Wednesday morning after the election, we both shed tears when it did not come to pass.
I am now coming to terms with the error in my messaging to myself and, perhaps more important, to my daughter. Over the past nine years, I have shortchanged so many other competent women who are equally viable role models, whether they be leaders or the sturdy cogs that keep things moving. I have deep regret about that now.
To be clear, I am not forfeiting the game. Indeed, I understand fully the impetus for wanting and still needing a woman in the Oval Office. The ideals and symbolism and inherent acceptance that the role of president carries when we encourage our children to aim high and think big and picture themselves there one day are not lost on me, particularly when it comes to the kinds of individuals we have not yet seen there. I still stand for that and fervently hope it comes to pass in four years. We have waited far too long already.
And yet without dismissing that elusive, dangling carrot, I realize that I need to expand my messaging beyond its current myopic scope. Otherwise, I risk significant disservice in helping my daughter shape her own goals for the future. Inasmuch as she does not seem interested in becoming president someday, I need to boost the frequency of other high-ranking positions and show they have equally important merit in our society. Even starting with basic civics — the three branches of government — the president is but one piece of the puzzle. As a currently inactive attorney, I ask myself why I have not championed more the names of the three female justices on our nation’s highest court. As a Massachusetts resident, I have neglected to commend the work of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) on behalf of the commonwealth.
It goes far beyond the important faces keeping the separation of powers in check. In this post-election fog, I’ve reflected on what I’ve told her these nine years in. You can be anything you want to be. Of course you can be an astronaut too! Maybe one day you’ll be president. It’s okay to be a teacher and a mother.
That’s it, a fair summation of all I’ve highlighted. And yet blithely telling her that she can be anything is insufficient. It’s equally too broad and too dismissive of not only her potential and innate preferences but also the myriad roles that actually drive our society forward, oftentimes under the radar but with tangible meaning.
Take, for instance, just one of my daughter’s current loves: reading books. Whether her professional and personal future still holds them close remains to be seen.
But I have neglected to mention to her that a mere eight days after her ninth birthday, Carla Hayden was sworn in as the first woman and first African American to serve as the librarian of Congress. I have never bothered to tell her that the editor of the New York Times Book Review is Pamela Paul. The editor in chief of Highlights, her current favorite magazine, is Christine French Cully, and yet I’ve never pointed it out on the masthead. Simon & Schuster, which publishes one of her all-time favorite series, “Heidi Heckelbeck” (by female author Wanda Coven), has had Carolyn Kroll Reidy as president and chief executive since my daughter was only 5 months old. Since and including the year she was born (2007), six female writers have won the Newbery Medal, and many others received honors; my daughter doesn’t know.
These are only a fraction of the options her own future might contain, much less the women and other kinds of leaders she will encounter along the way. There are women behind the important work of nonprofit organizations and local government. There are female role models to be found in small businesses and large ones, too. And while they may not be on ballots or in the daily news cycle, there are countless other women at the pinnacle of their lives — union leaders and sports mentors and artists and caretakers — who are leaders doing important work that help move our society forward and give it rich texture. I don’t know which ones my daughter will want to emulate, but if I do not start noting them along the way, she might believe that the admirable options are not only limited and high stakes but unattainable, too.
We get to try again in 2020. It’s not just a woman I’d like to see on the presidential ballot. I would love an openly LGBTQ candidate and an atheist and more people of color. These would allow my daughter to see parts of herself and friends and family leading a diverse nation. But meanwhile, I need to also show her there are many kinds of leaders — quiet ones and visible ones, elected ones and self-propelled ones — and although the vast majority of them are not president of the United States, they are equally viable and important options for her to consider on her path to adulthood.
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