The carefully orchestrated campaign material came in the form of a gut punching drizzle.
First, a leaflet listing the candidate’s attributes – mom, community leader and South Shore native. Yes, in that order. Then a greeting card layout splattered with pictures of her children that introduced them to us – ready or not! Followed by a brochure featuring her and her children who were holding up a handmade “Mama for Congress” sign (which they clearly did not fashion themselves). Of the five pictures inside, two featured her children, one of which was her campaigning with one of them. Some people may view this as going above and beyond, as an obstacle to overcome. I view it as an opportunity I and so many like me will never have.
Two slightly more informative brochures followed. One donned with her lifting her son out of a car seat on the cover. With the last, a dash of hope things were heading to the realm of more substantive and relevant. Until I flipped it over to be greeted by her speaking in front of a group while cradling her son on her hip.
I wanted to support her, I wanted to help remove the incumbent in my congressional district, but through all the parenthood drool how was I supposed to determine if she’s a good candidate?
And then I remembered, those who haven’t had my experiences or similar tend to assume that parenthood and good personhood are synonymous. Those of us who wanted to be parents but couldn’t carry this busted myth in the forefront of our beings. Such campaign material is not going to work on 15 – 20 % of the population here in the US.
Plus, it’s wrong. The campaign material was both triggering and exclusionary, and was done, like everything else it seems, with the childless population nowhere on the radar. It’s wrong in the sense you just can’t get your gut right with it, no matter the rationalization. Wrong to the point of “I just don’t think I can fill in that circle under her name” even though she stands for the things I believe in. What to do?
A few weeks later, I was contacted via text by a campaign volunteer. Would I be voting for her on election day? Hmmm. Now things are getting real. I hesitated as I turned the endless angles involved in such a thing over and over and over.
More women in politics is a good thing. When it has to be coupled with such an aggressive onslaught of mommy mania, I think it does just as much harm as it does good. We are not advancing the cause of women any when the children that we have no control over whether we can conceive and bare are designated as some form of self – worth.
And just what is it exactly that bothers me so about her campaign material? Though not as triggering as it would have been a few years ago, when something incites a visceral reaction, it takes extra effort to use your words and keep your head on straight. And there are so many crucial issues facing this country right now – should I even bring this up at all?
I’m sure, as a woman, the candidate faces pressure from the other side of things that judges women unfairly for “taking time away” from their young children to campaign. That questions her ability to focus as the mother of young children. I don’t support that sexist shit either. We need people from all walks of life in government and women are capable of making their own decisions regarding what is right for them, their lives and loved ones in it. By speaking up do I then become part of the faction that harshly judges women from all angles? I want to address an issue, not contribute to an existing one.
After giving it much thought, I texted the campaign volunteer back to express my reservations. I stated that before I voted for the candidate I needed to know that she is aware of my demographic or at least willing to learn about it. I tossed out the usual infertility and childless not by choice numbers. I shared my concern about the heavily pronatalist tenor of her campaign and that relying on motherhood as a campaign tool implies one’s status as a parent elevates their ability to serve above that of non parents. I made sure to mention that I also didn’t think someone’s fitness to serve should be questioned based on the fact are a mother either. I let the campaign volunteer know exactly how the campaign materials had affected me, and lended my blogging perspective by also letting her know they would affect so many others who are childless not by choice in a similar way. I requested that she please pass this on to the powers that be who shaped the campaign messages, and closed with “17% of the population is a lot to omit from our larger narrative.”
Lo and behold, the campaign volunteer who we’ll call Beth, responded, and I have to say I really enjoyed our back and forth in spite of the intensity and complexity of the subject matter. Turned out she had done IVF herself, which at least in her case produced a baby, and was very sensitive and thorough in her response.
With my conscience more clear after having spoken up, and trusting that our point of view would at least be relayed to the campaign, I was satisfied. Beth circled back a few days later however, with the campaign’s actual response to my concern. Though I understand they were chasing my vote, impressive just the same. My stomach did do a few flips. But the follow up was deeply appreciated.
In the text, the candidate’s qualifications as well as the issues she was running on were more clearly iterated. And it contained a response from the candidate’s representative who was said to have consulted with the candidate herself, which included that they were sorry for my struggle to have children and that I felt alienated by the campaign materials. There was also this: The candidate “talks about her motherhood and children not because it makes her qualified, but because it is who she is.”
Overall I was grateful for the follow up. I try to keep my expectations set in relation to where society is now, not where I know it needs to be. I would have liked to have seen an acknowledgement of the childless not by choice demographic as a whole, beyond myself, and a commitment to have us on the radar when designing future campaign materials (which I requested in a following text) would have also been nice. But change doesn’t happen all at once.
I was taken back by the assertion that her motherhood is “who she is”. Ouch. I view motherhood is an (often) unearned opportunity through which to express who one is, but it isn’t WHO she is any more than infertility and involuntary childlessness is WHO I am. But I get that not everyone has been thrust into the position where they are forced to see things this way. I decided to leave the supposed existentialism of parenthood and non parenthood topic for another time.
This particular candidate had lobbied to get her childcare covered as a campaign expense and won, and I pointed out in one of my texts that I felt that was a good thing and I appreciated it as it would encourage people from different walks of life to enter the political arena. That is one thing that’s so hard about speaking up, at least for me, initially. It requires you to enter the realm of that which you lost and validate it when reasonable, for the sake of the big picture. All while taking the risk that those you are communicating with will not validate you. In this case, I’m glad that didn’t happen.
I would also hope that a childless person caring for an aging parent or a handicapped sibling could get similar compensation, but I decided to save that one for later as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.
Towards the end of my text exchange, I asked my husband to give the campaign materials a look. Upon rescanning them, it hit me again how exclusionary they were.
“Just give me a gut response, you don’t need to over think it. How does this strike you?”
“Well, I thought politicians were supposed to represent and work for all of us, not just people who get to be parents” was what came up for him.
I really don’t know what the moral of this story is, to be honest. I’m pretty certain we won’t end up on anyone’s radar unless we put ourselves there. I’d like to think I wasn’t the only one in my congressional district who spoke up on this issue, but knowing the diligence it took to come up with a semblance of worthy thoughts that someone else would want to hear, I’m not so sure.
I’m not too much of a hope monger these days (NO!!!), but I would like to believe that any action taken on the childless not by choice front plays some small part in creating what will hopefully become a new, or at least an expanded way of being for us all.