom and humility in choosing to accept the position, not simply to propel her career to the next level, but for the sake of preserving the freedom and values of our nation for her children and future generations.


Barrett’s rise to the Supreme Court would not have been possible without the efforts of early, or “first-wave,” feminists. First-wave feminism opened the doors for equal opportunity for women in America. These opportunities included education, being able to work for a wage to support a family, the freedom to engage in their communities through voting, holding positions of influence, and owning land. These cultural and political breakthroughs allowed women the chance to broadly contribute to their communities.


The suffragettes did not picket for votes for women because they no longer wanted to be wives or mothers but because they wanted to be recognized and treated as citizens of America and contribute to the development of culture and society.


However, first-wave feminists might not recognize the modern, secular feminism so prevalent today. Ironically, the most ubiquitous brand of modern feminism—the kind that prioritizes “reproductive rights” and insists women are interchangeable with men—can be more of a hindrance than a help to women’s rights. Instead of demanding a society that esteems marriage, better accommodates working mothers, and values their children, this particular brand of feminism convinces women that the ability to deny life to their children is a key component to personal empowerment and gender equality. It tells women: you can have it all, but you might have to sacrifice a child or indefinitely postpone motherhood along the way.


By pursuing her professional career and prioritizing her family, Barrett is a success story that fiercely overturns the narrative championed by secular feminism. Her life story challenges the perception that a woman must forgo or postpone marriage and children in order to be successful in the field of her choosing. As the fourth and youngest woman ever appointed to the highest court in the land, Barrett is also the first female justice to be a mother of school-age children while serving.


Barrett’s appointment flattens culture’s false dichotomy between career advancement and motherhood and has inspired me to reconsider how I view different opportunities to excel in my professional career.


Although loyal to her work, Barrett recognizes that she must not allow her work ethic to lead her into forsaking her responsibility to her family. As she said during her confirmation hearing,


“There is a tendency in our profession to treat the practice of law as all-consuming, while losing sight of everything else. But that makes for a shallow and unfulfilling life. I worked hard as a lawyer and a professor; I owed that to my clients, my students, and myself. But I never let the law define my identity or crowd out the rest of my life.”


Not all women are called to serve on the Supreme Court, but all women are called to have rightly ordered devotion to their profession and family. It would be a great dereliction of duty to prioritize one’s career over those who one’s work is meant to serve.


Justice Amy Coney Barrett has inspired me to reject the false dichotomy of family versus career and choose a profession in line with my convictions. I aspire to be the best professional woman I can be so future generations—and perhaps my future family—can thrive and flourish. Barrett is an example of what this might look like in my life now and in the years to come.


Molly Carman is a Research Assistant at Family Research Council. Previously, Molly interned with FRC where she researched and wrote on issues related to a biblical worldview. She is passionate about women’s issues in the church and culture and discipling other young women. She is graduate from Union University with a B.A. in intercultural studies and will begin her master’s degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2021.