What I’d Rather Say to My Daughters About This Election

If you have the privilege of voting in this year’s election, I hope you and your family will cast ballots and encourage everyone you know to help play a part in moving us forward.

Like many people, concern about the future that our children will face heightens my apprehension about this election. Because the sexual exploitation of women sits so close to the heart of this year’s race, it’s been painful to listen to debates here at Mills College, where women’s education is paramount and our students take their obligation to make a better world seriously.

And, it’s been hard to even talk about the US presidential election with my middle-school daughters.

It’s not that my kids are surprised by news of sexual assault or harassment. When I was appointed to a congressional panel asked to assess military responses to sexual assault a few years ago, my daughter Vivian, then in fifth grade, challenged me for spending so much time away from home. I tried to explain why I thought our work was important and how we might be able to help with such an awful problem. So our children already knew that I examine some of the uglier aspects of human behavior.

Yet throughout this historic election season, with Hillary Clinton closer to the presidency than any woman has ever been, there are a lot of important issues I would have preferred to talk about, other than the misogynist behavior of the Republican candidate for president of the United States. I would have liked to talk about women’s limited political success in this country compared to other nations, including dozens of those that have adopted quota systems to promote gender balance in politics. I would have liked the chance to explain why having women in the room helps to improve legislative outcomes. I would have liked to talk about gerrymandering, perhaps using one of the tutorials now available, like this three-minute Washington Post video, and asked our daughters what we should do about the unfair representation and polarization that gerrymandering has wrought. Since their eighth-grade social studies curriculum encourages them to analyze ballot measures, I would have liked to ask our daughters about the perils of direct democracy worldwide during a year of “Brexit” and the Colombian people’s rejection of a peace accord.

Instead, they see and hear Donald Trump, who teaches them how vulnerable they are to being assaulted and dismissed because of their gender. Instead, I find myself trying to explain why Trump would choose to say more about the size and shape of women’s bodies than their ideas or values.

Instead, I find myself wondering how to encourage our daughters to see themselves, and other girls and women, as leaders, and how to help them prepare to carry the burdens of being women and citizens in an imperfect nation.

I don’t know how many other powerful men think and act like Trump. But I do know that the more citizens who pay attention, and who vote, the less likely it is that we will lose the fragile gains we’ve made toward political equality.

In a year like 2016, sitting on the sidelines would be a terrible mistake.


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