Political decisions impact mothers every day, but historically, mothers have been discouraged from trying to make an impact in politics. While fatherhood is practically a prerequisite for male politicians, motherhood has nearly disqualified women from running for office. In our daily lives, motherhood gives us strength and purpose, but in politics, it was a perceived disadvantage to be downplayed.
Now that is finally changing. It's 2019 and today's candidates aren't deemphasizing their motherhood when running for office, they're leading with it. Even when running for the highest office in the country.
When Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced her candidacy for president, she said, "I'm going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom I am going to fight for other people's kids as hard as I would fight for my own."
Gillibrand has two sons, ages 16 and 10, and she's not denying that her kids will always be on her mind, she's celebrating that. For Gillibrand, motherhood is an asset in her political career, not a liability like it used to be.
It used to be that when a mother ran for office pundits and potential constituents would ask, "Who will take care of her children?" But these days, the majority of America mothers are in the labor force. Today's America is quite different than it was when former California Senator Barbara Boxer took her first run at public office in 1972. "Even my next-door neighbor said that she couldn't vote for me because I had two young kids," she told Cosmopolitan. "And this was a part-time job as a county supervisor seven minutes from my house."
That was in 1972. In 2017 the Barbara Lee Family Foundation published a study which found voters still felt like Boxer's neighbor did all those decades ago, and have concerns about female candidates' ability "to balance the competing priorities of their families and their constituents."
The idea that women with children will be less committed and more distracted from any job sadly goes far beyond Boxer's next-door neighbor and beyond politics.
Research shows this isn't just a problem for women wanting to get elected—it's a problem for any mother trying to get ahead in the working world. Fatherhood is seen as an asset in an applicant, while motherhood is a liability.
Science proves this bias exists, but it also proves how unfounded it is. Motherhood does not make working women more distracted or less committed to their jobs. In fact, research shows working moms are actually more engaged than working dads and fathers and equally committed to their work.
This is why it is so awesome to see Gillibrand and other politically minded mothers leading with motherhood. By doing so they're telling America what the science backs up: that motherhood gives them strength and focus, and that the old ideas about kids distracting moms from politics belong back in the 1970s with Boxer's neighbor.
Oh, and these moms aren't just running, they're getting elected, too.
Mothers like Governor of South Dakota, Republican Kristi Noem, who described herself as "an experienced small business owner, a lifelong farmer and rancher – and above all else, a mother," when running for office last year are changing the way people think about moms in politics.
Mothers can be found in all levels of local, state and federal government, except for in the job that Gillibrand and fellow moms Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have their eyes on: The one in the oval office.
Way back in 2006, when Hillary Clinton was making plans to run for president, her advisor Mark Penn warned her that America wanted a father, not a mother. He believed that voters were "open to the first father being a woman," but told Clinton "they do not want someone who would be the first mama."
Thirteen years later, we're ready for a first mama who can unapologetically own her motherhood.
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