When Jennifer Granholm ran for Attorney General of Michigan in 1998, she had three young children at home — including a 10 month old baby. But that was not something she wanted voters to know about. "You didn't even really see my husband," Jennifer told me. "It was all about this disembodied creature who was going to fight for you because you don't want to remind people of the mess that is a family and all of that."
Jennifer's life in politics was quite a change from how she started her career, as a former beauty pageant contestant who moved to Los Angeles right out of high school to try to break into acting. She was quickly turned off by the culture there. "That casting couch thing was real," she told me, describing requests for sexual favors at auditions. "I went on interviews where people would say 'Hey, I've got 50 girls outside lined up who are willing to do A, B, or C. Why should I give this to you if you don't play the game?'
"I was so mad about it, I said I'm going to leave here, I'm going to go to the best university I can get into, going to get the best grades possible. I'm going to go to law school and I'll show them!"
After graduating from Harvard Law School and practicing law in Michigan, Jennifer won the Attorney General's race in 1998, and in 2002 she also won the race to become the first female governor of Michigan. She was still in office as the global financial crisis and automotive industry bankruptcies simultaneously hit her state in 2008 and 2009 — and took a lot of the blame for it. "I would say to anybody who's deciding whether or not to run for office timing is really important," she laughed. "I feel sad for me personally. If I can be sorry for myself. I feel sad that I governed at a time when I am seen as being responsible for the high unemployment rate in Michigan."
This episode is a collaboration with the podcast The United States of Anxiety. Check out their entire third season—all about gender and power—here. One of our favorite episodes from this season is all about the Anita Hill testimony in 1991. (Listen back to one of our first episodes, with former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson and his wife, Ann, to hear the couple talking about how Al's participation in those hearings affected their relationship.)