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Why it Matters that Kamala Cooks

The video is less than a minute long but I watch it for over an hour.

Sen. Kamala Harris is wearing a black skirt suit with pearl earrings and black pumps, a standard Washington uniform I have worn countless times. She has an earpiece in one ear and is preparing to do an interview. She deftly moves back and forth between communicating with the interviewer and teaching a staffer how to brine a turkey. She emphatically describes wet and dry brines and how she bastes a turkey with wine.

She then pivots seamlessly to begin her interview as the voice in her earpiece greets her.

As a working Mom, I feel seen. Senator Harris’s dance between policy and poultry is familiar to me, closer to my life than anything I have ever seen from a politician, and I am mesmerized.

At this critical moment for American women, with the pandemic pushing too many of us out of the workforce because the office and the classroom have become the same place, Kamala Harris embracing cooking as part of her public persona is bracing. It is a liberation.

I am roasting a turkey breast while I write this. My house smells like honey and thyme. I’ll carve it this afternoon and it’ll make sandwiches for the week. Then I’ll set up a turkey pot pie to warm us up some chilly October night, waiting in the freezer for my husband and child while I run phone banks, train volunteers, and mobilize Jewish voters across America to vote for Senator Harris and her running mate, Joe Biden.

The weeks before the election will be intense and I will be relieved there is good food waiting in the freezer.

Most Mothers work two shifts, two different full-time jobs. We run for office, we make partner, we write books, we perform surgery, and we are breadwinners or co-breadwinners with our partners. We teach kids to blow their noses and braid hair and know the pediatrician’s phone number and the best friend’s birthday and when all the school forms are due. We are still disproportionately doing domestic work, like cooking, and we still face unequal division of labor with regards to childcare. Running a household is still very much seen as the purview of women in most homes with two heterosexual partners.

The worst part is that while we are juggling two full-time jobs, too often we are expected to keep this struggle invisible. Talking about motherhood at work can get you “Mommy-Tracked” to lower-paid, lower responsibility work. While men who talk about their kids at work receive praise and are subject to Dadulation — excessive praise for participating in the daily grind of parenthood — women are more likely to be forced into invisible parenthood at work, for fear that talking about family obligations at work will hurt our careers — and our ability to provide for our kids.

Indeed, we are often asked to hide our personal lives altogether. I was advised by a mentor not to wear my engagement ring to interviews, for fear that employers would see me as more likely to be focused on my wedding than work. No man I know was ever advised to hide an engagement. (I wore the damn ring.)

Women are often asked to live our lives in fragments, in neat little boxes that never spill into each other. But living our lives so separately with so much fragmentation isn’t healthy.

Of course, now, we have too little compartmentalization. The pandemic has shone a light on what is already broken about our society, and it’s clear that invisible motherhood and silent second shifts need to be relegated to the dustbin of American history. We should talk about all the work we do, all the ways the system is stacked against us, and all that we achieve in spite of that, whether it’s a promotion or finally mastering Shakshouka.

Kamala Harris talking about cooking, and integrating that into her campaigning isn’t cutesy or quaint; it’s radical. And she doesn’t just give tips. Kamala cooks. She bakes cookies while campaigning in Iowa.

She makes dosas with Mindy Khaling and talked about breaking barriers for South Asian women.

She taught her colleague, Senator Warner, how to make a proper tuna sandwich.

She knows how to roast a chicken and stretch it into many meals, including soup. She does all of this while being a highly effective Senator and now the Democratic Nominee for Vice President. She does it while fighting for racial justice and for women’s rights and for the America she believes we can be.

She shows us who she is as a full person, with a full life, and not the stale idea of a woman achieving at work and giving up on having a family life, or having a vibrant family life and a stunted career.

Kamala is cooking up more than just dinner; she is representing working women as we actually are, and in doing so, inspiring so many of us to think bigger about who we could be.

A woman who insists on campaigning that way will make policy that empowers women to succeed.

Carly Pildis is the organizing director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

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