News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Higher office

In the 1980s, my dad — my Republican, Ronald Reagan-loving dad — took me to the University of Oregon campus to see a woman speak. Her name was Geraldine Ferraro, and she was the first-ever female vice-presidential nominee for a major party in United States history.

Did I understand the significance of that? Uhhh, sorta. Maybe. Not really. I grew up in a culture of shoulder pads, big hair, and denial. “Anything you can do, I can do better,” as the girl sang in Free to Be You and Me. Faux-feminist, Superwoman perfume commercials showed a sexy career gal singing, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never-ever let you forget you’re a man, ‘cause I’m a woooooman, Enjoli.”

I was a kid. I had no idea I was being fed a trough of marketing hooey. I had no clue that the concept of women being fully free and equal was merely — as they say in the marketing business — “aspirational.” I thought we actually were equal, already, that it was a done deal.

My dad was smart enough to recognize that equality for women was a fairly new and fragile thing. A woman running for vice president on the Democratic ticket was meaningful, important. I was like, “OK, Dad, that sounds pretty cool.” So we drove to the U of O.

Gathering with hundreds of other people to catch a glimpse of that rare unicorn, a female candidate for high office — it stuck with me. Years later, I came to understand that the Superwoman image of the Enjoli ads was as imprisoning as the 1950s housewife image it was trying to displace. I learned, sometimes the hard way, that girls and women are treated unequally in a myriad of ways, from low wages to high rates of sexual assault.

By then I’d noticed that people of influence were usually men, and usually white. Presidents. Vice presidents. CEOs of big corporations. Scientists. Movie directors. TV news anchors. All the pastors, rabbis, and priests at my family’s church and all my friends’ churches and chapels and synagogues. All my college professors, and nearly all the writers, artists, and thinkers whose work they assigned us.

In that context, I understood that Geraldine Ferraro had mattered. She gave us young girls a chance — not a chance to see someone like us lead our country, but to at least try for a spot near the top. Her candidacy suggested that someday, one of us might actually get there.

I can’t believe it’s taken all these decades for the United States to finally elect a woman to the position of Vice President. But I am grateful the moment is finally here. That she is a daughter of immigrants and a woman of color makes the moment that much richer, sweeter, and more significant. I can imagine how much influence that will have on a new generation of kids.

Regardless of whether or not I align with Kamala Harris’s policies, I am grateful for her presence. Thank you, Ms. Harris, for your determination and grit, your elegance and smarts, your refusal to back down in the face of racism and sexism. Thank you, Ms. Harris, for your hard work.

And thank you, Dad, for taking me to that speech.


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