In an interesting article in the New York Times, the issues facing women seeking political positions are discussed. How does a woman balance family with high pressure jobs? There’s plenty of resistance to women seeking power but if they have “supermom” it seems to soften their images and ease the transition into executive roles.
The full title of the article, for reference, is “Why ‘Supermom’ Gets Star Billing on Résumés for Public Office: Judge Barrett and Senator Harris negotiate America’s freighted expectations for women.”
Before I share some thoughts let’s look at an excerpt from the beginning of the article:
“During Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings this week, Republican senators, one after another, marveled at a role that doesn’t appear on her résumé: mother of seven. They described her mothering as “tireless” and “remarkable,” clear evidence that she was a “superstar.” Senator Josh Hawley asked her for parenting advice.
Judge Barrett has embraced the image. News cameras were there to watch her load her large family into her car before her official nomination. “While I am a judge, I’m better known back home as a room parent, car-pool driver and birthday party planner,” she said the day she was nominated.
One of her sharpest questioners, Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, has, in other settings, repeatedly emphasized her role as stepmother, which she took on when she married six years ago. She’s called Momala, she has told voters, and she cooks the Sunday night family dinners.”
The challenges of life are many. And perhaps doubly so for women, with statistics reporting even when they are co leaders of dual income households they often carry more of the domestic chore weight. The challenges of presenting a public professional image are many too. How much of one’s personal side does one share? In the case of Judge Barrett it looks like it was beyond her control; the senators were dwelling on her role as a mother to soften her image in the vetting process.
It seems that gender roles are firmly entrenched and that women encounter the glass ceiling routinely. Some may avoid seeking executive or managerial positions knowing that they may conflict with life events like having children and requiring maternity leave.
When my mother was in her early twenties she became a teacher. She went through teacher’s college and had one or two brief years teaching before motherhood called. She then raised 3 children and never worked a conventional job again. But of course this work was still work. Housework took time and raising children was a full time job. Her role was fill time caregiver and allowed my father to devote himself to his career.
I am thankful to both of them. My Dad was home for dinner and always a part of our weekend lives. My mom held the fort the rest of the time. It felt like a balanced world. Looking back I feel grateful and lucky that I was either in school or with my mom. There was no daycare or regular babysitter.
But I wonder if my mom, despite her saying she lived a satisfied life, might have held a fantasy that she could have had some profession. Certainly she must have felt isolated on occasion as the sole grown-up at home. Having a connection to a workplace, even if part-time would have provided a small extra income, provided outside social stimulation, and boosted self confidence.
Of course women today more routinely do have to have a full time job. There are two-income households and sometimes women hold down the regular job while a husband works part-time and raises the kids.
This is the situation for me. I work as a designer and teacher and have been home with my kids the last 5 years. It’s rewarding but I yearn for regularly scheduled school and the ability to rejoin the world of a regular gig outside the home.
The New York Times article addresses two women in particular, the court nominee and the vice presidential nominee, as in “Judge Barrett and Senator Harris negotiate America’s freighted expectations for women.”
The demands on both between raising a family and developing a career would lead to some conflict. How do they hold it together? How do they manage work life balance?
There’s no doubt they rely on a circle of help including nannies, grandparents and family and other caregivers to assist with the kids. Class may play a role in this system too, as the ability to hire outside help is something available to those with income to sustain it.
Getting back to the NYT article, one of the broader issues is that women in the workforce who rise to the top are often derided as “pushy” or “aggressive” when engaged in the same type of jobs as men. This was the label attached to Hilary Clinton.
The article explains the double standard as it applies to confirmation hearings for male judges:
“Yet Americans are also ambivalent about mothers who work, forcing women to negotiate an obstacle course of perceptions and expectations.
Little of this is required of men. Compare, for example, the confirmation hearings in 1986 of Justice Antonin Scalia, a mentor of Judge Barrett. Senators welcomed his children to the hearings and offered them breaks, but spent little, if any, time connecting his fatherhood to his professional life. Justice Brett Kavanaugh spoke of coaching his daughters’ basketball teams, but there was little focus on his family life as a qualification.
And is it a double standard? Experts say yes. I would agree. Women are still, five decades after the women’s liberation movement, expected to appear to be feminine and defer to men. Attaining power is tough when so much of the executive is an old boy’s club. In general, men can more freely focus on professional development than women can.
What are your thoughts about gender roles and the difficulty for men and women in finding work life balance? I’d love to hear your thoughts.