This year, more women are headed to the Senate than ever before. Of course, the Senate doesn't pass laws in a vacuum. There's a lot involved in creating change. But I'm wondering what the effects of this increase in female governing power will be.
These women come from both political parties. But many of them have raised families and worked at the same time. It may have been a few years for some of them, or maybe some still have children at home or are taking care of parents, but I would bet they remember what it was like to be up all night with a colicky baby and then still have to show up for work the next day.
I'm not saying that men don't care about these issues, but since women still do a disproportionate amount of child care and all of the pregnancy and breastfeeding, they more often know what it's like to work while juggling the relentless physical demands of children. They know how it feels to be offered less money at a job because they are mothers. They understand that, plan as you might, sometimes pregnancy or parenting emergencies can make a regular work schedule impossible.
Many of them have also worked their way up the ladder and have worked a variety of different jobs. Elizabeth Warren, for example, worked as a waitress at the age of 13 to help out with her family's medical bills. She dropped out of school when she got married, then finished her degree in another state. She worked with children with disabilities in the public school system for many years, and went to law school after having two children. She was a single mom for a while, and spent a lot of time researching consumer bankruptcy and commercial law. After moving around the country with her husband, she was appointed to advise government committees about financial issues--and this all happened before her Senate run.
So this makes me wonder. What did she do with her kids while she was in law school? What was it like to move so often? Did she always want to move with her husband or did she have to give up some opportunities to do so? Did she feel conflicted and wish she had more time to spend with her family? And most of all, how that will affect what she does as a senator?
Will the new senators discuss work/life issues? Will they try to pass laws promoting sick leave or parental leave? Will they help fix the child care crisis? Will they give speeches encouraging companies to embrace family-friendly policies? What else could they do for women and families?
One thing's for sure. This will impact young women. Many women, seeing Sarah Palin run for the second-highest office in the land in 2008, were impressed that she could manage both her family and her career. There may not be a woman in the top spot right now, but there are more female senators than ever before, and that opens up plenty of paths for others to follow. Women can better see their own possibilities when there are role models to show them the way.