Category Archives: Women in Politics

Girls of the Month: Old Saybrook Seniors Spark Conversation About Immigration

For the past few months, I’ve been volunteering with She’s Speaking, a local organization in Connecticut whose mission is “to educate, empower, support and inspire young women to have a voice in our society through the resources of powerful women leaders of yesterday and today.”

One of their new programs is to honor girls and young women who are making a difference in their communities and who are doing bold, brave things. I was privileged to interview 11 young ladies who were honored for their work on immigration. Read about their amazing work and accomplishments below, and check out the original article here.

She’s Speaking is thrilled to recognize eleven seniors at Old Saybrook High School who have been speaking out in their community about a controversial topic: immigration. After reading a book in their Spanish class, the group of all female students were stunned by how much they learned about immigration and immigrants themselves—and much of this new knowledge contradicted some of their prior assumptions.

“Many people come over when they’re young—as girls and boys—and they’re coming to find their mothers who left when they were really young. A lot of people think immigrants come here just to work but they also come to be with their family,” Arianna Heonis explained.

“Some immigrants are brought over as young children and they aren’t even aware that they’re not citizens until they try to apply for college,” Delilah Hallowell added.

Lucy Marinelli explained that contrary to the stereotype of an immigrant as a law-breaking criminal, she was surprised to learn that the crime rate among immigrants is significantly lower compared to American citizens. “We focused on debunking myths about immigrants,” she said.

Armed with and inspired by this new knowledge, the girls conducted additional research and consulted with experts to develop a comprehensive, facts-driven presentation about immigration in America. They considered having the author of the book that inspired their work come in to talk with other students, but decided to speak out about the issue themselves. As Holly Coppes explained, “We realized we could connect more with the school ourselves, as peers.”

The purpose of their presentation was to share facts about immigration with the community to dispel myths and misinformation. As Marinelli explained, “Immigration is a controversial issue that can be so emotional because of the political connotations. But we really wanted to make this presentation nonpolitical and stick to the facts so people could form their own opinions. We wanted to educate the community.”

And educate they did. The group not only presented to their entire high school, but also shared their work with the Board of Education, the Valley Shore Collaborative, and the Shore’s Women League. Once they started speaking out about immigration they didn’t want to stop. Although some girls admitted to having trouble with public speaking in the past, they were able to overcome that fear and felt motivated to keep speaking. As Jillian Hirst recalled, “We were all on this high after the first presentation when everyone is clapping and being supportive. That positive reaction inspired us to do it again! We presented it a few more times and were so happy to see more groups of people who were really moved by what we had to say.”

The girls also reported that since their presentation, their schoolmates seem more comfortable talking about immigration, and some students they had no idea were immigrants came to them for support. “One girl in our school was an immigrant who couldn’t get a social security number and she was about to apply to college. She was really struggling, and she was brave enough to share that with us,” Rory Dunne recounted.

“We made it a more comfortable space for people to talk,” Alexis Parker added.

Although this group of girls learned much about the immigration issue, the biggest lesson they learned was about the importance of speaking out about topics you believe in, even when it’s not easy to do. As Marinelli explained, “You learn the best in uncomfortable situations.” Maggie Smith added: “You should take every opportunity you get to step outside of your comfort zone because you can grow so much.”

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She’s Speaking congratulates this group of senior girls for their accomplishment and for their courage to speak out in their community and share their knowledge with others.

Thank you to Patty Marshall, Amy Claffey, and the Old Saybrook High School for making this article possible.

Full list of students involved in the immigration project/presentation:
Holly Coppes
Rory Dunne
Delilah Hallowell
Arianna Heonis
Jillian Hirst
Lucy Marinelli
Alexis Parker
Mia Reed
Maggie Smith
Erin Stangel
Heather Uphold

We Need to Change our Voting Systems to Elect More Women to Political Office

For many people interested in gender equality, the election of Hillary Clinton to the U.S. presidency would have been a significant achievement in the movement to secure more power for women. A female president would have represented a historic signal of equality, and the U.S. would no longer hold the ignominious reputation of never having elected a female head of state, a marker of progress 63 out of 142 nations in the world have already surpassed.

But as we all know, Clinton lost the presidency and the chances of the U.S. electing a woman president in the near future remain uncertain. However, it’s critical to realize that even if Clinton had won, the U.S. would still be extraordinarily behind other countries when it comes to gender parity in politics. In the U.S. House of Representatives, women hold only 19% of seats, and in the Senate, only 20 out of 100 Senators are women. In fact, the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks the U.S. as 104th in the world when it comes to the proportion of women serving in government, ranking right behind Bulgaria and Madagascar.

The dearth of women in politics is a problem for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which is what it says about how well our country actually reflects core American values of equality, fairness, and opportunity for all. But the low number of women in politics also has practical ramifications in policy outcomes. A whole literature of research indicates that women officeholders behave differently from their male colleagues: they are more likely to introduce and advocate for legislation that advances the interests of women and families, and they are also more likely to work collaboratively and build consensus, making them more effective as legislators. Electing more women to office will produce better outcomes for American families, outcomes that will be accomplished with dignity to boot.

Although a lot of people agree that we need more women in politics, there are far fewer people doing the kind of work that is essential to getting them there. Some organizations hold trainings for potential women candidates and work to encourage more women to run for office. These organizations are guided by the belief that women need more encouragement and support than men to take the initial step to run for office, and research backs this assumption up—several studies find that women are less politically ambitious than men and are less likely to believe they are qualified to run for office. Therefore, it is not voter sexism or discrimination that keeps women out of politics, it is women’s own reluctance to run in the first place, these organizations say (and research confirms).

But while working to close the political ambition gap between men and women is critically important work, on its own it is insufficient to achieve gender parity in politics. The reasons for this lie in the fabrics that make up American political institutions. Simply put, women do not have enough real opportunities to run for office and win. In elections for the House of Representatives, over 95% of incumbents get re-elected, limiting the opportunity for anyone who is not a white man to gain power.

Because of extraordinarily high incumbent re-election rates, women and other non-traditional candidates have the best chance of picking up seats in open contests, when there is no incumbent competing. But in 2016, out of 435 elections in the House, only 45 were for open seats. This is the primary reason why the percentage of women officeholders has stagnated–there are too few chances for women to run and win. In fact, without changing the voting institutions that guarantee the incumbency advantage, gender parity will remain an elusive dream.

Women in other industrialized nations are not inherently more ambitious or confident than American women; they live in countries with political institutions that open up more opportunities for nontraditional candidates to emerge and hold power. Studies of women’s representation in other countries have shown that different electoral systems—like proportional representation—are much more favorable to the election of women. That is why of the top 20 countries for women’s representation, 19 of them have election systems based on proportional representation. 

In the U.S., candidates in congressional elections run in single-member, winner-take-all districts, meaning only the winner—the candidate who gets the most votes—gets elected. But some state legislatures use multi-member districts, which means more than one candidate can win a seat. In many districts, one party dominates elections again and again, leaving voters who support the opposing party completely unrepresented. In multi-member districts, members get elected according to their party’s vote share—for example, if one district has four seats, and 50% of the vote is for the Democrats and 50% for Republicans, two Democrats get elected and two Republicans get seats too. This scenario also allows for the emergence of third-party candidates, who actually have a shot at picking up seats as well.

Multi-member districts create more opportunities for non-incumbents and non-traditional candidates to run for office and win election. Ten states in America currently use multi-member districts in at least one legislative chamber, and these states rank among the highest for women’s representation among state legislatures. Multi-member districts help to reduce the advantages incumbents enjoy, thereby creating more opportunities not only for women, but for people of color and third-party candidates.

So if we want to get serious about addressing the embarrassingly low number of women in politics, as well as the low number of other non-traditional candidates (people of color, third-party candidates), we to change the institutions we use to elect our leaders. We may also find that doing so not only opens more opportunities for new candidates to emerge, but that voters themselves benefit from increased choice and new ideas. Many voters complained that the 2016 presidential contest presented them with two inadequate choices for candidates: 63%–nearly two-thirds of American voters–said they were dissatisfied with their choices. Oftentimes, this feeling of having no real choice produces voter apathy and disengagement, threatening the health of American democracy. Using voting reforms to open the door for different types of candidates might also help engage voters by giving them more and better choices.

Why Connecticut Should Consider Ranked Choice Voting

This post was originally published in The CT Mirror on 12/22/16.

While voters and political pundits alike are still hashing out what exactly happened on November 8th, there is one conclusion about the election that most cannot deny: many voters felt they didn’t have adequate choices.

In fact, this conclusion could have been drawn early on, in the months leading up to the election—in July, before the major parties even declared their nominees, a solid majority (58%) of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, according to a Washington Post/ABC News Poll.

Dissatisfaction with the names on the ballot persisted up until Election Day, when even among those who voted, only 41% strongly favored the candidate they voted for—32% had reservations about their candidate, and 25% said they voted that way because they disliked their chosen candidate’s opponents (CNN exit polls).

Connecticut voters were not immune to the national wave of ennui about their choices—a Quinnipiac poll conducted in June showed that 55% and 61% of voters felt unfavorable toward Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively, mirroring national distaste toward both candidates.

As someone who collects public opinion from voters for a living, I have sat in countless focus groups over the years listening to voters lament their lack of good choices in elections. The resounding wish I’ve heard from voters around the country is to walk into the voting booth excited to cast a ballot for a candidate they believe in and that they feel confident will represent them in government—a wish that increasingly seems like a distant dream for many.

But rather than wait for “good choices” to pop out of the nether regions, there is something we can do now to make sure elections like 2016 do not happen again. A potential cure to the ailment of bad choices is in reforming the way in which we elect our leaders, through a system called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).

The system works like this: instead of voting for a single candidate, the voter ranks the candidates by their preference—their first choice, second choice, third choice, etc., for a given office. If no candidate wins a majority after the first round of voting, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the contest. If that candidate was your first choice, then your second choice will be applied to the second round of counting and so on until a candidate wins a majority of votes.

The system offers many advantages: first, it ensures that only a candidate with majority support can win the election. This also changes how candidates campaign, since they must reach out beyond their core base in order to win. Secondly, RCV allows more candidates to compete, thus giving voters more choice. Voters also don’t have to worry about casting a “spoiler” vote for a third party candidate, and thus are free to express their support for the candidate they truly think is the best. This allows more diverse candidates with new, fresh viewpoints to emerge in addition to more traditional candidates.

The electorate in Maine just voted to approve a measure that would institute RCV into all elections across the state except for presidential contents. RCV is already used in 11 cities across America, and many other cities and states are considering this change.

Data on the effect of RCV is limited, but some research (Rutgers Eagleton Poll) conducted among voters in cities that have used the system in local elections found that voters were more satisfied with the conduct of candidate campaigns and perceived less campaign negativity (a natural consequence of candidates having to reach out to a broad swath of voters rather than rely on riling up their base).

Connecticut could be a pioneer state to adopt this type of reform to give voters more choice and make sure that the people who get elected to office truly represent the will of the voters. While not a panacea to the disease of apathy toward politics that our current system produces, it’s a move that may help assuage voters’ desire for more, and better, choice. As we move forward from November 8th with a list of priorities and to-do’s, I hope that structural reforms like RCV near the top.

**For more information on Ranked Choice Voting and other reforms, check out Fair Vote and Representation 2020**

Hillary Clinton’s Survival of Sexism

This blog was originally published in The Huffington Post. The full article with citations can be found here.

At the end of the last presidential debate, Donald Trump was asked to name something about his opponent that he respects. He answered that Hillary “doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up…She’s a fighter.” This was a rare moment of truth coming from a candidate who literally lies a majority of the time. To me, Hillary is a hero for the valiant fight she’s shown in this race, but for withstanding nearly 40 years of the sexism, misogyny, and discrimination that befall women who seek power and challenge traditional notions of gender. Our country may finally see a woman president not because we as a people have evolved in our thinking about gender roles or because of progressive policy measures that allow women to combine work with caregiving, but rather because of the sheer tenacity of Hillary Clinton herself.

Hillary’s ability and willingness to remain in spaces that are uncomfortable, even hostile toward women, is admirable, though rare to witness (and I mean this both literally—like when Trump loomed over her at the most recent debate—and symbolically, when talking about the space of politics in general). No women has made it to the space Hillary Clinton occupies today, and there are various reasons for women’s lack of ascendancy to the top—in both politics and in the workplace generally. The effects of child-rearing responsibilities have been well-documented as serious barriers to female advancement to the top ranks in companies and in politics. But there may also be more subtle, yet more insidious reasons for women’s under-representation in top positions that have to do with the everyday sexism we experience in the workplace.

Few of us have endured the level of misogyny Hillary Clinton has, but many of us have experienced the micro-aggressions, the small instances of bias, the tiny pinches, scratches, and sometimes cuts that can eventually lead to the deaths of so many promising careers.

This happens everyday at work—when you get cut off or interrupted in a meeting. When your junior male colleague takes credit for your idea. When you look in the conference room and realize every participant sitting at the table is a white man. When your boss expects you to get cupcakes for your co-worker’s birthday. When you find out the man who held the exact position before you made a higher salary. When a client, colleague, or co-worker makes lewd comments that make your skin crawl but you can’t do a damn thing about it—not because laws don’t exist on the books but because sometimes that’s all they are—words on paper that fail to take into account the enormous, oftentimes impossible risks women take in speaking up about sexual harassment.

When women (who are privileged enough to have the choice) leave their jobs—either to opt out of the workforce altogether or to take another position elsewhere—sexism is rarely cited as the reason for the switch. More commonly, women will leave a job to find a company that’s a “better fit,” and some will start their own businesses so they “don’t have to work for anyone.” Some will attempt to find a job that can better accommodate their lives and responsibilities of caregiving. Oftentimes, these career switches are out of male-dominated fields. And then there are some women who leave the workforce altogether to work full-time inside the home. When these career changes are made, the reasons publicly stated may vary, but I would bet a lot that privately, many women are simply exhausted from enduring those little pricks of sexism and misogyny on a daily basis. It may not be a primary reason for leaving (or even a conscious one), but it may certainly contribute to driving women out of certain fields and careers.

And so, the status quo remains: the glass ceiling remains in tact, and patriarchy stays alive and well (though maybe it has the sniffles as of late). And our country and our economy suffer as well, as companies, industries, and fields lose a huge pool of talent.

I have been heartened to see so many men challenge Donald Trump’s sexism in this campaign, especially his blatant defense of rape culture. But this challenging needs to happen more widely—in every office, laboratory, Assembly floor, and school. Trump’s repeated attempt to excuse his support of sexual assault as “locker room talk” speaks volumes about his—and many men’s—absolute refusal to admit their own sexism. To be clear—he is not an aberration but rather a manifestation of the white male privilege that infects our society and drives women away and out of male-dominated spaces.

One way to really make some men angry is to call out their sexism. I have seen many men go to great lengths to justify their actions, defend each other, and deny responsibility. Just a small example—I recently sat next to a man on a plane who “man-spreaded” his legs right into my seat, essentially taking over half my space. I discreetly captured a picture of the man-spreading which I posted on social media with the hashtag #everydaysexism. I couldn’t believe the vitriol I got in response—men I hadn’t spoken to or even thought about in years came out of the woodwork to tell me (or more accurately, mansplain to me) that the man sitting next to me simply had long legs (actually, he was pretty short) and that what he was doing was not sexism. Others questioned why I didn’t just ask him to move, an ask which is symbolic of a broader problem of placing the burden of stopping sexism on women rather than the people who perpetrate it.

There’s nothing ostensibly damaging inherent to the practice of man-spreading, but it is an example of one of those tiny pricks that have devastating cumulative effects on women. Calling out these instances of sexist behavior is exhausting, because the response is often one of defensive, even hostile posturing. Yet staying silent feels pretty bad too. And often times, when you do speak up, you’re the only one doing so, and that can get lonely.

I can only imagine just how lonely and exhausting being Hillary Clinton is. When she accepted the Democratic nomination back in July, I balled my eyes out when she took the stage. My husband asked me if my tears were tears of joy for the first woman presidential nominee. I told him no, that my tears were for Hillary Clinton herself, tears of solidarity, of relief that she was able to survive the years of tiny and not so tiny cuts to get to where she is today. She truly is extraordinary in her ability to persevere.

This campaign has exposed some of the worst social diseases that linger in our country. Sexism is one of those diseases, and while women have always known it’s existed because we live it everyday, seeing Hillary endure it is like pulling off a bandaid and being forced to actually look at the injury. To me, it feels like a very old wound that women have collectively borne is wide open and exposed, but the question is how we do we heal it properly? Hillary Clinton is our hero of survival, but we cannot rely on lone women to single-handedly dismantle the patriarchy. Healing this wound involves a collective effort from all Americans, as well as progressive policy measures that value women, their work, and the realities of their lives.

4 Ways Hillary Clinton Will Make Life Better For Moms

According to a recent survey of registered voters conducted by ABC News/Washington Post, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump among women by 23 points—58% of women voters say they support Hillary, 35% say they would vote for Trump. While gender gaps in elections are nothing new, the Clinton/Trump contest represents a much wider margin than usual. Some would say these polling numbers are no surprise—after months of insulting, deriding, and offending women all over America, it makes sense that American women would punish Trump harshly at the ballot box.

But what also may be contributing to the gender gap is not only women’s distaste for Trump, but their affinity for Hillary. Hillary has talked a lot about women in this election, as well as issues that affect moms, like paid family leave. Rather than focus on why women should hate Trump, let’s talk about the ways Hillary will help women, and specifically, moms. After all, it feels much better to vote for a candidate than against one.
My book, 52 Reasons To Vote For Hillary, is full of plenty of positive reasons to support Hillary (and many of them I didn’t even know until I started the research for the book!). Some of my favorite reasons are the plans Hillary has to help make life better for moms in America—so here are four of them:

1. She Gets Work/Life Balance (Chapter 6)

According to the Make It Work campaign, nearly 90% of American workers do not have any paid family leave, and more than 43 million Americans don’t have a single paid sick day — over half of whom are working mothers.

Hillary wants to change that, and has a plan to guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. Her plan would also provide up to 12 weeks of leave for employees to recover from their own medical conditions or serious injuries. Hillary’s plans are important not only for the huge financial benefits that women would accrue, but because they send the message that as Americans, we value parenthood, caregiving, and the people who do it.

2. She Will Make Childcare A Priority (Chapter 8)

The cost of childcare in America is outrageous. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of care for one child exceeds the cost of university in-state tuition in half of U.S. states. In some states where the cost of living is high, families are spending more than $15,000 a year on childcare for just one child. These are financial hardships that many American families simply cannot afford, and as a result, moms drop out of the labor force or scale back more often than dads, leading to a losses in earnings that affects the entire family unit.

Hillary has a bold and ambitious plan to make childcare more affordable for American families. She would cap what families pay for childcare at 10% of their paycheck, a big deal considering half of all American families spend more than that currently. Hillary will also increase access to on-campus childcare for parent students, so that they can further their education while also meeting their parental responsibilities. Hillary’s childcare agenda will go a long way in easing the financial burden on American families and ensuring women can live up to their full economic potential.

3. She Will Fight For Equal Pay (Chapter 17)

On average, women in America get paid 79 cents to a man’s dollar. But the burden is even heavier for moms, who make 73 cents for every man’s dollar, costing women around half a million dollars in earnings over their lifetimes.

Hillary believes that equal pay is not only a woman’s issue, but a family issue and an American issue. She has outlined a plan that would give women the tools they need to fight workplace discrimination and promote pay transparency across our economy so that women have the information they need to negotiate fairly. The cornerstone of her plan, the Paycheck Fairness Act, holds employers accountable by requiring them to prove that wage discrepancies are tied to legitimate business qualifications and not gender, and by prohibiting companies from taking retaliatory action against employees who raise concerns about gender-based wage discrimination.

When Donald Trump and other Republicans accused Hillary of playing the “gender card” because of her focus on equal pay, Hillary had this to say to her detractors:

“If talking about equal pay and paid leave and more opportunities for women and girls is playing the gender card, then deal me in!”


4. She Will Protect Women’s Reproductive Health (Chapter 39)

As all moms know, giving life is among the greatest of life’s joys, but becoming a mother is also a major, life-changing responsibility. Families do better when they have the resources to plan and make their own decisions with the counsel of their doctors. That’s why Hillary has always been an ardent supporter of women’s reproductive rights, including access to contraceptives and safe abortions.

As President, Hillary will defend the Affordable Care Act’s provision that prevents insurance companies from discriminating against covering women because of their reproductive health care needs. She has also promised to nominate Supreme Court justices who will uphold Roe v. Wade and protect women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

To Hillary, when women are healthy, America will be healthy, and it is critical to ensure women have the opportunities and access they need to build healthy and productive futures for themselves and their families. As with other issues that affect women, Hillary has argued that reproductive rights are not only women’s issues, but affect the entire country in important ways:

For too long, issues like these have been dismissed by many as ‘women’s issues’ – as though that somehow makes them less worthy, secondary. Well, yes, these are women’s issues. They’re also family issues. They’re economic issues. They’re justice issues. They’re fundamental to our country and our future.

While Donald Trump and other Republicans continue to subscribe to dated notions of family structures and gender roles, Hillary understands that changing times call for updated policies that move our country forward. Gone are the days of dads bringing home the bacon while moms fry it up in the pan — the world has changed, and our rules need to sprint to catch up. Hillary’s plans will make life better for moms, and in turn, for American families.

Read more about Hillary’s plans to help American families get ahead in 52 Reasons To Vote For Hillary, on sale now.

5 Facts About Mother Candidates, After Hillary Clinton’s Historic Nomination

This article was originally published in Romper, July 2016. See original article for links to sources.

Hillary Clinton’s candidacy so far has been historic. Clinton has spent her life knocking down barriers to get to where she is today, and people of all political persuasions can agree that her trailblazing is an inspiration to women and girls the world over. Not only is Hillary Clinton the first woman candidate to top a major-party ticket, she’s also the first mother (and grandmother!) to get this close to becoming the leader of the free world.

Being a woman, mother, and grandmother matter because these identities (and the experiences and knowledge that comes with them) set Clinton apart, particularly from her opponent, Donald Trump. For one, Clinton’s visibility may have an important role model effect on other women and young girls: seeing a woman, mother, and grandmother occupy the highest position of power in the United States can encourage more women to seek office themselves, according to Political Research Quarterly. Secondly, mothers may have a unique viewpoint that they’ve developed through living the trials and tribulations associated with raising children. Electing mothers who get and understand what American families need to thrive may have profound, positive public policy effects — in fact, research conducted by Dr. Michele Swers in the book The Difference Women Make finds evidence that women policymakers are more likely than men to introduce, sponsor, and advocate for issues that disproportionately affect women, like paid family leave and childcare subsidies.

But while our country might be better off with more women and mothers in office, there are several barriers to electing more of them. I have a PhD in political science and work in the public opinion industry where I’ve been studying mothers in politics for nearly a decade. I can say with certainty that Clinton’s success is, unfortunately, very much the exception rather than the rule. Women face a host of obstacles in the climb to the top — both in business and in politics — but throwing children into the mix dramatically heighten barriers to women’s advancement, according to a 2012 report by Jennifer L. Lawless on The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics.

Because mother politicians are still so rare in America, there is very little knowledge about them and what — if anything — makes them different. I’ve culled together the little research available (and much of it is research I have personally conducted) to present to five things to know about mother candidates:

When Moms Run, They Campaign Differently Than Dads

When women with young children break through the initial barriers and run for office, they tend to campaign differently than their male counterparts. While fathers showcase their children on the campaign trail, women tend to minimize their role as mothers. With my colleague Dr. Mona Kleinberg, I conducted a study of candidates in competitive congressional races — “A Mom First and a Candidate Second: Gender Differences in Candidates’ Self-Presentation of Family” — and found that men were more likely than women candidates to feature pictures of their children on their campaign websites. Despite high-profile mother candidates like Sarah Palin, who attempted to use her parental status as a credential, women are still more likely to campaign by themselves rather than with their families.

For higher levels of office, including executive roles, women may minimize their roles as mothers to assuage voter fears that young children would be a distraction or take the politician away from her duties as a representative. This is a stereotype men rarely — if ever — have to confront.

Overall, Mothers Are Less Politically Ambitious

According to the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, a total of 46 women serve the 114 U.S. Senate. In a 2015 report also completed by Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics, 84 of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives were women, and they represented 31 states. And research about mother candidates — particularly those with young children — is scant because so few mothers actually run for office. Women tend to enter politics when they’re older, after their children are grown, when childcare responsibilities lessen, according to research by Susan J. Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu titled “Gender and the Decision to Run for the State Legislature.” In an examination of the freshmen members of the 113 Congress, the Center for American Women and Politics found that while half of the male freshmen in Congress had young children at home, only one woman did.

The Center for American Women and Politics also conducted a national survey of state legislators — a position that’s often a stepping stone for Congress — and found that 23 percent of male legislators had children under 18 compared to just 14 percent of women, a statistically significant difference. In the same survey, a 57 percent of women state legislators said the age of their children was a very important consideration in their decision to run for office — only about two in five men said the same.

Mothers, then, tend to weigh family considerations more heavily than fathers (likely because they shoulder more responsibility for childcare).

Voters May Penalize Moms Of Young Children…

voters. A study I conducted in 2010 titled “Voting For Mom: The Political Consequences of Being A Parent for Male and Female Candidates” published in Politics & Gender found that voters believe men with young children will have more time to serve in office compared to women with young children — an assumption that hinges on the reality that despite women’s advances in the workplace, they are still doing just as much, if not more, work at home. In fact, a recent national survey I conducted with my colleagues at Whitman Insight Strategies found that 55 percent of partnered women say they are responsible for caring for loved ones, including children and elderly relatives, while only 39 percent of partnered men say the same.

Especially striking is the finding that this pattern holds across generations — millennial women are just as likely as women from the Greatest Generation to perform these levels of work inside the home, an indication of the durability of gender roles.

The study I conducted in 2010 for Politics & Gender also found that mother candidates are perceived as less viable than father candidates, which may point to an unconscious bias voters bring to their evaluations of mother candidates. Indeed, a survey conducted by Pew Research found that nearly two in five Americans believe the trend of more mothers of young children working outside the home had been bad for society.

But Childless Women Receive The Harshest Penalty

As many barriers as there are for moms in politics, childless women are viewed even more negatively. The study I conducted for Politics & Gender also found that voters are significantly less likely to express support for a childless woman candidate and prefer her to have children who are grown. For men, parental status was far less relevant in voters’ evaluations. Being childless may be considered “deviant” and perpetuate stereotypes of “career women” (read: any woman who seeks power in her own right) as selfish, cold, and out-of-touch.

Having children may make candidates of both genders more relatable to voters who are looking for candidates who “understand” them. However, this puts women candidates in a double bind: having young children can be a liability if voters question her ability to juggle both the demands of child-rearing and the responsibilities of public office, but having no children puts women in the position of having to confront stereotypes related to being childless. Having adult children may be the “ideal” parental status for women, but running for office later in life limits opportunities to gain the necessary experience to run for higher levels of office.

When Moms Win, They’re More Likely To Push Policies That Help Families

Numerous studies have shown that women tend to have different policy priorities than men and are more likely to advocate for policies that help working families, like paid family leave and child care, according to PoliticalParity.org’s research on “Why Women? The Impact of Women in Elected Office.” When Clinton was pregnant with Chelsea, the law firm she worked at didn’t offer a maternity policy, and the partners would barely acknowledge she was even pregnant. In a 2012 interview with CNSNews.com, Hillary Clinton spoke candidly about her pregnancy:

“I was the only female partner, and they’d never had a female partner and certainly not a pregnant female partner. And they literally just were not sure what to do with me. I would walk down the corridor getting more and more pregnant, and the men in the firm would like look away, never say a word.”

And when a partner called Clinton after she gave birth and asked when she was coming back to work, she responded that she needed four months off, creating the first family-leave policy ever at her law firm. In a speech given at the State Department’s 2012 National Work-Life and Family Month, Clinton said,

“And I was in the hospital when one of my partners called to say congratulations, and then in the course of asked, ‘Well, when are you coming back to work?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. Maybe in four months.’ And that’s how I created the firm’s first-ever maternity leave policy.”

Even though Clinton was fortunate enough to get the time off she needed to be with Chelsea, many women get much less time off, if at all — today, a quarter of all women in America have to leave their newborn and return to work within 10 days of giving birth because they have no paid leave. On her website, Clinton credited her experience in shaping her strong support for policies like guaranteeing paid family leave, making childcare more affordable, and raising the minimum wage — all of which are critical policy changes that will strengthen American families and create more opportunities for women to get ahead. As Clinton said:

I think that this is an issue that is not a woman’s issue. It is a human issue and a family issue. After all, there is little doubt that balancing work and family responsibilities is done in one way or another by people everywhere, every day.
This is not to say men or childless women can’t strongly advocate for policies that help American families — they are certainly can and have throughout history. But women who have the lived experience of being a mother and all that it entails may have a better sense of what the government needs to do to help make life easier for working families. Electing more of these women will go a long way toward passing more family-friendly policies that will strengthen the whole country.

Ironically, the policy changes that make it easier for women to combine motherhood and a career is ultimately what will help encourage more mother candidates to run for office. Hillary Clinton’s visibility — as a woman, as a mom, and as a grandmother — may help propel this forward. You can’t be what you can’t see, and seeing a mother occupy the highest political office in the land may do much to break down barriers for women candidates in general.

hillaryandchel

I Wrote A Book!

I am so excited to announce the publication of 52 Reasons To Vote For Hillary, a book I co-authored with Bernard Whitman, my colleague at Whitman Insight Strategies. The book will hit stores early July, but you can pre-order your copy now via Amazon.

It’s no secret that I am an active Democrat and long-time supporter of Hillary, and Bernard is too. We wrote this book not only in support of Hillary’s candidacy, but because we both felt there was a need to set the record straight and give voters the facts about who Hillary is—both as a public servant and as a person. After Hillary announced her candidacy, Bernard and I were struck by the media narrative that framed Hillary as an elusive enigma, someone that has occupied the political spotlight for decades, yet is in many ways “unknown.” We know from our experience working on campaigns as strategists that voters need to be able to relate to a candidate and feel that the candidate is in touch with voters’ concerns in order for the candidate to be successful. That is why we decided to write this book—to re-introduce Hillary to voters and show the many sides of Hillary, not only as a politician, but as a daughter, wife, mother, and now, grandmother.

We’re also concerned about the rise of extremists in the Republican Party and know that a Donald Trump presidency would be disastrous for this country. We wrote this book also to contrast Hillary’s vision for America with that of the Republicans, and argue that while Hillary wants to build the America of tomorrow, Trump and the Republicans want to bring our country backwards to the past. Like Hillary, we believe that America has always been great, but that the task of the next president of the United States is to make America whole. Trump’s divisive, hateful rhetoric will only fragment us further. What we need now is a leader who can bring people together and get things done for American families. We believe that leader, resoundingly, is Hillary.

I will be posting more news and tidbits from the book as we get closer to the official release date in early July. Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog (just scroll down to the bottom of this page and enter in your e-mail) so you’ll never miss an update about the book or anything I write about here!

Thanks for reading,
Brittany

Cover shot for marketing