I got home from work last night around 7:00, just in time to watch the roll call vote of of the DNC, and the delegation from South Dakota make Hillary Clinton the first female major party candidate for president in our nation's history. I stood in the entryway of my house, my purse and briefcase in hand and watched the cheering and the scroll across the bottom of the screen for about 30 seconds.
My husband walked out of the kitchen to take the bag of groceries dangling from my right arm and asked me, "What's up?"
I didn't realize it immediately, but in that moment watching the scene on the television, I had started to cry.
He asked me again, "What's wrong?"
I came around to myself again, and turned toward him, "They just nominated Hillary Clinton for president."
"Well, yeah...did you expect something different?" I took the towel from his hand.
I cleared my throat, dabbing my eyes with the towel. "No...no; I knew they would nominate her. It's just...Kiersten's not here to see it. I wanted her to see this day."
He looked down, "Yeah, I know."
We had gathered on the couch to watch the election returns, with some enthusiasm. We had called Kiersten off school for the next day so she could stay up, and her best friend, Serena, had been given permission to stay overnight and watch them with us. We played games and laughed as the states on the map started to light up red and blue, tried, with limited success, to explain the Electoral College to a 4th grader and a 6th grader, sang songs from Schoolhouse Rock, and generally spent an evening so geeky, so academic, that I was sure neither girl would ever be able to tell her friends about it.
Around 11:00, the results from Ohio were announced and the electoral votes put Barack Obama over the 273 mark, making him the first African-American to be elected President of the United States.We all cheered. Serena put her arms around my neck and started to cry a little.
Steve spoke up, "Pay attention, Bug. Barack Obama is our first black president. We've never had one before. This is a big deal."
Kiersten looked like we'd just told her there was a secret passage in the back of her closet that led to the temple at Machu Picchu. "You mean, we've never had a president with chocolate-colored skin before? That's just weird. Why should that make a difference?"
Serena leveled a gaze at her that said, wordlessly, "I love you for your heart, but my God, you are just about clueless..."
Steve spoke up again, "Honey, some people think that people with dark skin aren't smart enough to be president or to run companies and stuff like that. We don't believe that in our family, but there are enough people who do, that we've never elected anyone with brown skin to be president before."
"Well, that's just dumb! Why should the color of your skin matter? Serena has brown skin and she's way smarter than me!"
I spoke up then, "I know it's dumb. Are you ready for this? We've never had a woman president either."
She looked at me. "Well, I get that! You can't be a mom AND be president at the same time!"
I nearly choked on my drink. Here was a child who lived in a household where her mother was the primary wage-earner. Who had grown up with an African-American best friend. Who was widely regarded by her classmates and teachers alike as the smartest in her class. And whose complete lack of comprehension of racial bias was exceeded only by her matter-of-fact acceptance of societal inequality for women. This child, who I thought I was raising to become a strong, self-actualized woman, had encountered gender bias so tacitly, so ubiquitously that she didn't even know there was anything to question about it.
I was horrified. And I vowed then and there to give her as much exposure as possible to strong, capable women in important roles, so she would never again question how someone could be a mom and ANYthing else.
How many little girls across America see gender inequality so regularly, so matter-of-factly, that it simply does not register on them? How many of them look at portrayals in the media that emphasize a woman's clothes, or her tone or her weight and understand, without it ever being said out loud, that her brains, determination and hard work are less important than her appearance and ability to bear children? And how long before we as a society reject this double standard and call out gender bias as readily as we call out racial bias?
As it turns out, I didn't get much time to fulfill on my oath. But I hope, wherever she is today, that she sees what happened last night and understands how important it is.
And I hope, 20 years from now, a little 8-year-old girl sees a woman running for president and doesn't give it a second thought.