When my six-year-old daughter saw Hillary Clinton’s recent announcement for the presidency, her first response was to say, very innocently and matter-of-factly, “Oh! I didn’t know that women were allowed to be president.”
While I don’t mean this as an endorsement of Clinton’s candidacy (far from it – I strongly believe that an uncompetitive presidential primary and an assumed “coronation” is not a healthy thing in our electoral democracy), I’ll admit that my daughter’s response surprised and shocked me just a bit. My first reaction was to think “where did she get the idea that women were not allowed to be president?”
Is it the implicit signals from the “American presidents” dinner place mat she sometimes uses that features the faces of an all-male presidential line-up?
Is it the messages from the culture she’s growing up in where, despite great strides made over the several decades, women are still less likely to be in positions of leadership, prominence, and visibility?
Is it the patterns she internalizes at the church we attend were women are not eligible to serve as the chief pastors in our congregations or in the highest governing councils of the worldwide organization?
Of course much of the responsibility is ultimately my own. After all, it’s my job as her father to teach her about the world. I suppose I’ve dropped the ball by never explicitly explaining to her that “women are of course eligible to serve as U.S. president but no one ever has yet for a variety of reasons…” So my immediate response was to make it clear that YES women are eligible to be elected president and then I showed her on my smartphone pictures of other female heads of state around the world (e.g. Angela Merkel, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Dilma Rousseff, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, etc.).
In a few weeks my wife and I will be welcoming two more twin girls into our family. I hope that by the time they’re six years old that their environment will have more egalitarian messages and signals about the role of women in society than is the case today.