The first time I ever tried to talk politics with my daughter, she was about three and a half. Somehow things went very quickly from talking about the presidential “vote” at her preschool (complete with ballot initiatives—ah, preschool in DC!) to a history of women’s suffrage. I could tell I lost her about halfway into it, but couldn’t figure out how to stop talking. My favorite part was when she asked if her (white, male, land-owning) dad was allowed to vote.
I believe in talking to my kids about politics the way some might about God or the birds and the bees—early and often. But I have no control whatsoever over what they actually hear as the words are coming out of my mouth. It’s always interesting to see what’s retained, what’s lost.
Kind of like with the whole God thing, my husband and I don’t always agree. Which I think is great for them to see. My husband wants them to learn phrases like “evil capitalist” and “workers of the world unite.” I try my best to balance the desire to indoctrinate my kids into my value system with a desire for them to know that reasonable people can disagree.
Yesterday, I was driving four kids in a carpool home from school through the no-chain store main street of our postage-stamp-size downtown in uber-liberal land. Conversations during carpool are never exactly high-minded—usually the words “fart” and “butt” dominate between outbursts of loud laughter. This particular afternoon, they were discussing ways to dispose of Donald Trump.
“Attack him with cement!” seemed to carry the day as the favorite choice. If I was a mafia mama, I might have been proud.
One of the girls was apparently horrified when her parents told her that Donald Trump told another grown-up to shut-up. They all agreed, that was pretty terrible. “Oh, honey, he’s said a lot worse things than that…”
Another little kid I know thinks Trump stole the birdbath from his front yard. All politics is local, right?
Later that evening, my daughter was overflowing with questions about Trump—
Why did his parents let him be so mean? (Well, they probably weren’t very nice people either.)
Why isn’t he in jail if he’s a bad person? (He’s not a criminal, he just has a lot of bad ideas.)
What kind of bad ideas? (People from a whole entire religion shouldn’t be allowed in our country. We should build a wall to keep Mexicans from coming into our country…)
That is bad!
During the last presidential election cycle, when she wasn’t yet four, I tried to teach her about the issues that made me not want to vote for Mitt Romney. I told her things like, “He doesn’t trust women to make their own decisions about whether or not they want to have babies,” and “He doesn’t think that all people deserve to be able to go to a doctor when they’re sick.” All she remembered—and repeated—was, “Mitt Romney doesn’t like women.” I tried to correct her, but nuance isn’t big with the preschool set.
How was she to understand the difference between “like” and “trust” when she was still learning that her parents love her even when they’re upset with her?
This time around, it is a very big deal to me to be able to talk to her about a woman running for president. Huge, to use the parlance of this election cycle. I want a female president for her even more than I want one for myself or for the country.
Much as it made about as much sense to her that her dad wouldn’t be able to vote as that her mom would once not have been able to vote… Much as she thinks it’s just the same that two women could get married as that marriage is somehow meant for different genders only… Much as it will never seem anything but ordinary to her to see a black president… She doesn’t seem to really understand why it’s so significant that Hillary Clinton is as close to winning the presidency as any woman has ever been.
Hope for the future yet, on the one hand. On the other, she needs to know her history. There is too much ugly to risk repeating by letting her believe that things have always been this way.
These days, we tell our girls that they can do anything. I heard it all my life—at least up until my brothers were able to go places I wasn’t allowed alone because it was safer for them than for my teenage girl body. But our daughters, even more than us, have seen women who are astronauts and business owners and pretty much anything else they could ever want to be. Except president.
My parents’ generation grew up believing that not being a racist meant being colorblind. We know now that even babies as young as six-months old notice differences in skin color. And we know that they form ideas about race from what surrounds them, that not talking about race doesn’t lead to equality. We celebrate diversity. We understand the importance of diversity. We tell them different is beautiful.
We wouldn’t think to try to raise our kids in a colorblind world. But when it comes to gender, I feel like we are trying to raise our kids in a gender-blind world. “We’re all the same!” Kids aren’t stupid—and for whatever reason, they begin to divide roughly along gender lines between about three and four. As liberals, we feel panicked when this happens, like we’re failing some feminist parenting test. We’re not.
Girls and boys are different. Of course, any one boy could be as different from “boys” as most “girls” are, and vice versa. We try to make room for that. But while we tell our girls that they can do anything boys can do, we often fail to tell our boys that they can do anything girls can do. We tell girls they can be anything, and then we encourage them to do boy things. Trucks, dinosaurs, astronauts! And so things that girly girls do—wear pink, like princesses, play with dolls, whatever—become less-than. We want all of our children to play the games that little boys play.
Well, I want more for my daughter. And my son. Until we accept that there are gender differences, and stop trying to make everyone fit into the male mold, we won’t know equality. Until boys can do what girls can do, girls who play the boy games are only equal in so far as they play the boy games.
A woman running for president today has to do it like a man. And then get ripped apart for doing it like a man. And then be told that their voice is no different than a man’s voice, so they are not needed. Don’t worry—the boys got this one. Again.
If we can accept that it means something to African-Americans to see a black president—as we should, why is it unacceptable that seeing a female president would mean something to women and to girls? This seems to me the ultimate acceptance that gender-neutral is male. If we want to be equal, we’d better start accepting that a man’s point-of-view is the same as a woman’s? That’s not the kind of equality I believe in.
I believe in a voices-at-the-table kind of equality. I believe that women live different lives than men. I believe we see things and experience things that they just don’t. We can accept that any single person may not fit into the expectations of their chosen or un-chosen gender, but that doesn’t mean we have achieved gender-equality. No matter how good a feminist a man might be, it’s not the same as being a woman. Of course, women can be bad feminists—there’s certainly equality in that. Many of the women who rise to the top of their chosen field have disappointed women—I’m looking at you, Marissa Mayer.
I do not expect perfection in a presidential candidate, or a president. Not from a man or from a woman. A certain sort of person is attracted to such a path in life. They make decisions about things I can’t fathom being responsible for. We should ask a lot of questions of anyone wanting that job.
But I do expect to see a woman president in my lifetime—and to vote for her.
Hillary Clinton is not Margaret Thatcher. She’s not Carly Fiorina or Sarah Palin. She may not be Elizabeth Warren, but I’d like to see what would happen if Warren tried to walk the path that Clinton is walking. Maybe the third woman president will be a frumpy, Jewish, democratic socialist Brooklynite. But I doubt it.
Backwards and in high heels, I’m voting for Ginger Rogers. And I’m going to tell my daughter—and my son—all about it. We'll see what they take from it.