In honor of the Women's Marches that happened across the country, I am sharing a letter I sent to the White House on December 12, 2016 in response to the election results. The question I pose at the end of the letter is one that the country implicitly demanded an answer to on January 21st during the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. It is a question that society has yet to answer, though many of us continue to ask it.
Dear President Obama,
January 20th may be a bittersweet day for you. You are leaving the White House after 8 long years of unrelenting dedication to this great country. It will also be a bittersweet day for me, as it is my 25th birthday, and seeing Hillary Rodham Clinton become the first female president was a birthday wish that I wanted to see come true.
I write because the feeling that has been fomenting within me, like in so many, is one of dismay — dismay at what seems like a broken promise to the country. I believed in an unspoken promise of a reality in which much of the country was ready to accept a woman president and her ideals. The idea of HRC's victory seemed to be a rosy reality so close within our grasp. This rosy reality eclipsed into an unexpected red gradient across all the pollster maps on November 8th. The defeat seemed to especially sting for any hardworking woman with aspirations beyond the often narrowly ascribed expectations set forth by our society for my gender.
I think women and men were all looking for a new narrative that day, not just within the context of our country's political tradition, but within our own personal stories:
I woke up the day after the election thinking about my 13-year old cousin in Boston who aspires to be a Supreme Court justice. I thought of young girls like her who saw in HRC the promise that hard work after many years continues to be rewarded, that it does not plateau, that it persists through the slings and arrows of any political campaign or tweetstorm.
This sort of public defeat leaves a subtle imprint on our collective psyche about the potential of a woman.
I hate to think what it has already done to young girls' expectations of themselves. I am reminded of the Victor Hugo quote from Les Miserables: "Be it true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence upon their lives, and especially upon their destinies, as what they do."
So, what has been told to role models in our lives that happen to be women? I thought of my grandmother who held a record in her native city for never getting below a 100% on her math exams and who graduated from college with a microbiology degree at 16 years of age. Only a year later, she would get married and start a family, leaving her professional career to the wayside. While she still upheld one of the noblest professions of them all, that of being a loving mother, she followed the expectation set by society. I am not saying that either motherhood or careerism is superior to the other. I only wanted to see a victory that proved that a woman could truly "have it all."
I wanted to wake to a symbolic new day where such aspirations would not be abortive. I know Hillary is not the Grecian Atlas of feminism, and to even suggest that statement is too enormous a weight to put on any one person. That is who she is after all, a person. All the same, I think the nation did do that to some extent. I am also guilty of it.
As the husband to one of the strongest women in the public eye, as a father, and as a person who strives to reduce divisiveness in this country, you probably have an interesting perspective on how we can move forward after these election results. Mr. President, what advice do you have to young women across the country who were eager to see that too-high glittering glass ceiling reduced to powdery shards?