Weekend Reading on Representation: Raising Children, Running Households

Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!

There were a number of great pieces tied to the celebration of Mother’s Day which pointed to the contradiction between the Hallmark version of the holiday and the lived experiences of many, if not all, women.

I especially loved a piece in The New York Times by Kim Brooks titled “Forget Pancakes. Pay Mothers” which challenges readers to think about the work of raising children and running households in the United States:

After just six days of sheltering in place, I found myself thinking about all the women I’d taken for granted.

I started with Griselda, who cared for my kids when they were babies, a few hours each week. I thought about Beth and Perrine, and every babysitter and cleaning lady I’d ever used — all the women I’d paid to come into my home over the past 13 years so that I could leave it and do other things.

If someone had asked me why I paid these women to do things that I could do myself — particularly when I made so little money with the time they freed up — I’d say that I did it because I wanted to work, because I needed to work, not just out of economic necessity but also out of a need to feel like a full human being. The implication here was that when I did the child care and housework and cooking and laundry, it was not work but something else.

Now, for the first time, everyone is doing the work we don’t call work when women do it. We watch Jimmy Fallon play with his daughters while filming “The Tonight Show” and think, “Maybe it’s work, after all.”

The day I turned 16, my father suggested that I get a part-time job. Not just any job — something difficult and monotonous, for little money and less respect. He thought it would motivate me to train for a more remunerative career.

That’s not exactly what happened. I worked as a cashier at a pharmacy, made deli sandwiches and waited tables. But I still majored in English. I came close to applying to medical school, but instead I had a baby, then another. My children’s father made enough to support us but not enough to provide for the child care we’d need were I to return to school or take a full-time job. And so throughout my 30s, I found myself largely occupied with keeping a home and raising my children.

(iStock: The Lily)

There was a very encouraging piece in The Lily by Caroline Kitchener about the record number of women who have filed to run for office this year though races for the U.S. Senate and governor are very competitive:

It wasn’t hard for Claire Russo to imagine herself running for Congress. She lives about an hour away from Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who ran in 2018.

Spanberger has three young kids, like Russo. She has a background in national security, like Russo.

And when Spanberger ran, she won.

Russo, a Democrat running for the seat representing Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, is one of at least 490 women who are running for the House of Representatives in 2020, competing among a historic cohort: As of Tuesday, there are more women running for House seats than ever before.

The final number will likely be even higher: In 14 states, potential candidates still have time to sign up.

In 2018, female candidates set a record that was hard to beat: 476 women ran for the House, up from 273 in 2016. When women won a historic number of seats — filling the Capitol with female voices that have since seized the country’s attention — 2018 was pronounced the second “year of the woman,” a nod to 1992, when women made unprecedented gains across both chambers of Congress. The class elected in 2018 was the most ethnically, racially and religiously diverse in congressional history, and included the body’s first Muslim women and Native American women.

But of course running is not the same as winning: Women lost to men in two special elections for the U.S. House this week in Wisconsin and California, with the latter seat having been won by Katie Hill in 2018.

Looking ahead to November, there are women running competitive races in 11 elections for governor, but none are favored. Women also may end up losing seats in the U.S. Senate.

Vote Run Lead co-founder and board member Rhonda Briggins wrote a great piece on Grio about the need for more Black women to run for office:

As I sit here writing this on #MothersMonday—a day that honors working moms on the Monday after Mother’s Day—I’m tired. 

Not tired because I am, in fact, a working mom juggling “distance learning” with my teenager 50 days into this stay-at-home quarantine. Rather, I’m tired because I am being forced to make sense of the senselessness for my 13-year-old son, and for myself, yet again. 

I’m tired of posting messages on my social media, like “I can’t keep calm, I have a Black son” or using the “#Justicefor” hashtag du jour to express my outrage over the latest murders of innocent unarmed Black men. And yet, here I am again, speaking two new names out of respect for their existence and as a reminder that their lives did – and still do- matter. 

The recent release of the videos documenting the tragic fatal shootings of Ahmaud Arbery, of southwest Georgia, on Feb. 23 and Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, of Indianapolis, on May 6, has left the country outraged, frustrated, and protesting for the lack of justice.In 2020, we are still being victimized by racism and bigotry. When the perpetrators are caught (often on camera), our children are often victim-blamed and their characters are assassinated by the media, the public, and the defense attorneys. Any and every trick in the book is used to attempt to justify why it’s fine that jogging, driving, eating ice cream in our apartments or wearing a hoodie sweatshirt while walking unarmed can result in cold-blooded murder. 


Continuing with the theme of women in American politics, there was a great read in Glamour Magazine by Jennifer Siebel Newsom on Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) and how she is handling being a single mother and a member of Congress during the pandemic:

In a world that feels almost entirely different now—a world of Zoom meetings and distance learning, with essential workers putting their lives on the line and with unemployment on the rise—this particular imbalance has yet to be set right. In fact, the disproportionate burden we place on women to be both breadwinners and caregivers (plus teachers, Zoom schedulers, in-home nurses, and therapists too) has only become more substantial.

I am incredibly grateful for my family’s good fortune during this crisis: We are in good health, with a roof over our heads, food on the table, and job security. Yet I still feel an enormous burden in these trying times, and some days are much harder than others. As I often do in times of struggle, I have turned to my girlfriends and women I admire to give me strength.

With that, I asked some incredible women from California to share a day in their lives with me so that I might share them with you too. These are women who inspire me, struggle just as you and I do, and give me hope by simply doing their best to carry on.

First up, here’s how Representative Katie Porter, a freshman Democrat who represents California’s 45th District in the U.S. House of Representatives—and happens to be the lone single mom in Congress—is spending her time in lockdown, in her own words.

There was a fascinating story by Young-Im Lee in the Washington Post about the election of the highest number of women (57) elected, ever, in South Korea:

South Korea was the first country to hold national elections amid the coronavirus pandemic. The election drew a high level of global attention, as other countries no doubt wondered how the pandemic would affect their own upcoming elections.

Defying predictions that fears of the coronavirus would discourage participation, the April 15 parliamentary election instead had a remarkably high voter turnout. Media coverage took note of the government’s comprehensive disinfection regimen and social distancing at polling places, a systemdesigned to reduce the possibility of infection.

The ruling Democratic Party’s landslide victory became a cautionary tale to other leaders — voters rewarded the government’s coronavirus testing and tracing efforts. But voting under the shadow of a pandemic may have obscured something else: This election marked the highest number of women ever elected into South Korea’s parliament. Here are five things to know.

(World Economic Forum / Flickr)

Jessica Grounds and Kristin Haffert—founders of Mine the Gap —had a very interesting piece on NBC‘s Know Your Value site that asks “Do women lead differently during a crisis?”

If more governments and companies were led by women, would the world be better prepared for this global pandemic? Far fewer women lead countries, run governments, and manage major institutions. Women comprise 25 percent of parliaments around the world, 20 women hold the position as head of state or government out of 193 nations, and 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs in the United States are women.

Beyond the hope that many women (and some enlightened men) hold for an increase of women’s influence on our governments and businesses, there’s evidence to suggest that having more women in leadership positions does make a difference in improving outcomes—meaning, we all might be better off during this pandemic.

Beginning with leadership style, we start to see differences. For example, women tend to exhibit a collaborative and democratic style; men more often use a command and control approach. While arguments can be made in favor of either approach, researcher Alice Eagly explains that women more frequently blend the two and exhibit a highly effective, androgynous leadership style called transformational leadership.

Katherine Gelh and Cynthia Richie Terrell in 2019.

If you are interested in learning more about RepresentWomen‘s work to advance women’s representation and leadership via systems reforms—that change institutions, not just the individuals marginalized by those institutions—please listen to my interview with Katherine Gehl whose terrific book on American politics, The Politics Industry, is available for purchase and discussion! 

Kathy Chiron, president of the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia, alerted me to the terrific collection of voter registration information available on the Vote411 website. 

Read Maura Reilly’s tribute to Patsy Mink that’s part of RepresentWomen’s recognition of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and is part of our series of blogs leading up to Seneca Falls Revisited in July: 

From the start of her career, former Representative Patsy Mink broke several glass ceilings, becoming the first woman of color, Asian-American woman and woman representative for Hawaii to serve in Congress in 1965. Mink went on to be the first Asian-American woman to run for president in 1972. Although she withdrew from the race after only standing on the ballot in Oregon, Mink continued to push for her beliefs during her presidential run and after, voicing opposition to the Vietnam War and demanding equal opportunity and equal rights for women.

Throughout her long-running Congressional career, Mink worked tirelessly as a progressive voice for women’s rights. Initially Mink wanted to be a doctor, serving as president of the Pre-Medical Students Club while in college; however, she was denied entry to all 12 medical school she applied to on the basis of her sex. As a Representative, Patsy Mink used the double standard she faced as an opportunity to fight for women’s educational equality.

Mink wrote and was essential to the passing of Title IX in June 1972, which was eventually renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act and remains the only law explicitly granting women equality in the U.S. Mink went on to pass the Women’s Educational Equity Act in 1974, which provides $30 million a year for programs to promote gender equity in schools and increase educational and job opportunities for women.

My blueberries are getting plump as the weather in Washington, D.C. finally warms.

Finally, don’t forget to check out this week’s reading suggestions from the RepresentWomen team!


Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.