Earlier this fall, I took my six-year-old with me to vote in person during New Hampshire’s presidential primary. As we drove toward the polling place, I delivered a mini civics lesson, talking about the importance of voting and who was on the ballot.
“Why are there never any girl presidents?” my daughter asked, interrupting me.
Good question, I thought. It didn’t seem fair to shatter her ideals by getting into the deep-seated patriarchy and the fact that, apparently, many Americans still don’t feel that a woman is fit to hold the highest office in the country.
In our house, gender roles are pretty progressive. I’m the main breadwinner, while my husband stays home with our daughters, 6 and 2. In many ways we fall into traditional gender rolls: my husband is super handy and does most of the home maintenance, while 9 times out of 10 I’m the one cooking meals.
But in the ways that matter most, we’re equal. My husband is just as likely (if not more) than me to volunteer in my daughter’s classroom or take care of her on a sick day. When he was working in law enforcement, my daughter saw his female colleagues, and many of our close friends are women in leadership positions. It simply doesn’t occur to her that there’s a job that women couldn’t do.
So, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that some people still, in 2020, don’t think men and women are capable of doing the same things–or that some people still don’t respect a woman in a position of power. Instead, I discussed how in our home state, many of the state offices are held by women. We have two female senators, and had a long-standing female governor. I talked about for the first time ever, in 2016, I was able to vote for a woman for president, and how in 2020 a woman might become vice president.
And yet, my daughter wasn’t satisfied. “I think they should take turns,” she proposed. “A man president and then a woman president.”
If only kid logic could work in the real world, I thought. But I was thrilled she was thinking about this — when I was her age, I simply accepted that only men would lead the country.
So, when Joe Biden was projected as the winner of the 2020 presidential election, I was glad to give my six-year-old some good news. We looked up some of Kamala Harris and listened to her speech. Some might say that the office of vice president isn’t particularly important. But despite that, I can name all the vice presidents of my lifetime — all white men. The first VP that my daughter will remember is a woman of color. And hopefully, maybe, my two-year-old will have a woman as her first memorable president.
But still, my daughter wasn’t satisfied. “That’s good,” she said. “But I still think there should be more girl presidents and more Black people who are presidents.”
I was taken aback at her understanding of the importance of diversity, something we’ve talked about, but probably not as much as we should. I saw for the first time how her generation will push beyond mine in their expectations for equality.
As a mom of girls, it means the world to me that my daughters will see women in high offices. I hope that the Biden administration continues to place qualified women in cabinet positions and other leadership areas, so that my girls grow used to seeing female faces in decision rooms.
I think about the famous picture of the situation room during the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. In the picture, President Obama is the only person of color, and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the only woman at the table. Audrey Tomason, a member of the counterterrorism team, is squeezed toward the back of the room, her face peeking over the shoulders of men.
If — God forbid — there’s another crisis that brings together our nation’s leaders, I hope that the room looks a bit different this time. And, slowly, but surely, I’m sure it will, especially with my daughters’ generation refusing to settle for token representation, and demanding a true place at the table.
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