On April 9, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth became the first woman to give birth while serving as a U.S. Senator. Subsequently, her peers in the Senate voted unanimously to allow babies on the Senate floor, and her daughter, Maile, became the first child on the Senate floor. The fact that the Senate is only addressing this issue in 2018 is ridiculous and shows that there have not been enough women in the Senate to raise this issue. While women have been elected to the Senate since 1932, none have given birth while serving, which sends the message that motherhood and a career in politics are somehow incompatible. The Senate should not have waited for Senator Duckworth to have her baby to finally allow babies on the Senate floor — Senators need to take a more proactive role in ensuring that women are encouraged to run for the national office. In addition, women should not be made to feel ashamed of having children or being mothers.
Sadly, there are often negative stereotypes placed on working mothers. Society expects women to prioritize their children and families over their careers. Women with newborns are expected to devote all their time to taking care of them, although most local governments and companies do not have paid maternity leave. The phenomena of women dropping out of the workforce or not pursuing certain careers is one that society has conditioned us to accept. These stereotypes are then magnified when women run for public office, since voting for a government representative is highly subjective and mostly based on likeability. Women already have a harder time breaking the likeability barrier than men because constituents can feel that women should work on creating or caring for their family rather than running for office. Having a child in office can be a hard decision because voters might feel that an elected woman should be at home instead of in Washington. They might also feel that by having a baby, a female representative will not be devoting as much time to the service of her constituents as she should be. But these are opinions that are based on outdated concepts of gender roles. Mothers should be able to bring their children along with them to the Senate. If an elected official believes that she can both parent and be in office, the Senate should provide the necessary resources and make the appropriate provisions, such as allowing children on the Senate floor. Capitol Hill needs to move from being a male-dominated space to being one that welcomes all genders. This approach will in turn encourage more women to run for higher office.
Mothers also need to be courageous and run for office, despite the unnecessary criticisms they face. Furthermore, communities should empower women to take the leap and run for office and support them if elected. Women should be unapologetic about their roles as mothers and caretakers. Not making any trouble about the double standard women face in the public eye might help a woman get re-elected for the next term, but this choice harms future women in the long run. Women are capable of being working mothers, regardless of whether that job is on Capitol Hill or in their own home. It’s time that women demand that the system changes for them, and workspaces should actively work to be more accommodating without being asked to do so.