2018 = “year of the mom”?

Forget the year of the woman, 2018 is the year of the mom:

Male candidates have long been able to use their children to appear more youthful, human and charming: John F. Kennedy, Jr. peeking out from his father’s desk in the Oval Office, Andrew Giuliani antically upstaging his father during his inauguration as mayor of New York.

But female candidates with young children have traditionally faced skepticism: “Who’s going to take care of the kids?” voters ask. Women have tended to wait until children were out of the house to run, or, if they didn’t wait, were advised to keep the kids out of the picture.

This year, with a record number of women running for office and a surge of energy among female voters, candidates are pushing back on that bias, arguing that motherhood not only doesn’t disqualify them, it makes them more qualified.

Voters are connecting with candidates who can understand the jumble of forgotten homework, missed buses, stalled commutes and spilled coffee that is morning in America for many families of working parents.

“You want somebody in Congress representing you that on some level you feel has the same values you do and has the same priorities you do,” said Ms. Sherrill, 46. “I hear a lot of, ‘You remind me so much of myself.’ I think that’s important.”

“If I just said, ‘I’m a helicopter pilot and a federal prosecutor’ they might think I’ve served my country, I’m experienced,” she added. “If I say, ‘And I’m a mom,’ they think I get it. ‘She’s a working mom. That’s tough.’”

Good stuff!  That said, life in politics (like, honestly, life in general for American women) is always more complicated:

Still, attitudes about women and children are never simple. The campaign trail only magnifies the complexities.

“There’s motherhood and lack of motherhood, and both matter,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has surveyed voters on attitudes about women with children and without. “While having children has gotten easier, not having children has gotten harder,” she said. “It’s political and it’s cultural. Whenever you’re dealing with culture, people are so judgmental of women.”

Candidates without children, like Lauren Underwood, running for a House seat outside of Chicago, say voters have asked when they intend to have them. Groups trying to increase the number of women in political office advise childless women on the best strategies to convey that they share family values. Stacey Abrams, for instance, shows herself surrounded by nieces and nephews and other extended family in ads in her campaign for governor of Georgia. Talking to voters about the importance of kinship care, she describes how her own parents are raising the children of her brother, who suffers from mental illness.

If 2018 becomes the year we stopped punishing women candidates for having young children, I’ll take that as significant progress.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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