It was one of the main arguments undergirding the campaign, led by Phyllis Schlafly in the 1970s, to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have enshrined equality “on account of sex” into the constitution. The amendment, Mrs. Schlafly’s “Stop ERA” campaign argued, would steer women dangerously far from their traditional roles in the home.
The modern-day incarnation of political motherhood began in 1980, according to research, with the emergence of a large gender gap in voting. Politicians began courting mothers, particularly white suburban ones, the so-called soccer moms of the 1990s and a group that remains a key to this year’s election.
Until recently, while many men began their political careers in their 20s, women often waited until they had raised families. Nancy Pelosi had five children, and first ran for office in 1987 at age 47, when they were grown.
Recent presidential elections show how female candidates’ strategies began to evolve. Hillary Clinton, after downplaying her domestic life for years, made her role as mother and grandmother central to her 2016 campaign. Sarah Palin ran for vice president as a “hockey mom” with a newborn.
By the 2018 midterm elections, many female candidates fully embraced motherhood, making it a central part of their campaigns,. Ads showed them pregnant or breastfeeding and making the case that being a mother made them uniquely qualified.
“Twenty years ago, women were urged not to present themselves as a complex human being,” said Amanda Hunter, research and communications director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. Ms. Harris, she said, is representative of a new kind of candidate: “She’s showing different parts of her life rather than focusing on her résumé, and that’s an overall shift.”
Perhaps the focus on the modern-day version of political motherhood could fundamentally remake the image of a leader.