What Hillary Clinton’s Election Will Mean to Girls, and My 8-Year-Old Self.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote in the Guardian this weekend that when she was a girl of eleven, she asked her father if a woman could be President, and he answered her with an unequivocal No. Something to do, he said, with menstruation, aversion to power, and a natural attraction to motherhood. It became for her part of the litany of things she could not do because she was a girl.

“The slap-downs were often unexpected. Play drums in the band? No. Sign up for the science team? Go camping with the guys? Go jogging in shorts and a tank top without fear of being assaulted? Experiment boldly, have a career, command a moral authority of my own? Walk home safely after dark? No, no, no.”

My parents, on the other hand, encouraged me to dream big. They said, “Yes, you can be President! Girls can be anything they want to be!” But their wishful thinking could not overpower the blatant messages I got from observing reality. Despite their fairy tale answer, there remained the persistent facts: No woman had ever been President. No woman had even been a serious candidate for President. Their encouragement was akin to them saying, “Of course you can go to Mars!” It was fantasy, in the realm of remote possibility in a far off someday. It was, “Never say never, but don’t bank on it.”

Only I didn’t know it. I didn’t know that society’s silent messages had overshadowed my parents’ answer until I was 15, and Geraldine Ferraro’s nomination as Vice President shook my foundation. A cloud lifted and an idea rang in my brain, “Oh, I guess they were right, I guess that is not foreclosed.”

Only when I saw a flesh and blood woman speaking from behind the podium, on the debate stage with George Herbert Walker Bush, answering questions of substance like any other candidate, did I sense my own personal glass ceiling break a little. Only then did I believe that maybe a trip to Pennsylvania Avenue wasn’t as far fetched as a trip to Mars. Only then did I realize that I had never believed my parents.

The disappointment of Mondale/Ferraro’s loss reverted back to “the way it is.” That didn’t shift again until Bill Clinton began making Cabinet appointments. Here were women in roles previously filled only by men in the entire history of our country. Every photo of every President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Attorney General was another gray haired man. By 1992, I was an aspiring lawyer, and when Janet Reno, who died today, was named Attorney General, I felt the same blasting away of the old truth that important jobs were reserved for men.

“An Attorney General named Janet!” I celebrated. A friend asked me, “What does it matter?” He meant that all government officials were the same, that it didn’t affect our lives day-to-day. All I could tell him was that it mattered to me, to my personal sense of worth and possibility.

Yesterday I was in Las Vegas, canvassing neighborhoods to encourage voter turnout, handing out a paper that included the local polling place. At one of the last houses on my list, I met an older man and his granddaughter. She scooted outside and sat on a jumble of red rock gravel, while he demanded in a raspy voice that I tell him one reason I liked Hillary Clinton. (Before I could answer, he railed against Bill Clinton and some business dealing in Arkansas.) When he finished, I said, “ You asked for my reason: Hillary Clinton wants to help us get more good jobs, health care, and education, and that she cares about families like yours and mine.” Then, mindful of the little girl listening to this dialogue, I added, “When I was a little girl, I didn’t believe I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. If Hillary is our President, all the little girls in America will know that they can.”

With that, I thanked him for his time, and turned back toward the sidewalk.

Wait!” the girl stopped me. “Can I give one of those papers to my mom? She votes!” My heart lifted as I handed her the paper with the address of her polling place, and I spoke to her as though I was speaking to my own 8-year-old self, “Yes, you make sure your mom votes on Tuesday.” She took the paper and hurried inside.

I like to imagine that little girl walking into the house with the voting paper, waiting for her mom to come home from work and handing it to her, urging her to vote. I like to imagine the conversation they might have about it. I like to imagine that my words might have taken hold inside her head, that she will believe, “Yes, young one, you can be and do anything.” I will be thinking of her tomorrow, and hoping she gets the message she deserves.


Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

The only step we need to take tomorrow is vote. If you have to be late to a meeting, or school drop-off or pick-up, be late. It’s not much of a sacrifice compared with those who came before us.

Stronger Together: Four Generations Cast Their Votes With Her

I am sitting in the “Bistro” area at my grandmother’s assisted living home this morning. Picture a grand but casual hotel, a deluxe joint I have told her is like an ideal college dorm, with exercise classes, lectures, parties and movies, staffed by the type of kind, warm folks you’d want caring for your grandmother.

“Really? A college dorm?” she responds with a smile, this woman who hopped a bus to Hollywood at 18 and never attended college.

The Bistro is laid out with tables set for four, with a small kitchen offering light breakfast of fruit, toast, juice and coffee. Some residents are watching CNN. It is 9:00 a.m., and with nine hours to go before “tip-off” for tonight’s Presidential Debate, the pundits are already discussing the potential pitfalls and highlights of tonight’s clash. I am on edge. I turn away. So much rides on this.

The Bistro is awakening with activity, as men and women who have fought in wars, raised children, created industries (and ask for no credit), arrive for breakfast and tune into the debate coverage.

My grandmother sits next to me, a vision. Her auburn hair is set off perfectly by her light green jacket and pants, and her sharp wit reminds you that you can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl.

Two of her favorite friends, Addie and Arlene, join us for breakfast and conversation. Turns out the four of us have a lot in common. We talk about our children, our increasing memory loss, and our strong feelings about the election.

I pull out my laptop to show them a campaign website I had described to my grandmother last night, the one that lets Hillary Clinton volunteers reach out to voters across the country. It’s astounding how easy it is for people to get involved and to connect. I wanted to show my grandmother how far technology has come.

This is a milestone election for our country. It is also special for my family, but not only because we will have four generations voting for President for the first time. (That itself is cool, but mostly a testament to longevity). What’s truly noteworthy is that in this election, my grandmother, born before women could vote, will cast her first ever General Election Presidential ballot for a woman, while her great-granddaughter will cast her first General Election Presidential vote ever, and it will be for a woman. (And it’s not just “a woman.” It’s this indefatigable, qualified, hard-working, smart, tough, compassionate, imperfect-as-humans-are, brilliant, problem-solving, dedicated-to-service woman.)

It shouldn’t have taken so long for my grandmother to get here. But here we finally are, in a world in which my nieces and my sons, and their cousins and friends, can believe that anyone — any-qualified-one — man or woman, can and should follow their dreams, unlimited by the invisible weighty burden that “no one has ever done that before.”

Our table’s conversation turns to voter registration. One woman isn’t sure if she is registered here, or in her home state of Michigan. We do a quick Google search (after she asks me to “Google her”), and get her registered. Two ladies at an adjacent table come over to confirm they are registered;, and they are. My grandmother calls over the activities director and tells him we have to set up another voter registration day. He agrees. She gets things done.

I’ve sat here an hour longer than I expected, and if I could I would stay all day. The activities are just getting started. And with every minute, I’m feeling less anxious about our country’s future.

lilli-and-addie