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Do female politicians face a ‘motherhood bind’?

October 16, 2020, 1:02 PM UTC
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) questions Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett via videoconference as she testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. Barrett was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who passed away in September.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds—Pool/Getty Images

This is the web version of the Broadsheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Fortune has a deep dive on the NBA bubble and the Wubble, Patrisse Cullors inks a Warner Bros. deal, and we explore the motherhood bind. Have a wonderful weekend.

– Walking the motherhood tightrope. The Broadsheet has spent plenty of time covering the “double bind” that women face in the workplace. It goes something like this: Stereotypes tell us women are supposed to be nurturing, gentle, and empathetic—but somewhere along the way, it was decided that those aren’t qualities that align with strong leadership. So, if a woman ticks all those boxes, she can’t possibly be a good leader. Yet, if she leans the other way, conforming to more “masculine” traits, like toughness or assertiveness, she is likely to be seen as abrasive, bossy—or worse.

This New York Times story suggests that the double bind has a sibling—I’ll call it the motherhood bind. The piece, by Claire Cain Miller and Alisha Haridasani Gupta, looks at the “tightrope” that women in public office walk when it comes to being—or not being—a mom.

On one hand, researchers have found that being a mother makes female politicians seem warmer or more approachable to voters. On the other, many Americans remain somewhat suspicious of working moms, and wonder how effective they can really be at their jobs while also fulfilling their parenting duties. Implied, of course, is that women still bear the true responsibility for taking care of children—the fatherhood bind does not exist.

The Times looks to two very different women to illustrate the phenomenon: Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Senator Kamala Harris. Barrett has seven children, a fact that Republican senators have been performatively cooing over all week. As the NYT puts it: “They described her mothering as ‘tireless’ and ‘remarkable,’ clear evidence that she was a ‘superstar.’” Want a laugh? Just try to imagine a group of senators taking the time to praise a male judge in these terms.

Harris, meanwhile, has leaned into her identity as stepmother, which some observers see as an attempt to sand any scary edges off her identity as prosecutor and her ambition—another trait voters sometimes punish female candidates for possessing—for the nation’s second-highest office. 

Some analysts told the Times that there’s an upside here: at least women like Harris and Barrett get to talk about their personal lives, to present themselves as “complex human beings”—something an earlier generation of women were urged to avoid.

Perhaps. Or perhaps women in public office—and, in some cases, the business world—have just traded one set of inflexible and stereotypical expectations for another.

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- DC to NYC. Former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett is getting involved in the New York City mayor's race, co-chairing a new bid by Citigroup vice chairman Ray McGuire. His announcement follows the debut of attorney Maya Wiley's campaign. CNBC

- Deals on deals. Two entertainment deal stories this morning: Patrisse Cullors, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, signed an overall deal with Warner Bros. to develop and produce programming amplifying Black voices across broadcast, cable, and streaming. And six women who took part in a screenwriting lab cofounded by actor Margot Robbie all sold feature films

- Three years of #MeToo. Yesterday was the third anniversary of the reinvigorated #MeToo movement, sparked by a tweet in October 2017. Leaders, including Tarana Burke, say the path forward is to address inequality. AP

- Hello, Adam. Ousted WeWork founder Adam Neumann made a return to investing with a $30 million bet on Hello Alfred, the residential concierge and apartment management startup cofounded by Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck. CEO Sapone says she and Neumann share "the perspective that real estate can do more for people." Bloomberg

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Steph Korey has officially stepped down as Away's co-CEO, four months after the luggage brand announced that she would depart the business a second time. Annie Young-Scrivner, former CEO of Godiva, has been named chief executive of Wella. Merkle promoted Margaret Wagner to president, Merkle EMEA. The Washington Football Team hired Julie Andreeff Jensen, former chief corporate affairs and communications officer at Citadel, as SVP of external engagement and communications. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Inside the bubble.Fortune feature by Adam Lashinksy and Brian O'Keefe dives into how the NBA pulled off its bubble—for both the league and the WNBA. In related news, beauty brand Glossier is now an official sponsor of the WNBA

- Athletic legacy. U.S. women's hockey team Olympic captain Meghan Duggan announced earlier this week that she would retire from the sport. In this piece, the athlete says that the proudest moment of her career was advocating with USA Hockey for equal pay and treatment of female hockey players. ESPN

- Roe report. This piece analyzes not the often-debated issue of whether Roe v. Wade will be overturned—but what would happen if it is. Data analysis shows the parts of the United States that would see the most significant declines in legal abortions. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

Cristina Cuomo is immune to your criticism Elle

Maine's referendum on Susan Collins's reputation The New Yorker

George Floyd’s sister Bridgett calls Biden ‘the change we need’ in a new ad New York Times

PARTING WORDS

"I have a lot of ideas for amendments."

-Playwright and actor Heidi Schreck on her play What the Constitution Means to Me. A taped version debuts on Amazon Prime Video this weekend.