Before you get all riled up, this is not a political post.
When I was growing up, I was always a tomboy. I liked dressing like a boy, hanging with the boys and doing boy like things. I collected basketball and hockey cards, idolizing the people on them. The walls in my room had posters of only men hockey players. I had the mindset that I was a girl of course and I never wanted to be anything but a girl, but I didn’t want to play with dolls or join the girl scouts. I had a very lonesome quality that sort of stuck with me my whole life. Content to not fit in with what a growing girl was supposed to be. Growing into myself as a teenager was not much different, but I found out that a lot of girls were like me. As I got to know more girls through middle school and high school, I realized that I was not as odd as I thought. I saw the things I felt, in other girls my age. Being sort of an outcast among other girls because I didn’t like things like ballet and miniskirts, was not just something I felt. This made a huge difference for me. It validated that I was not wrong in how I felt, because here are other girls who feel the same way. I think a lot about if I had more female role models as a kid, if I would be different or if maybe I would have felt better about who I was much sooner.
I think a lot about a very specific memory I have. I was in 1st grade in Mrs. Wikoff’s class. We were asked to draw a picture of ourselves as something we want to be when we grow up. I remember feeling so challenged. I sat with a blank piece of construction paper for a long time, while others around me drew pictures of themselves as Hollywood stars, musicians, doctors and hair stylists. I remember my teacher asking me what I wanted to do when I grow up and I told her simply, “I want to help other people.” But what job that was for me, I didn’t know. I didn’t know what kind of woman had a job helping people. I wonder now, if there was a female president at the time, would I have drawn myself as president? Things are bit different now for young girls, a female role model can be found in nearly every sector of jobs. But we still have not reached the peak of leadership, the presidency.
In the past half a century, 59 countries have had been led by a female. From India to Namibia, major countries have seen a woman lead their country. Not the United States. Instead of setting the path for female leader, we constantly reiterate our favorite theory that no matter who you are, you can be anything you want to be, even if you are a woman. I could easily spiral into a tirade about the issue with the consensus of equal pay and the common misconception that women can take a maternity leave without penalization, but that’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that saying it and seeing it makes a huge difference. I don’t need to be told that I can be the CEO of billion dollar company because I see women like Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman. I don’t need to be told that I can be a famous director because I have seen films by Kathryn Bigelow and Penny Marshall. I don’t need to be told that I can be a great hockey player and compete with the best in the world because I saw the Women’s US Hockey team win the gold medal in 1998. I saw it and it changed my mind of how I saw women forever. I’ve seen an interview with Oprah Winfrey where she talks about seeing Diana Ross on television and it changed her life. She saw someone like her, a black woman on television. Seeing women achieve things is important, much more important than saying that women achieve things.
In the present political world, I wonder what would be different if we had more female political leaders early on. Perhaps more women our mother’s age would be living different lives, and not just seeing their hard work finally paying off as they near retirement. We do of course have a lot of women in politics but they are not as prominent as men. One of those women is of course the honorary Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A role model for me and someone who got to where she is by never ever playing the female card, but by being better than everyone else and working harder than everyone else. I feel like if I had been introduced to more women in politics, I would perhaps be a different person. Maybe I myself would have gone into politics. I was never exposed to a woman with a gavel or power suit growing up because it was not main stream. Men were in office and politics was a man’s job. Every president ever has been a man. Being president is a man’s job. These are the things I thought, because it’s all I ever saw. Meanwhile the Barbara Boxers of the world worked tirelessly to make policy, without knowing their presence in the senate might make or break the woman I would grow up to be.
As we approached Election Day last month, I could tell that women felt more empowered, well most women. Women who were excited to vote for Clinton did so with pride. Voters wore white on Election Day as an homage to the suffragist movement. We had a come a long way baby. It was finally time. A qualified person with more experience than any other candidate was running for office and it happened to be a female. This was supposed to be a landmark election. But it wasn’t. It was business as usual. Some of our grandmothers who fought for the right to vote won’t see a female US President in their lifetime. After the election, the same sayings of centuries before came rolling in, a reminder that we still can be anything we want to be. And I believe that, but I have a lump in my throat thinking about it. We still have a long way to go. And if you are reading this and thinking its 2016, women are equal its great! You are very lucky, but you are not paying close enough attention.
After the election, Clinton made a concession speech in which she said, “And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” It was moving and something we have heard in one form or another in our lives. But Michelle Wolf’s response to that comment really stuck with me. During a feature on The Daily Show, they played a clip of Clinton saying that line during her concession speech. Wolf followed the clip by saying, “the saddest thing I heard all day is that we have to be reminded of that.”
I don’t have to worry about my future daughter finding a female role model in whatever field she chooses to dedicate her life, I think women are more determined than ever to make their footprints. So she should have no hard time finding a female role model, and I hope she can draw herself as a female president because she’s seen it done.