It matters that a woman is in the White House. And it matters that her male partner fully, deeply and symbolically supports her career.
Much has been written about Vice President Kamala Harris' election to the highest office in the land.
Today is the first day in America that we have a woman in the White House, serving as vice president. As the mother of a little girl, I know how important the first female vice president is, for ourselves and our daughters.
But we also must celebrate another kind of transfer of power that happened today: that of a high-achieving man playing the role of supportive spouse to his accomplished and ambitious wife.
Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris' husband, had a tremendously successful career as an entertainment lawyer in his own right, before leaving his career last year to work full time in support of his wife's profession. In the past, where only men had served as president and vice president, it's been expected that first and second ladies would devote themselves entirely to their spouse's career, and that of the "greater good." In our culture, women and mothers are always expected to put others first—which is not inherently bad, but when imposed as persistent and oppressive expectation, can be suffocating and stifling.
Today, however, we bore witness to a new kind of supportive partner; a second gentleman who voluntarily choose that role. He represents a symbol of a new kind of masculinity—one not centered on power over women, but of profound and tangible respect for women.
To be sure, Emhoff had his own ambitions before that of his partner's came along. But unlike so many men throughout history, who have—consciously or unconsciously—subverted their wife's ambitions, or quieted her voice, or asked her career to take a back seat to his "more important" one, Doug today represented a new kind of partnership. One where not only women can be equal, but even prioritized.
Today, as I watched the inauguration, I saw Emhoff routinely put his wife at the center of the frame. As they moved through Washington and on and off the inaugural stage, he physically, time and time again, shifted his location to the side so that she could be the focus.
It matters that a woman is in the White House. And it matters that her male partner fully, deeply and even symbolically supports her career. The impact of such a symbol is felt far outside of Washington, DC, but has echoes in all of our homes, where women long for more equal partnership with their partners.
You have to see it in order to be it. And in the partnership between Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff, we are witnessing a new kind of gender dynamic that is desperately needed and long overdue.
As Emhoff wrote in a piece just-published at GQ on being the first second gentleman:
"I am honored to be the first male spouse of an American President or Vice President. But here's the truth: generations of women before me have used this platform to advocate for causes they believe in and build trust in our institutions at home and abroad—often without much accolade or acknowledgment.. . .I also see this through the eyes of our kids, Cole and Ella, each of whom are coming into their own as young adults. I want them to grow up in a world where it isn't news that a loving partner—of any gender—supports them in everything they do."
As the Emhoff–Harris family likes to say, "You may be the first, but you better not be the last."
May Doug Emhoff be the first in a long line of second gentlemen—and every day men—who proudly put their female partners and wives' ambitions ahead of, or equal to, their own.
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