As a Pregnant Jewish Woman Running For Office, the Backlash I Faced Was Shocking – Kveller
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As a Pregnant Jewish Woman Running For Office, the Backlash I Faced Was Shocking

running for office while pregnant

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Next month I’m due to deliver my fourth baby. It’s the second baby in a row I am delivering in February, which, in Australia, is at the peak of summertime. I can’t say I love waddling around in the heat, but overall, thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a good pregnancy, with minimal nausea and high energy levels.

Over the past five years my family has grown into a certifiable brood, with daily rosters of meals, laundry, childcare drop-offs and pick-ups divvied up between my husband and me. Weekends pass by in a blur of playdates, cooking, children’s sports, visits to the local park and birthday parties. On any given day our home is a cacophony of noise and people, but it’s always lots of fun.

As a Jewish millennial, I consider myself lucky enough to have been born during the best time alive to be a woman. I was given the best Jewish education possible, with my fluency in foundational Jewish texts like Talmud better than any of my female ancestors. Since I was a small child, I have always been encouraged to have a family, career and Jewish leadership ambitions. I know not every woman wants all these things concurrently, but in the 21st century, I think any Jewish woman who wants a career and family should be able to choose to have both.

So, it was a little bit surprising to me that when I nominated to run for office in my home district in Melbourne, Australia, to represent my area in the Victorian Parliament, my faith, children and pregnancy were regarded by some as a barrier to becoming a successful candidate.

“How will you manage to be a good representative if you keep Shabbat and you won’t be able to attend events for the community on that date?” one person asked me, showing me that they thought my Judaism was a barrier to success despite six other days of the week remaining for events and constituent engagement.

“But you have so many young children, they need you,” said another, emphasizing their view that in their mind, my role was at home with children, despite having excellent systems in place for childcare and a partner who is an equal participant in raising our children.

“You’re pregnant. You will have to take maternity leave,” said yet another, as if I was the first woman to ever to run for office while growing their family.

As a highly qualified candidate with degrees in law, liberal arts and a master’s in legal practice, who has previously worked for the Australian Parliament and as a lawyer, I found the whole experience being judged like this bizarre.

I very rarely take note of my district representatives’ personal lives. In my mind, their personal lives are not relevant. What matters is if they are responsive to community concerns, whether they are competent advocates for the district and if they keep their word on local promises.

A look around the halls of any Parliament around the world tells you that plenty of men have children while elected, without a reflection on their competency. Being seen as a man of faith is often a bonus in an election, but in my district race, my observance of Shabbat was seen by some as a lack of commitment to the job. It’s incredible that women still face this kind of backlash in public life.

A few people told me that they thought I was “crazy” for running for office while pregnant. Another told me, “I think it would be mean to your kids if you got elected, you’ll never be home.” Many people said while they admired my courage, ultimately, “it would be so hard on your husband and kids.”

Women represent 50% of the population, and their contribution to policy and all areas of law-making should be valued and important. I nominated as a candidate in my district of 40,000 voters because I felt that my Jewish faith, family and experience with raising children while advancing my career made me uniquely placed to represent a voter that does not always get a voice in the halls of power.

While I did not win my race, I am glad that I ran for office. While I’m certainly not the first pregnant woman with a young family to do so, I hope I have shifted the perspective on what is possible for Jewish women.

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) has a famous verse that states: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Representation matters. If you never see a person in power who looks like you, with the same gender, race, background, disability, hair or skin color, it becomes harder to imagine yourself in that same position. So I’m glad I ran. I know it will be easier for the next pregnant woman that chooses to do so.

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