Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Judge Who Judged His Sister

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Judge Who Judged His Sister

Article excerpt

THEY are siblings, only a year apart in age but light years apart in status and accomplishment. He is rich; she is poor. He earned an Ivy League law degree; she never went beyond high school. He often travels in chauffeur-driven limousines; she looks out her front door at an old car on blocks. He moves in a world of the famous and powerful. She shuttles between her tumbledown two-room house and her job as a hospital cook, where she sometimes begins work at 3 a.m.

Since President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court earlier this month, reporters have written with a mixture of fascination and bewilderment about the nominee's older sister, Emma Mae Martin. They have quoted - and quoted again - Mr. Thomas's harsh criticism of his sister for accepting welfare a decade ago. And they have skirted around an unstated question: How can he be so ambitious and successful and she so content to remain in a hardscrabble Georgia backwater?

Their lives began taking divergent paths in 1955, when the young Clarence and his brother went to live with education-oriented grandparents and the young Emma Mae and her mother moved in with an aunt. Although all three children attended the same parochial school, who can say what vastly different messages, spoken or implied, teachers imparted to students of that generation, perhaps encouraging careers for boys and domesticity for girls? And who knows what disparate roles and ambitions were encouraged in the Thomas children's respective homes?

Even today, in supposedly egalitarian middle-class households, daughters and sons often receive very different treatment. According to a recent study by two Arizona sociologists, teenage sons in dual-career families spend less than three hours a week on household chores, while daughters spend 10 hours. This inequality only reinforces deeply rooted notions that men's education and careers are more important than women's, and that men are above domestic tasks.

Like her mother before her, Emma Mae Martin was a teenager when her first child was born. Her husband deserted the family in 1973, moving out of state to avoid paying child support, she claims. In addition to providing for her own young children, Martin also assumed the care of her elderly, incapacitated aunt. …

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