New York State candidate Francoise Olivas asked if she could juggle politics and children

She introduced herself as a small business owner, working mother and environmentalist. Then she addressed the issues she was most passionate about: embracing universal child care so parents in New York can get back to work; help local retailers; investing in education; clean airways and waterways and create sustainable “green” jobs.

When the floor opened up for questions, Olivas was ready to talk about her journey and the advocacy she’s done in her Brooklyn district. But the first question she received left her shocked: How did she plan to juggle being a mother and running for a Senate seat?

A few minutes later, she was asked if she could balance motherhood and politics a second time.

This time, the interrogator urged her, “Especially if the child is of a certain age…this child needs a parent, a mother or a father, most of the time.”

“I was in such shock,” Olivas said. “That’s an absurd question to ask in 2022, especially by a club that has ‘progressive’ in the name.”

Both exchanges during the remote and closed meeting were recorded by Monique Erickson, a friend of Olivas, on her cell phone and shared with The Washington Post. Olivas’ campaign also shared the recording with the political action committee vote momwho supports Democratic mothers running for Office. The group posted an excerpt from the exchange on Twitter.

In a statement shared on Twitter On Tuesday evening, the NBPD said the members’ comments “do not reflect the opinion of the executive committee.” The organization said it had no further comment at this time.

Although there have been significant gains for mothers seeking public office, the questions Olivas faced on Monday demonstrate that these candidates still face lingering biases, said Kelly Dittmar, associate professor at Rutgers-Camden University and Research Director at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).

“This is the type of question that women on the campaign trail and as office holders have heard throughout history. It’s not unique to this time, but it’s unique that we have a swath of it. said Dittmar.

When these questions arise, Dittmar added, they are usually raised by voters, who may come from a wide range of backgrounds and have differing opinions on gender roles. But, she said, it’s unclear to what extent these concerns are raised behind closed doors: “If the issues are raised in public, are they also raised in private and influential places?”

The first person to ask Olivas about her ability to balance motherhood and campaigning was a female member of the volunteer organization.

“How do you plan to juggle being a mom and running for a seat when sometimes you have trouble coming to certain meetings and doing Zoom because you have a kid, and that’s more of a responsibility?” she asked.

Olivas said she was taken aback by the question, but instinctively went into “sympathetic mode” in her response.

“It takes a whole village,” said Olivas, who added that she sometimes brings her child to events with her. “To be frank, I’m doing this for his future, for the future of our planet,” Olivas told the group. “We need to have more mothers in the office because that’s a lived perspective that doesn’t exist.”

Although the question and answer portion only lasted five minutes, Olivas was asked another question about parenthood, this time by a male NBPD member.

“As a senator, you have certain responsibilities … you have to go to Washington, DC, I guess, you have to go to Albany and things of that nature and travel,” the member said. “How do you plan to do this and have a child at the same time? »

Reflecting on the question after the event, Olivas said it was “so sexist”: “I just don’t understand how someone these days in New York could not only have that thought, but have that thought and ask the question out loud.

But what shook Olivas the most was everyone else’s silence on Zoom, especially the group’s executive committee, she said. (The other voices heard on the recording shared on Twitter were those of Olivas’ friend and her family, and weren’t heard by the other members of the meeting.) The silence of the room blew him away. “stung” and made her question herself, she said, “Was it okay to ask those questions?”

Stuart Sherman, a paralegal and NBPD board member at the time, didn’t think so. He was “shocked” that the question came up twice in five minutes.

During his own campaign for city council last year, he was never asked about his ability to parent and run for office, despite raising a newborn baby, Sherman said. .

Although Sherman said he called the questions “inappropriate” in the group’s chat, he did not speak up on Zoom. He feared it would lead to an argument and deprive Olivas of time to talk to the group, he added.

Sherman noted that as a member of a volunteer organization, he didn’t think it was fair to ask Olivas about his ability to attend NBPD meetings. In general, the meetings were not very well attended, he said.

Sherman resigned from the organization Wednesday night, in part because he was disappointed with what he saw as a lackluster response from the band, he said. The questions do not reflect all NBPD members, he added, but he believes they show how pervasive sexism is, “in all workplaces and all political affiliations.”

CAWP’s Dittmar said the impact of having to repeatedly answer these questions is difficult to quantify. Women aren’t necessarily losing votes because of concerns about their ability to parent and hold office, but they are losing other things, she said.

“You could look at questions about eligibility the same way,” Dittmar said. “You can effectively answer that question and really dispel some of the doubts…but it’s time and energy spent that could have been spent elsewhere on the campaign, and one that their male counterparts often don’t have to spend. “

That doesn’t mean parenthood shouldn’t be brought up at all for contestants, Dittmar added, but it doesn’t matter how it’s framed and who it’s asked of. Particularly during the pandemic, women still bear the brunt of caregiving and household responsibilities, Dittmar said, and those experiences shape the kind of policies candidates champion when they take office.

And journalists are increasingly savvy about leveling the playing field: Dittmar pointed out a 2019 Vox article in which journalist Anna North asked fathers running for president what they would do for childcare as an example.

But ultimately, this recent exchange is part of a long history of questioning if women should assume political power, Dittmar said: “Are they asking if a woman can do it? Or is it really a question of whether she should do it?”

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