Mothers in Public Office

Women are certainly taking it on the chin as funding cuts fall thick and fast. Topeka, Kansas has decided the city can no longer afford to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence.  Legislators are proposing reductions in funding for home visits to new mothers and their infant children.  The President’s jobs bill, which would put hundreds of thousands of laid-off teachers back to work, is stalled in the US Senate.  The so-called “Super Committee” (do they get to wear capes or something?) toils behind closed doors on Capitol Hill to hack another $1.2 trillion dollars from the federal budget.   You can bet women, who rely more than men on Social Security, Medicare, child care subsidies, and other income support, will feel the sting.

Certainly, it’s mostly men who are doing the deciding.  Only one of the 12 congressional Super Committee members is female, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.  Overall, women make up a measly 17% of members of the entire US House and Senate, way short of the 30% needed to wield effective gender representation.  State government, the training ground or pipeline for the US Congress, finds only 25 women per every 100 seats.  A number of reasons were put forward to explain this gap at a recent DC symposium, “Women in American Democracy“.  Research shows that men take the initiative in running, and women generally wait to be asked.  Men have access to bigger piles of money, or to more sources of money, essential for running an American political campaign.  Men form networks and connections at work which they can mobilize for support.  Women spend much more time volunteering, often raising money for schools or other community interests, putting the focus of their efforts on others.  And finally, our elections are geographic – localities have candidates, not agendas, or genders, or demographics.  

Yet it seems to me that hard times like these cry out for mothers’ concentrated political involvement.  Mothers are ace problem solvers.  We routinely allot limited resources to a constantly changing list of demands.  We take care of the most practical necessities.  Every 10 minutes, our priorities shift, depending on who is hungry, who’s on the phone, who needs to be picked up, who is crying, and what due date or deadline is looming.  We anticipate problems and solve them before they blow up.  Mothers can pay attention to many things at one time – we have to.  We know that we need others to accomplish our objectives, so we cultivate good relationships with neighbors, the mechanic, the pediatrician, the grocer, our kids’ teachers.  We can see what others miss and read body language, restore confidence with a hug or discipline with an arched eyebrow.  We are wired to strive for the well-being of those around us, not to gather power and influence to ourselves.

In other words, mothers are adaptable, visionary, co-operative, and pragmatic.  With flexibility and focus, we grease the wheels of life and make things happen.  If we could just push ourselves forward, take the credit and see ourselves as the leaders we are, more mothers could get elected.  Then, maybe, domestic violence would still be a crime in Topeka, a visiting nurse could check in on that mother and her newborn, and one teacher wouldn’t have 43 kids in her classroom.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington


About Valerie Young

Valerie Young is a public policy analyst who focuses on the economic status of mothers and other family caregivers. She promotes social justice by arming mothers with information and a healthy dose of outrage. She is the Advocacy Coordinator at the National Association of Mothers' Centers, and is a reporter for The Shriver Report and contributor to Brain/Child Magazine. Follow her blog, Your (Wo)Man in Washington, on Twitter @WomanInDC and on Facebook as Valerie Young and Your (Wo)Man in Washington.


  • TheUltimateOutcast

    Hi Valerie,

    This is an interesting development. I looked into running for office locally. When I found out how much time fundraising would take away from my mothering work — only to end up with an another unpaid responsibility on top of a full-time job I said forget it! The logistics do not make sense. If more public office positions paid salaries and there were no need for fundraising (such as pooled money) at community and local levels this problem would change. We need to change those things and stop trying to change ourselves.