One of my earliest memories of being made to feel “lesser” due to my gender was when I was filling out a page in my “School Days” book, a scrapbook of sorts with chapters that were meant to represent each grade in school with a current picture, your teacher’s name that for that school year, and other details including but not limited to what you wanted to be when you grew up.
There was a girl side and a boy side of careers to choose from.
The girl side had careers for girls. They included things like Teacher, Nurse, Librarian, Secretary, Mother. The boy side had careers for boys such as Businessman, Fireman, Policeman, Doctor, Astronaut.
The first few years, I dutifully glued my school picture on the page, filled in my teacher’s name, and I contemplated what I wanted to be when I grew up…and I chose from the appropriate list. Yes, I think I will be a teacher, that sounds nice. Then I could tell the kids what to do.
I believe it was when I was in the third grade that, when I sat down to contemplate my possible future career, I thought…wait…why couldn’t I choose to be a doctor? Sure, the “girl jobs” are all fine careers. But…what if I wanted to be a fire…girl? What about rockets? I really like rockets! Why can’t I go into outer space?
I still remember concealing that section of the page with my hand and crossing out the word “Boys” and circling the word ASTRONAUT, quickly shutting the book and putting it away before anyone could object. Like I had just broken some INSANELY IMPORTANT RULE. It felt great!
And, more out of protest than anything, each year, I crossed out the word “Boys” and circled (sometimes in black sharpie) ASTRONAUT.
Take THAT, stupid book. I do what I want!
Several times over the years, usually during a history lesson, somebody would mention that, someday, perhaps one of the kids with us in that very classroom might just grow up to be President of the United States.
I recall one time in particular in my 6th grade class, this conversation occurred and one of the girls raised her hand and, when called on, said, “Well maybe I WILL be President of The United States!” to which the classroom snickered, and my teacher said in a condescending tone that has stayed with me for over 30 years, “Well, SURE, young lady. There’s no law against it that, but wouldn’t you rather be the First lady? That’s the president’s WIFE. She has a lot of important little jobs.”
The girl who had raised her hand had a disappointed look on her face and half-heartedly mumbled, “Well…I don’t know…I guess.”
I remember being a bit let down myself. I never had any aspirations of being the president, but I didn’t appreciate being made to believe that my only viable option was to have little jobs around The White House while my husband did the IMPORTANT job.
I remember when, about 10 years later, President Clinton’s wife, Hillary, started to ruffle feathers of some of the more “traditional thinkers” when she took on heartier roles within The White House than previous First Ladies. She was the first First Lady to a post-graduate degree and to have her own professional career prior to entering The White House. Why WOULDN’T they want to utilize her experience?
But the fact that she had her own office in the West Wing (and not just the “first lady’s quarters) upset more than one person.
“It’s inappropriate for a first lady to behave like that,” they would say, as if the fact that she wasn’t sitting around drinking tea and giving white house tours like a dutiful wife was offensive in some way. She was criticized for not having a cookie recipe to share, she was criticized for standing by her husband when he couldn’t keep it in his pants (what a weakling, how could she?) and when she was vocal about policy (who does this woman think she is?). They were pissed when she had the audacity to still use her maiden name (feminist!), hyphenated or otherwise. And the vitriol she faced over her plan for health reform included threats of violence and a shocking amount of gender-based slurs that I had never heard flung at a first lady, but, as I heard more than once, “That woman doesn’t know her place. Who does she even think she is?” I never quite understood that question.
Then I watched as she continued to “not know her place” and grow as a person and as a political powerhouse. And the “traditional thinkers” were happy to have a more “ladylike” First Lady back in The White House (at least for 8 years).
Years ago, her presidential run seemed inevitable. And every time it was brought up, you’d hear the snickers and condescending remarks not unlike I heard back in grade school. “Well, that’s just about the worst idea. I’ll die before I see a woman president. I won’t vote for one.” These were always followed by the usual misogynistic jokes we’re told we’re supposed to think are funny.
During this year’s presidential primary, my mother and I have had some great conversations about the fact that this year, we have a very real chance at electing a woman to the office of President of The United States. I was happy to see Clinton running, but I hadn’t made up my mind yet on whether I was going to vote for her opponent, Bernie Sanders, or for Clinton as they both really spoke to me policy/platform-wise.
My 87 year old mother has been and continues to be steadfast in her support for Hillary Clinton as a presidential contender. She’s been a supporter of her since she saw how she had branched out from the expected role of First Lady during her husband’s presidency, and that support has not wavered in the slightest. I don’t think I had wrapped my head around the significance of this election to my mother until, at the end of one conversation in particular, she stopped and looked at me and said, “Do you realize that I might see a woman president before I’m dead?” She has seen so much change for women, and this isn’t something she dreamed that she would see in her lifetime. “I want to SEE this.”
It wasn’t until Sanders lost the nomination and it was clear that Hillary would, indeed, be the democratic nominee for the office of president that I stopped and really thought about this.
Actually let myself think about this.
And I choked up a little, honestly, I’m typing a bit through tears right now at that thought. I can’t even quantify it…but I’m tearing up at the thought that, in 2016, we might actually see a woman’s face as our president elect. Our actual president, not someone with “other important little jobs” while the man wore “the crown”.
This is a woman who, like my mother, I have admired since the beginning. I know she’s human, but I feel like every time someone’s hurled shit at her, blamed her for this scandal and that scandal, she has come through with an attitude like, “Oh, is that all you got??” This while the men who try to tear her down fold (or meltdown completely) at the slightest criticism. It’s goddamn beautiful. I don’t care if you’re a fan of her policy or would rather have someone else in the White House, you cannot deny that this woman has what some men like to refer to, for whatever archaic reason, as balls. Without saying as much, she has definitely conveyed, “COME AT ME, BRO!” numerous times in the face of her adversaries in recent years.
Our most recent president is, like Hillary will be if she wins the presidency (and even if she doesn’t) both historic and overdue. Barack Obama is more than a president. He is a symbol of what is possible. A role model that children had not previously had to look up to. As someone who is not a person of color, I can’t say I know exactly what it meant for boys and girls, when Obama became president, to see someone who FINALLY “looked like me” in The White House.
But as a woman who is feeling emotional while writing this, I can tell you that I think I might have some idea.
When my teacher was belittling a little girl’s dream of one day being president, we did not have anything NEAR what Hillary is to say, “What do you mean? Look at HER!” Hillary didn’t have that either.
I don’t care what your party affiliation is, this is nothing short of monumental.
We have so far to go when it comes to gender equality. Yes, there are women in the role of CEO. There are female doctors, there are female fire fighters and female police officers. There are even female astronauts.
But the venom that is hurled our way when we have the audacity to step outside gender norms is still nothing short of constant. We are still struggling for equal pay for equal work, and we’re still looking at committees consisting entirely of men to determine legislation over our bodies.
We’re growing stronger and bolder, and we are seen as a threat to those who aren’t equipped for evolution.
That ceiling has been busted through, but it is still there, and it’s lined with poisonous barbs and people trying to keep you from even LOOKING at it, let alone reaching for it.
But look at that path that’s been made. Look at the literal blood, sweat, and tears that have gotten us within striking distance. ALL of us.
Look at us go.