Barbara Lee, Founder and President, The Barbara Lee Family Foundation As someone who has been…
We Have a Woman Vice President! What To Watch
Finally. It’s happened: women in politics got one step closer to breaking the highest and hardest ceiling in government. Senator Kamala Harris was duly elected Vice President of the United States. Harris is not only the first woman Vice President, she is the first Black, South Asian American, and child of immigrants to be elected to the position.
Vice President-elect Harris represents key demographics that turned out to get the Biden Harris ticket elected, Black women especially. So it is a momentous occasion to recognize not only women, but Black and other women of color who’ve had a hand in shaping this democracy.
But despite this historic moment, we know sexism and racism against women of color in politics will rear its ugly head over the next four years. What are the things that advocates for gender equity should keep an eye on, as we know Harris’s work and leadership will receive unprecedented attention in the next four years?
Fashion: Focusing on what she is wearing, how her hair is styled, what makeup she is wearing, etc., instead of what she is saying or the work she is doing. There are appropriate venues to discuss a woman’s fashion as a candidate or elected official, like in a fashion magazine. For example, Congresswoman’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a makeup tips video with Vogue while also discussing the politics of beauty and politics. But there is still news coverage that focuses on the looks of a woman candidate to a disproportionate degree. Note and call out news coverage that focuses on Harris’s appearance at the expense of her work
Family: Women candidates still say they are often asked on the campaign trail “Who’s taking care of the children?” if they have children or “Why aren’t you married yet?” if they aren’t. Critics can (and have) focused too much on a candidate or elected’s role as wife and mom as opposed to her work and policies. Vice President-elect Harris is a wife and stepmother and that’s come up a little in the media but not as much as the unfortunate amount of attention on her dating life prior to her marriage. Note and call out news coverage that will focus more on her role as a wife/stepmom or dig deeper in her dating history to discredit her.
Tone/Attitude: Women already face criticism about how they talk, whether it’s an “uptalk” or for being “shrill” when passionate/angry or if their voice cracks like maybe they might cry like what happened once when Hillary Clinton was running for President in 2008. As a woman of color, Vice President-elect Harris will have the extra challenge of navigating that while being a Black and South Asian American woman who is mostly identified as Black. Therefore be also vigilant for terms that describe her as “aggressive”, “angry” “sassy” “attitude” terms often attributed negatively to Black women.
Ambition: Given that Harris is a younger woman to be Vice President of the United States, there will be much speculation as to her next steps in politics. The chatter of “Will she or won’t she” run for President (and when) will kick into high gear once she takes office and will be another excuse to watch her every move. Stay vigilant for commentary that critiques her rise or work for being “ambitious” or “calculated” compared to men. To be successful in politics and rise through its ranks from a local elected official to Vice President is to be ambitious. Harris should be critiqued no differently than Pete Buttigieg, the young man not even 40 years old who only served as Mayor of a small town and recently ran for President, or any other younger person in the political field.