Watching history unfold through my daughter’s eyes

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden congratulates newly sworn-in Vice President Kamala Harris after she took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When I asked my 7-year-old daughter what she thought of the inauguration, she told me, “it was fine.”

Filled with hope and excitement, I pressed her further, trying to unearth some recognition of the historical nature of last month’s events. I asked if she understood how significant it was that we have our first female vice president ever. One with mixed race heritage. One who looks a lot like she does.

“Yeah, I mean, she doesn’t yell and she seems a lot nicer than Trump, so that’s really good.”

It occurred to me that this is normal for her. She fangirled Elizabeth Warren when she was running in the primary. She fell in love with the first black president, “Bo-bama,” as she called him back then. She held the pencil as I voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and she cried the morning she lost.

But this type of progress will never be novel for her the same way it has been for me. For her, this is all she’s known. And I am so, so grateful for that.

For her, standing in front of the television the morning of Jan. 20, 2021, with her hand in the air mimicking madam vice president being sworn in, she was just admiring another powerful woman not because she was female, not because she looked like her, but because she radiated kindness and empathy — something that has felt absent in our country for a while now.

For me, the experience was very different. I spent much of the morning overcome with emotion.

Along with many other Americans, we donned pearls, stood and sang along with the anthem, and we listened as Amanda Gorman riveted the nation at only 22. My daughter watched it like a rock concert. She danced around and eagerly pointed out the people she recognized by name; Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and “Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s friends” (the other women of SCOTUS). And like many other Americans, I breathed a sign of cautious relief as a feeling of hope overtook the feelings of exhaustion, anger and fear that have been present for so long.

But I think most of what I felt was pride.

We’ve worked so hard to get here. Countless women whom I have known, and countless others whom I had admired, have sacrificed so much to arrive at this point in history. I grew up in the ’90s, when women had already made great strides. I saw female governors and senators. Women were depicted as astronauts and doctors. Storybooks told us we could do and be anything we dreamed of. I’ve always known a woman as President was possible, it just never felt probable.

Not until now.

We have had the right to vote for 100 years and have just now reached this second highest of office. As somebody who left politics largely because of the boys-club mentality that existed in my state Capitol, I know just how hard it is to survive in that field as a woman. I know how much women have to sacrifice and put up with just to be able to fight for the changes they believe in. I learned early on that I couldn’t trust the intentions of male politicians who offered their mentorship. I encountered sexual harassment. And I experienced firsthand the fallout of attempting to eradicate such predators within my own party when another intern and I exposed a state senator’s misconduct.

It’s frustrating to hear women I know shrug off such an accomplishment, citing all the honorable strides women have made in the last century as though they somehow make this one pale in comparison. But having the ability doesn’t compare to actually having achieved it.

It is entirely possible that we could go another century without a female president. Would we still be so easily placated by merely being told we can, without anything to show for it?

After four years of the previous administration, it should be obvious how fragile women’s access to power and equity really is. We’ve seen how easily our rights can be held out as bargaining chips. We saw Congress push through an accused sexual predator into a lifelong position on the high court. We saw half of our country decide that multiple credible allegations of sexual harassment and violence wasn’t a deal-breaker when they elected Trump to the presidency.

We heard all about how limits to our freedom are for our own protection when they tried to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding. As though we are fragile. As though we are incapable. Look how quickly they’ll rewrite the definition of domestic violence when given the opportunity. Look how fast they’ll weaken protections for sexual violence survivors by rolling back Title IX protections when they have the chance.

Look how fast our jobs disappeared when the economy needed to prioritize its workforce. Our jobs and our livelihoods have taken the biggest hit during COVID.

Women in power means that we don’t need men to save us. It means we’re perfectly capable of governing ourselves.

Of course, young girls like my daughter don’t need a vice president who looks like her as a prerequisite to believing in herself. Madame vce president earned her title without anybody looking like her having ever held this office as she was growing up.

But representation matters. It matters that the little boys that my daughter will grow up with will see a woman in a position of power and think she is competent and deserving of her role, and not there as a coincidence or a favor. It matters that people from all backgrounds can achieve greatness in this country — and we can see it happen instead of just being promised the possibility.

And it matters that my bright beautiful multiracial daughter, and all children, no matter what race or gender, will hopefully grow up believing that they belong here as much as anybody else. That they, too, can achieve great things. Lord knows America is a work in progress, and there is much work left to do. But it’s reassuring that even in a time of chaos, we still find reason for hope, and space for progress.