By Victoria Zambello
“Mr. Vice President, I am speaking,” said Kamala Harris during the 2020 vice presidential debate.
Chills rippled through my body, recognizing that Harris was unapologetically tired of being interrupted and mansplained. Energy rose in my house of eight women, as we sat and watched the debate; but then, I began to realize that her assertiveness would turn voters away. I remembered the frustrating, yet prevalent stereotype of a woman using her voice to be labeled as bossy and aggressive. Four weeks after that debate, with fear, I waited for the results and a few days later I was filled with amazement that Kamala Harris did it. Harris became the first female, Black, South Asian Vice President of America.
As Harris relentlessly paves the way for women who are confident and beyond competent, she inspires solidarity for all genders and helps us recognize the value of women leaders. The concept of perfectionism, often expected of women, combined with confidence, presents a frustrating barrier that many women, including myself, struggle with daily. This standard enforces women to be anything but what society deems as desirable qualities, actions, and characteristics. We know, now more than ever, that going against societal norms and defying the odds is what sparks change. When Kamala Harris stood on the stage of her 2020 election speech – for the first time in a while, I felt a surge of confidence and power across the nation. Harris concluded her speech with, “See yourself in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before.” Can you imagine what the destruction of perfectionism will do to the next generation of girls and women?
In addition to perfection and competence women leaders also face the expectation of emotion. Research shows that many voters have a baseline gender preference for candidates. This means that during the voting process voters connect female candidates with gender stereotypes such as emotion and compassion; whereas men represent the characteristic of strength and power.
In 1866, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the first woman to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. With the audacity to run, even though she was not allowed to vote, Stanton won and is continued to be known for her dominance within the women’s suffrage movement. In 1977, Barbara Ann Mikulski, served in the Senate, founding her campaign off of her passion for social work. The Maryland Democrat served both in the Senate and U.S. House Representatives until 2017, becoming the longest-serving woman in the history of congress. Like Harris, these women are the foundation of cracking the stereotypes of a woman in politics, showing America that a woman can lead with both compassion and dominance simultaneously.
This research is also applied to women in the workplace. In their award-winning book, “Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” authors Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg showed that when women apply for promotion most only apply when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Men, on the other hand, apply when they meet 50 percent of the qualifications.
U.S. Representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously said in 2018, “They’ll tell you you’re too loud, that you need to wait your turn, and ask the right people for permission. Do it anyway.”
Harris is far from perfect, and that is what I admire most about her. Harris never apologized for being strong-minded. She never backed down. When she stood against Pence in the debate, she made room for herself, whether he wanted her there or not. Better yet, she embraced her imperfections, refusing to change how she spoke because of the female gender stereotype of women in politics. She showed America that as we all know politicians aren’t perfect, but that the concept of perfectionism, specifically with women, is a sad social construct created from a decade of generations.
This impact goes beyond inspiring women, to inspiring all genders, people within the BIPOC community, and people across a variety of demographics. In 2020, Vermont elected its first openly transgender lawmaker, Taylor Small.
“The impact of Taylor’s groundbreaking victory cannot be overstated,” Victory Fund President and CEO, Mayor Annise Parker wrote in a statement. “There are so few transgender people in elected office that nearly every win is a historic one, yet with each barrier broken comes more trans people inspired to do the same.”
Each milestone for women in politics, each win for minorities in politics, holds an inevitable snowball effect of opportunity, creating a better world filled with a variety of perspectives, unity, kindness, and grit.
No – I do not agree with every policy Harris stands behind. But, isn’t that the essence of a democracy? We will all never fully agree. What is important to me is that I hold trust and respect for the people in power. Harris has squashed stereotypes of women, by staying true to her ambitious and powerful self. To me, that makes the world a better place, for all genders.
In a society surrounded by stereotypes, critiques, and at times, hatred, I will follow Harris’s advice, understanding that seeing myself in a way that others may not, will continue to shatter stereotypes and open up new doors for all, regardless of how society expects a young-lady to act.
Victoria Zambello is the Executive Editor for The Defender. She is a Senior Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts major with a minor in Sociology. She holds a strong interest in law & policy and is an advocate for gender and race equality.