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Motherly’s 2024 State of Motherhood Report

Gen Z moms are signaling a continuing future birth rate decline; childcare access and affordability issues continue to impact mothers’ ability to work.


Musings From a Recovering Tough-Girl

A reporter reached out to me when the Barbie movie came out. Usually when this happens, it’s to talk about policy or fights between Democrats and Republicans or what’s happening in Lansing. But this reporter said, “You know, Senator, you’re on recess, would you have any interest in being interviewed about the Barbie movie?” And I thought, I have been waiting for this moment for years. 

With a past career designing Hot Wheels cars for Mattel, I’ve done a lot of thinking around what it means to be a boy or a girl or a man or a woman. There’s been a lot of ink spilled on how we set girls up with certain expectations — that girls are given certain colors, dolls and play sets, and boys are given cars and action figures and superheroes.

And I reject that premise because it’s too simple. Because it implies that one set of skills or personalities is less than the other. That girls are somehow set up to be less in life because they’re given dolls. Because they care about other people. Because they tell stories. Because they look out for each other. And if we look around the world right now, I think we could use a little bit more of that skill set — caring, kindness and empathy.  

For a long time in my career, I really prided myself on being a guy’s girl. I grew up with brothers. I loved cars. I was so excited when I could finally buy my first car and loved it so much that I slept in it the first night that I had it in my driveway. (My mom was very concerned about me.) And that was something that I kind of wore as a badge of honor. I graduated from college at the University of Notre Dame and I always wanted to be a car designer. There was something about always being the lone woman in a man’s space that was exciting to me. But it was also really lonely.  

In 2007, I won a national car design competition. That’s actually how I met my husband, who was editor in chief of Jalopnik at the time, and they wrote a story about me. That win afforded me the opportunity to go to the Los Angeles Auto Show. And I distinctly remember one of the conversations that I had at the show with a dad who had brought his son and one of his son’s friends. We got to talking about my education and how I got here and what I wanted to do with my career. I thought it was a really inspiring conversation. 

And then later, as I was reading Jalopnik, there was a comment in the comment section from this dad. And I know that because there were enough details in the comment for it to be identifiable. He said, “I went to the LA auto show. I met Mallory McMorrow. She’s a lot better looking in person. And to my surprise, she’s actually articulate.”

At that same event, when I went to check in at the hotel, I was 21 years old and I was talking to the man behind the counter. He asked why I was there and I said, “I’m here for the auto show.” And he immediately said, “Oh, you’re one of those booth babes,” referring to the women who just stand in front of the cars to be looked at, meant to be seen and not heard. 

Years later, I moved to New York. I applied for an apartment in Brooklyn after being recruited for a job, and I brought with me three years of bank statements, a letter from my previous landlord, a letter from my employer, and my salary information. I made more than enough money for this apartment, and I had excellent credit. But in my meeting with two older male property managers, they reviewed all of my documents, and they immediately asked, “So will you be moving in with your husband?” despite only seeing one name on the application. And they followed by asking, “Is your father going to be helping you with this apartment?” These stories go on and on, and these small things add up over time where the message is: You’re not welcome here. This space is not really for you.

This is why the Barbie movie resonated so much. When I was at Mattel, I remember thinking about how tricky it would be to make a Barbie movie, because Barbie is such a controversial figure — which is impressive when you’re only 11 inches tall.  But the movie did such a great job because it drew the dichotomy that Barbie exists in a fake world where she can be anything. She can be an astronaut, she can work at McDonald’s, she can run a puppy swim school. She can be president many times over. But she exists in a world that doesn’t have any of the challenges that women face in the real world. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg understood this reality better than anybody else, because nowhere in the Constitution did it explicitly state that there were equal rights for women. In fact, the only mention of sex at all is once in the 19th Amendment. Perhaps you’re familiar with Ginsburg’s story.

Despite graduating first in her class from Columbia Law School, she was rejected in 1960 for a clerkship position because she was a woman. She later co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. And as you can imagine, people approached her every single day with cases demonstrating blatant discrimination against women. She refused to take up any of them. Instead, she had a much more strategic plan, and that was to take up discrimination cases against men. In Oklahoma in the 1970s, men were legally allowed to buy beer at the age of 21. Women, on the other hand, were allowed to buy beer at 18, because they were viewed as the more demure, responsible gender.

Ginsburg found this obscure case, submitted an amicus brief, and took it all the way to the Supreme Court. She knew, probably better than anybody, that in that moment, an all male Supreme Court simply would have no sympathy for cases of discrimination against women, not because of any malicious intent, but because they just wouldn’t understand. They would think the stories were crazy, because they’ve never faced that discrimination. But they could relate to a guy who couldn’t buy beer until he was 21. Therefore, by making the case that men should have the same rights as women to buy beer, the underlying reading of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause would be that differential treatment on the basis of sex was worthy of additional scrutiny and could be discrimination under the law for the first time in American history.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work allowed me to get an apartment in my name, even though men didn’t think that I could have it. It allowed me to have a job, a bank account and a credit card. 

Just as Ginsburg passed away, my colleagues allowed me to give the statement on the Senate floor recognizing her. And at the time, I was very pregnant. It wasn’t lost on me that I was allowed to be in that space visibly pregnant because of her work. But just because we’re allowed to be in these spaces doesn’t mean that these spaces are made for us. And again, going back to the Barbie movie and the monologue that we all remember, women try to contort themselves to fit into spaces that weren’t designed for us.

I’ve seen this play out throughout my entire career. Our nation’s lack of support for women, especially working mothers, has found its way insidiously into our culture as if to tell American mothers that if we couldn’t handle it all, it’s just because we weren’t strong enough. 

For all of the accomplishments and gains that women have made, we have found ways to make it harder on ourselves. In 2017 before I was in office, I hosted a panel at the Women’s March convention in Detroit. It was titled Standing in Our Own Way: How women tear each other down. I had no idea if anybody would show up. But the room was full  — the fire marshal was called to tell people to leave the room. The title alone had piqued people’s interest and I opened the panel by asking all the women in the room to raise their hand if they’ve ever felt torn back down by another woman at work. Every single hand went up. 

And that’s when I really started to reflect on my own tough-girl stance. I liked being the woman who could cut it. I liked being the woman who could laugh at crude jokes, didn’t take myself too seriously and didn’t get offended. But then I looked around and I was the only woman in the room. 

When I was at Mattel, I distinctly remember one of my colleagues who was eight months pregnant. She was getting ready to go out on leave and Mattel as a company offered a robust paid leave benefit.

We were all planning for who was going to pick up her work while she was out. And then she started regaling us with stories of her first pregnancy, and how she was answering emails and taking phone calls in the delivery room. We tried to cover her meetings, but she said, “Don’t. Put me on them. I don’t want to miss anything. I can do it.”

And the impression, even for those who believe in paid family leave and support for families, was that it’s nice — but it’s for people who aren’t tough enough. And we keep doing this, to the point that the United States is now the only industrialized nation in the entire world that has no paid leave at all. 

So in my job now, I became the second senator in state history to be pregnant while in office. The first actually planned her pregnancy for when we would be on recess, because there is no leave policy for legislators, and there’s no way to vote remotely. We can’t do our jobs from home. You have to be in the Capitol. So there’s a political risk that if you take time off to be with your newborn, you’re going to miss votes. She planned to give birth heading into a recess so she wouldn’t miss anything. I wish I could say that my husband and I planned that well, but we didn’t.

My due date was January 21st, which was about 10 days after the start of the session, right when we were getting started. And I had a decision in front of me. I could try to tough it out and get back there as quickly as I could. Or I could take the full leave. I thought really long and hard about this. 

State employees in Michigan are granted 12 weeks of leave. I’m not technically a state employee — I’m in this weird purgatory of employees within the state — but I took it anyway. I decided that it was important to be with my newborn, to figure out how to be a mom, to heal.  And I knew that it was a risk. I knew that there would be an attack. I knew that there would be ads against me. But I decided to take it head on and share my own experiences because if we don’t live our values, other women won’t have the same opportunities that we do. 

On day 2 of being a new mom, we got a call in my office from a lobbyist who told my Chief of Staff, “Hey, I know Mallory’s on break, but could we get some time with her? Maybe tomorrow, for a client?” And I don’t even blame them for reaching out, because again, the impression is that it’s this nice surface level thing, but we don’t actually believe in it. She’s tougher than that. I wanted to share very viscerally the graphic details of what it was like two days after giving birth, but simply declined the meeting.  

I think it matters that people try to show up as their whole selves. As women, we need to model what we want to see. I am a mom who is a senator. That means that sometimes I’m not going to be able to attend evening events. I’m not going to want to go out for drinks. I’m not going to want to do the old boys club thing where we stay away from our families and we don’t come home, which is still very much how politics works. 

Let’s reform the systems and the spaces instead of contorting ourselves into being something that we’re not and that we shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t try to make ourselves into boys or men because the world needs a lot more women who care right now. 


Mallory McMorrow is an American politician who has served in the Michigan Senate since January 2019 and became senate majority whip on January 1, 2023. You can reach out to her on her website, on X or on Facebook.


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