What Breastfeeding on the Campaign Trail Means for Moms Running in 2018

March 21, 2018

Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Kelda Roys garnered national attention with her first campaign video, “Our Girls.” In the clip, Roys breastfeeds her daughter while speaking about her work to ban Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles and sippy cups. When asked about the moment, Roys said: “In 2018, people are hungry for people who speak the truth and say what they mean and are authentic. Having my kids in this video shows people that I am highly motivated to make this state a better place for them and for all our kids.” Just this week, another woman running for governor in Maryland – Krish Vignarajah – included a clip of her breastfeeding in a new ad in which she declared proudly, “I’m a mom. I’m a woman. And I want to be your next governor.”

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s Modern Family research shows that some voters do worry that a woman candidate who has never married and does not have children will not be able to truly understand the concerns of families. However, it also highlights the double standard moms still face on the campaign trail.

If you’re a woman candidate with children, voters worry about the effect of your campaign on your kids, especially if they’re young. As a woman in one Modern Family focus group said, “It makes me feel hypocritical, but I do think that she needs to be there with her kids.”

Voters recognize that moms on the campaign trail face a double standard, but still actively and consciously participate in it. “Having it all” is something voters have trouble believing is even a possibility for a woman elected official with young kids. As another Modern Family focus group participant put it: “It is a matter of what she is willing to give up because she cannot have both all the time.”

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s findings reflect the complex feelings voters have about their expectations of women on and off the campaign trail, especially women who are also mothers. However, women can successfully navigate these complexities by addressing questions about their families lives directly and confidently, then moving on to focus on the issues that matter to their constituents.

Sharing snippets of parenting experiences can help women candidates show how their experiences contribute to their work on behalf of voters, and that’s what we saw in Kelda Roys’s campaign video. By breastfeeding while talking about an issue directly related to infant health, Roys highlighted the distinct experience she would bring to the office of governor – being a mother. And with the video receiving mostly positive feedback, this could be a turning point for mothers running for office.

Amanda Hunter is communications director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation