by Josephine Rivera-Hoagland, staff writer
Argentina. India. England. The Philippines. All of these countries have had female leaders, and yet in the United States, having a woman as second in command is a breakthrough.
Kamala Harris will serve as the first female, first Indian, and first African American vice president alongside Democratic president-elect Joe Biden.
In 2016, Hilary Clinton ran for president, with polls indicating that she was poised to join the ranks of female leaders across the world. Her message was similar to Obama’s, whereas Trump’s campaign was completely out of the norm, and even his own party was skeptical of his chances. However, Clinton ended up losing the electoral college, and it dawned on feminists everywhere that despite the recent cultural movements, our government hasn’t led the charge to create a welcoming environment for female politicians, or women in general. There is no mandatory paid leave for working mothers, and workplace discrimination is hard to catch and root out, with over half of discrimination cases dismissed after investigation. No constitutional amendments guarantee gender equality either.
The government’s failure to take the lead has reinforced stereotypical ideas that men belong at the head of both the country and their own households, with anti-abortion laws and inaction on discrimination only solidifying that fathers and husbands are the breadwinners. For the first two hundred years after the founding of the United States, the lack of a diverse administration affected society’s perception of what a leader looks like, causing the illusion of power to fall to those who embodied the idealized white, male politician frame, and hence excluding women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQIA+ community.
In addition, the media tends to focus on women’s physical appearances and outfits more than men’s. When Biden and Harris stepped out as president elect and vice president elect the Saturday after Election day, the first big headline that came out was Harris’ white suit. There was no mention of what Biden had worn, but hundreds of articles came out in the following days about how symbolic her pantsuit was. Although clothing can make a statement, it seems silly that women’s appearances are analyzed and critiqued on major networks where actual news should be in the forefront. These news anchors feel entitled to make comments about what is or is not acceptable, pushing unnecessary pressure onto women and girls who already feel obligated to either be thin and beautiful or disguise themselves through photo filters and makeup.
But the line isn’t drawn at appearances: words like “ambitious” and “aggressive” immediately become negative when describing women. Harris’ extramarital relationship with former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown ended up helping with her own political ambitions, leading to wide condemnation from her critics. Likewise, many thought her method of interrogation in the Senate at Judge Kavanaugh’s hearing was too hostile toward the future judge, whereas dominant behavior from men is often applauded.
Despite claims that the United States is progressive and a world leader, ingrained sexism still exists in our culture. After Kamala Harris was selected to join the Democratic ticket, the comments continued: She was a “female Obama” according to the press and the current president called her a “madwoman” and promoted false rumors concerning whether she was born in the US.
However, there is hope for the future. Harris proved that she was what the Democratic ticket needed to excite voters, and her background as a former prosecutor makes her a strong, inspirational figure to girls across the nation. Her multiracial ethnicity and roots in Oakland, a historically African American city, reflect the true diversity of the United States, balancing out her caucasian counterpart, Biden, who fits the norm of white, male presidents.But despite Harris being second to the president, I have no doubt that our first Madam Vice President will make history as not only a woman, but as an American.