What the Women of the 2020 Election Have Taught My Daughter

election teach daughter election teach daughter

The night of the 2016 presidential election is one I remember well. My son and daughter, though only five and three at the time, were interested in what was going on. They were gleaning bits and pieces from the news, from the conversation snippets they heard between adults. I explained things to them, trying to keep it simple: there were two people who wanted to be president, and all the adults in the country got to vote for who they thought would do the best job. Yes, a lot of nuance was glossed over for the sake of, well… preschoolers.

One of the more memorable moments for me was telling my kids that if Hillary Clinton won, she’d become the first female president. This fact shocked them. There has never been a girl president? Like ever? They were skeptical of my presidential knowledge at first, but soon were super excited that they might get to “be there” for a big moment in history.

I found myself unexpectedly welling with emotions as I told them all this. Hillary Clinton was not my ideal candidate, but I realized that seeing her in this position of power would have a profound effect on how my daughter would experience the world. To her, a woman in power would be the norm. It would be the standard to which she would be accustomed.

But of course, that wasn’t how things panned out. When my daughter asked the next morning whether “a girl had won,” I had to let her down. She took the news okay (especially since I took her out for morning gelato to soothe my own disappointment), but I couldn’t help but feel just a little wistful that she (and we all) had missed out on this historical first. I wanted a woman in the White House so my kids could see it was possible, not just in theory, but in reality.

Now the current election cycle has given us another chance. Over the past few months, my daughter has watched a race in which multiple women have been on stage, and even if one of them doesn’t win, it’s huge that her experience with politics involves seeing smart, powerful women announcing their readiness to run the world. But more than that, she’s seeing that women will keep showing up until one eventually sits in the oval office. They will continue to put in the work. They will persist. Because women know they deserve to fill that space. They know they are ready to lead.

Seeing women persevere time and again, until they are heard, is going to shape the way our girls view the world. It would be (it will be) a thing of beauty to one day feel represented in the highest office in the country, but that accomplishment is not the end-all of female empowerment. The victory isn’t everything. There is still much to learn from and and admire in the fight itself.

Just like four years ago, I am hoping for a woman to win the White House. To see the dreams of generations of female fighters come to fruition at last. But even if that doesn’t come to pass this time around, I know that women will keep showing up, and that is a powerful thing for our girls to see. When women are capable we don’t give up. We keep showing up. We keep raising our voices. We keep fighting. And someday, we’ll win.

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Gemma Hartley is a freelance journalist and author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward. She lives in Reno, Nevada with her husband and three young children.