The sexist reason why Tammy Duckworth will be the first senator to give birth while in office
In case you didn’t know, Senator Tammy Duckworth is a bit of a badass.
A retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and a helicopter pilot during the Iraq War, she became a double-amputee after suffering severe combat wounds when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down — but her injuries didn’t stop her. After retiring from the Army, she was elected to the 8th district of Illinois in the House of Representatives, making her the first female double-amputee to serve in the United States Congress. An extremely vocal advocate for the rights of women, immigrants, and veterans, Senator Duckworth also promotes education and environmental conservation,
She is a woman with strong convictions and an even stronger will. In 2016, Duckworth became the senator for Illinois, the first Asian-American to do so.
Now, Senator Duckworth is making history for a different reason.
Later this year, Tammy Duckworth will become the first senator to give birth while in office. In the 229 years since the United States Congress first met, none of the previous 1,973 elected senators have ever accomplished giving birth while in office.
But it’s actually kind of unusual that this feat is a “first.”
Every year in America, approximately 4 million babies are born — about 63 births per every 1000 women — so being pregnant and giving birth itself isn’t unusual at all.
What’s strange is that it has needed to take so long for a woman to be an active senator while also going through this very natural biological experience.
But until recently, many women haven’t had opportunities and resources to simultaneously balance their work and pregnancy.
Even now, in a more enlightened age, women are still expected to handle domestic duties more than male partners — in addition to the other priorities we have. The expectation for women to put in more emotional labor (listening, validating, remembering, and caring) while said labor is undervalued by society is also an issue women face at home, rooted in sexism.
Our competence is also questioned in the workplace when we attempt to balance career and family.
Whether or not you already have children, plan to have children in the future, or prefer to not become a mother, chances are that you’ll pay the “Motherhood Penalty.” A study by law firm Slater & Gordon found that 40% of the sruveyed managers admitted to being wary of hiring women in their childbearing years. Similarly, about the same number agreed that they avoided hiring women who already had one or more children.
This prejudice exists for all women, no matter how powerful they are. During the 2016 president election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced scrutiny over whether or not she would be able to effectively govern as president while being a grandmother. This sexist concern was never raised for her male counterparts — such as grandparent of 18, Mitt Romney and grandparent of nine, Donald Trump. Years before Clinton even officially began her campaign, it was a media conversation.
I’ve had my own run-in with this kind of discrimination.
A job promotion that managers were preparing me for became available when I was pregnant with my first child. Though nothing about me had changed except for the fact that I was pregnant, higher-ups were suddenly concerned about whether or not I could fill the role.
Negative whispers about my morning sickness, my scheduled doctor’s appointments, and the required six weeks of maternity leave got back to me. I started doubting my own abilities and felt isolated at work. Not a single coworker or manager stepped in to defend me when these sexist attitudes became known. No one remembered the hard work that had gotten me to the point of being considered for the promotion in the first place. No one even spoke up about the legality of discussing my pregnancy — a protected medical condition.
I could have quit right then or at least withdrawn my name (and part of me wanted to) — but instead, I was loud about my rights, I stood my ground, and I got the job. My pregnancy — and the two others that followed while I held that position — never diminished my ability to succeed at my job.
I believe, without a doubt, that Senator Duckworth is already feeling some of that frustration at work. Maybe she has already started to hear those whispers. Maybe she has already had to set regressive colleagues straight. But I’m also certain that Senator Duckworth will continue representing her state and constituents as effectively as she already does.
She’ll weather the sexist remarks and narrow-minded limitations others attempt to place on her, and she’ll continue to resist the Trump administration’s prejudiced agenda.
And she’ll do it all while growing a tiny human inside her womb. Talk about badass.