It’s been nearly two weeks since episode 17 of The Good Wife‘s Season 3 aired on television. In this episode, Caitlin D’Arcy, a young lawyer whom Alicia Florrick, the good wife, has been mentoring, quits the firm. Caitlin submits her notice in this episode, which happens to follow some hard words from Alicia. The reason Caitlin gives, however, is pregnancy with her fiancee’s baby and upcoming marriage. She wants to be a stay-at-home mom.
The show has been directing the audience to be weary of Caitlin, a corporate climber who may be in cahoots with her smarmy uncle, who also works at the firm and is vying for partnership.
Instead of following through with the subtly suggested sequence of events that would reveal Caitlin’s complicity in some sordid, backhand maneuver by her power hungry uncle, the show took a turn in events so sharp and unexpected, for me at least, I dismissed it as a ruse at first. I haven’t been able to forget it, though, wondering why I find it so hard to believe what this character said in her exiting remarks. I’ll show you what they were in a second.
In the final scene with Caitlin and Alicia, who is the older woman with two nearly grown children, a career, and a (wayward) husband, Alicia assumes that Caitlin is quitting because of her reprimand. She apologizes to Caitlin. She offers paranoia, a symptom of office politics, as an explanation of her coming down on Caitlin.
(What she doesn’t add, that I will add here, is the paranoia of successful women, specifically of seeing a young, pretty, smart woman, climbing up in a law firm, and feeling that there isn’t a space for two intelligent women to share success in a place of work, the threat women feel from other women in the work place and, in Alicia’s case, her personal life–at one point she suspected Caitlin had a thing for Will, the man Alicia’s in love with, though she won’t admit it at the moment.)
Caitlin assures her that Alicia didn’t do anything wrong, that in fact she was a great mentor.
And then the scene continues like this:
ALICIA: You’re a good lawyer Caitlin. You’re smart and clever and you handled today’s questioning like a pro. You can’t give this up. If you give this up, even for someone important to you, there’s a chance you’ll regret it.
CAITLIN: I’m not giving it up for my fiancee. I’m giving it up for myself. I like the law, but I love my fiancee.
ALICIA: But you don’t have to choose. There’s no reason you can’t work, be a wife, and a mother.
CAITLIN: But I want to choose. Maybe it’s different for my generation but I don’t have to prove anything. Or if I have to, I don’t want to. I’m in love. Thank you.
(Is this girl for real? And, yes, I say ‘girl’ because I can’t believe that a woman could be so simple minded to think that love and a baby is enough to satisfy an intelligent, educated woman who’s good at her job. And this is where I question myself. Why do I assume that a woman can be too intelligent and well educated just to be a stay-at-home mom?)
ALICIA: I’m sorry I wasn’t a great mentor to you Caitlin.
(Alicia still can’t believe Caitlin and is convinced that it is something she did to tip Caitlin over to the stay-at-home side. Caitlin wears a patient, almost serene look on face, the sort of look that perhaps a magnanimous and wise grandmother might give a young teen-aged girl who thinks that wearing the wrong dress to the school dance is a tragedy.)
CAITLIN: You were a great mentor. Thank you.
You can also see the relevant scenes in this handy clip.
I wonder why I find it so hard to believe that an intelligent, talented woman can be satisfied with just raising her kids and being a wife. Does it, as Caitlin suggests, come from a need to prove something, namely, her worth as a complete human being? And, if so, is this proof for the sake of the woman or others? She suggests that she doesn’t need a career to prove her worth to herself and she doesn’t recognize validity of others’ need for this proof, going so far as to question the very existence of this expectation from others.
Oh, it exists. I have no doubt in my mind of that. As for my own need for a career to feel good about myself, to not have regrets, as Alicia warns, I fall on the side of Alicia. I’ve never for a moment doubted that a person needs something that is all his or her own to maintain a healthy sense of ego and self-efficacy. Depending on others, like a husband and children, to ensure self confidence and self respect seems terribly risky, like building a house on sand. People change and disappoint you. It’s always a matter of when. For those times when you have to get through the let downs by people, you ought to have something that is yours, something that fails and succeeds at your own hand and no other. At least when you’re disappointed that way, you don’t feel quite so helpless, a plaything of folly and fickleness.
Of course, you might argue that nothing in this world can exist on an island, not even a career. You work with people. You depend on them to recognize your work and talents and pay you for it. So in this sense, no one is ever completely independent in their work, in anything really.
The point is this: I wish I could be like Caitlin.
I wish I could believe that such an outlook is possible to a modern, intelligent, well educated woman. That having a career you’re good at and enjoy doesn’t matter. That being able to answer, “I’m a lawyer or a writer or a consultant or an account manager or a business owner or teacher, etc.” isn’t a point of pride and the foundation for a strong sense of self. That raising a family is enough. I’m unemployed and I’m pregnant and I’m married. But I live with the constant hum of anxiety and dissatisfaction and even embarrassment running through the soundtrack of my days because I’m not working.
I wish I could believe her. But I don’t.
What about you? Where do you stand on the career versus stay-at-home mom decision? Do you think you can be fully satisfied and happy without work outside of the home? My readers and I would love to hear from you.
Related articles you might be interested in:
From The Guardian “Apparently, women are yearning to stay at home. That’s guilt talking”