My son was 2 when I cried my way through the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. He was blissfully unaware of the protests that would follow as Americans rallied against Trump's travel ban. My son never heard the conversations I had with one of my best friends, a trans woman, about the trans military ban. He played with rogue pens in a number of Senate offices as I shared my abortion story with elected officials. He watched me introduce then-Sen. Kamala Harris near the steps of the Supreme Court during a rally to protect Planned Parenthood.
By the grace of his still-forming prefrontal cortex, my son will have the privilege of barely remembering the Trump administration. But he will hopefully remember watching the first woman, and the first Black and South Asian American, to be sworn in as vice president by America's first Latina Supreme Court justice. And while little girls and young women across the world will undoubtedly benefit from, be inspired by and see themselves in Harris, our sons will benefit just as much.
“Every time a woman is in a position of power or leadership, it’s a step forward toward gender equality,” Karen Caraballo, a clinical child and family psychologist, told me. “When boys see more women in power, it normalizes the situation and experience. It also helps fight against and break the circle of prejudice, bias, violence and discrimination.”
Multiple studies have shown how men of all ages benefit from seeing and having women lead, whether that’s helping to lead a company or helping to lead a nation. For example, a study of 100,000 men and women published in 2018 found that sons of working moms spend more time taking care of loved ones as adults, and are more likely to spend time at home.
And while gender discrimination certainly persists in the workplace, studies have also shown how men (and people of all genders) benefit from having a woman in a leadership or managerial position. This is why it’s so important to normalize female leadership from an early age. This 2013 study found that women make better business decisions than men, and are more likely to “consider the rights of others and to take a cooperative approach to decision-making.” Another 2013 study found that women outperform men when multitasking. The point is not that only women (or only men) should lead — rather, it’s that sexism holds everyone back.
Outside of the workplace, positive representations of female leaders should help erode the misogynist attitudes that enable societal problems like domestic violence. “We know that rage, aggression and lust are generally the only emotions that males are socialized to see as acceptable in themselves and other males,” Meredith Shirey, a licensed psychotherapist and the co-host of the podcast “Love Me or Leave Me,” told me. “It stands to reason that these emotions, along with thousands of years of extreme subjugation of women, is indicative of why we still see such a high prevalence of acts of violence against women. If men are exposed to seeing women in positions of power, it is likely that they will, over time, build a view that sees women as equals in every facet, including emotional expression.”
Trump embodied toxic masculinity. Shamelessly exhibiting the traits of a full-fledged narcissist, the 45th president struggled to express empathy, kindness or humility. The nation had elected a man who believes a dad changing his children’s diapers is “acting like the wife”; called a woman breast pumping “disgusting”; told the world the women who accused him of sexual assault “weren’t his type.” Our children noticed. A 2016 study found that 80 percent of children discussed the 2016 presidential election at home. A 2019 study found that school bullying increased in areas that voted for Trump. Children co-opted Trump’s words to torment their classmates.
Of course, regardless of who is elected, it is my responsibility — and that of my partner— to teach my kids moral and ethical lessons, personal accountability and social responsibility. It’s also my job to remind my sons that creating a more equitable world is not just the job of those who are harmed by inequality. This is the right thing to do, but it’s also in their self-interest. For the reasons above and many more, it benefits our young men, just as it does our daughters, to establish equal divisions of labor inside the home, equality in the workplace, and a government that is more representative of the people being governed.
For four years, our sons did not have a president who highlighted these realities — instead, they watched a man who reveled in inequality, relied on sexist tropes to demean his personal and political rivals, and did his best to increase cultural and political divisions.
A sitting president, or vice president, gifts parents with an example they can point to when their children are looking for tangible examples of what a real leader looks like.
And today, Inauguration Day, I will finally be able to point to the vice president and remind my sons that women are just as capable as men; that the little girls in my son’s first grade class are just as likely to become president or vice president; that their mother doesn’t “belong” anywhere, but can succeed anywhere. And most important, like the many men who came before her, I will be able to point to Harris and say that she is not perfect — because she shouldn’t have to be. That at a time when women are still considered “too emotional” or “too career-driven,” too “shrill” or “too ambitious” — when women are held to higher standards than that of their male colleagues— Harris earned her spot at the table.
“This is a moment to reshape the long-held belief that women in these positions is outside the norm,” Shirey says. “Parents should treat this like it is the norm.”
For four years, Trump decimated our collective understanding of what’s “normal.” More than 400,000 Americans have died from a deadly virus he purposefully downplayed; immigrant children were forcefully separated from their parents; a violent insurrection was incited. We’ve redefined how we work, how our children go to school, and how we connect with our family, friends and community.
On Inauguration Day, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have reset the clock on what is “normal” in America. A Black, South Asian woman is now the second-most powerful person in the world. And our sons will be made better for it. Because of her.