Meredith’s Musing: For Our Little Girls
article by Meredith McKinnie
The presidential election dominated the headlines. Even those never interested in politics suddenly had an opinion. It was a hotly contested battlefield, and everyone was watching. For the first time in history, a woman won the nomination of a major political party, but lost the election. Female faces are showing up increasingly in leadership positions, and I feel this is essential, particularly for our little girls. And while this is not meant to be an endorsement of any kind or support for either party, it is merely an observation, one that started nine years ago, with the election of President Obama.
In the summer of 2008, I didn’t think Obama had a chance. I didn’t think America was ready. I was wrong. I watched the first black family of the United States take the stage in Grant Park late that Tuesday night, and I was stunned. But what I remember more than anything he said were the faces, the faces not on stage, the faces in the crowd. I saw hope and gratitude and disbelief. I saw tears streaming down eighty-year old men’s faces, who never thought they would see this in their lifetime. A man who looked like them had just been elected to the highest office in the land, and whether you agreed with his politics or not, it was magical to witness. They deserved that moment. They were represented by one of their own. In a country where we’re all Americans, we still cling to our little microcosms of familiarity, frequently dictated by race. And for once, these people had a representative that the majority deemed worthy to lead them all.
I was born two years into the Reagan administration. I knew who he was. I remember watching his speeches. I remember his getting shot. I remember asking someone what the Berlin Wall was and why he wanted it to come down. I payed attention to him, because everyone else did. This man mattered to people. Though I didn’t know much, I knew that. But I never remember saying I wanted to be president, not even of my eighth-grade class. I ran for secretary. And I won. I didn’t go for the highest spot, and the why of it bothers me. I would now. I wouldn’t hesitate. But why not then? Perhaps women in leadership roles weren’t in my line of vision. Perhaps I didn’t see myself on the stage as the little boys did. Perhaps it wasn’t that I feared I would lose, but that I never considered running.
A colleague told a story once of a woman in the legislature up north who was watching TV with her son at home. A news story came on showing the boy’s mother and another female senator collaborating on a bill, calling the female twosome a powerhouse in the Senate. The little boy turned around and asked his mother, “Mom, can boys be senators?” It’s funny, but telling. That little boy needed to see it to believe it. We want to see ourselves on the stage; we want to feel we belong. Diversity is essential in the melting pot of America.
Last March, I took my stepdaughter with me to vote in the presidential primary. She didn’t understand why were voting again when we were just there in November. So, I explained to her the difference between presidents and governors. She says, “I think I’d rather be president.” And while I don’t know if she’s braver or stronger or fearless or just a different generation, where women in leadership is becoming the norm, but it’s humbling to witness. We want our little girls to have whatever their hearts desire. We want them to live better, experience more, change the world in a way we only dreamed possible. We know they can, because we recognize we could have. We know they have the power to transform popular opinion, enhance the lives of the less fortunate, to be kind above all else. And while my stepdaughter may change her mind, as she often does, or if she carries her determination to the highest race in the land with the eyes of Americans upon her, it doesn’t matter if she ever becomes president. It matters, because she never thought for a second that she couldn’t.