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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.
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."
This week her run for the highest office in America ended as she failed to qualify for the third debate, The New York Times reports.
The mother of two sons, ages 16 and 11, and she's never denied that her kids will always be on her mind, and her 'Family Bill of Rights' proved that she's been thinking about the children of her fellow mothers.
Her recognition that Americans should have the right to a safe and healthy pregnancy, the right to give birth or adopt a child, the right to personally care for those children in their infancy and access health care for them, the right to a safe and affordable nursery, and the right to affordable child care and early education before kindergarten was important in this race and proved why we need more mothers in office—because America's moms need to be represented and advocated for.
We need mothers in politics
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.
Mothers can be found in all levels of local, state and federal government, except for in the job that Gillibrand sought and fellow moms Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Elizabeth Warren still 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, Gillbrand's failure to qualify for the third debate means she won't be the first mom to become president, but with Warren, Klobuchar and Kamala Harris still in the running, she's hoping that the country will soon see a woman as its leader.
"I think that women have a unique ability to bring people together and heal this country," she told the New York Times, explaining that she will support whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.
She continued: "I think a woman nominee would be inspiring and exciting."
[A version of this post was first published March 6, 2019. It has been updated.]
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