Maverick Citizen Op-Ed
January 20: The Day #MeToo became just Me Too
I urged my two young granddaughters to watch Kamala Harris assume the authority of the second-highest office in the US. They need to know the phrase Me Too belonged to them at that moment, not the hashtag.
I am a mixed-race American, with a black father and a white mother. During Barack Obama’s first campaign I never allowed race to enter into my thinking. I voted for him based on his intelligence, policy goals, boundless promise of hope and the desire for a better America. I didn’t care where he was from or what he looked like.
Until he raised his hand that day to take the oath.
At that moment I was overcome with emotion. I found myself in tears with the realisation that, for the first time in my four decades of life someone who looked like me and WAS just like me had been elected president of the US.
I didn’t entirely understand that innate affiliation, but I did know discrimination, about being raised in a country that was quick to tell you how black you were or weren’t, and how white you were or weren’t. It was a country that described your achievements as a product of quotas or affirmative action – they weren’t yours to claim.
Something very similar happened last week as Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice-president. The world witnessed the first woman to be elected to the second-highest office in the land. While we Americans, especially women – and most notably women of colour – watched in an emotional vice grip akin to 2009, the rest of the world might not have been so impressed.
When thoroughly underqualified Donald Trump ran against a very experienced Hillary Clinton a friend told me Clinton would lose. His rationale? America is more sexist than racist.
He was right. And a sexist society elected a racist into the highest office. I did not want to believe his statement, but the past four years have shown me just how backward-leaning our nation is when it comes to the equal rights of women.
The pernicious pay gap, #MeToo, the conviction of Harvey Weinstein and the horrific antics of Jeffrey Epstein filled the pages, airwaves and online news outlets. Not to mention the Access Hollywood tape catching our esteemed former president describing “grabbing women by the… ”
Yet, as the US grappled for centuries with perceiving women as capable of voting and holding office, the world moved on and outpaced the Land of the Free.
In 1960, Sri Lanka elected the first female prime minister. India’s Indira Gandhi was elected in 1967 (was re-elected and served three terms), and Golda Meir became Israel’s fourth prime minister in 1969. Benazir Bhutto was elected prime minister of Pakistan twice, making her the first woman to lead a democratic government of a Muslim-majority nation and the youngest prime minister. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first democratically elected head of state in 2005. Argentina, South Korea and Chile have elected and re-elected female presidents since 2006.
While the US would like to describe these nations as economically underdeveloped and democratically immature, they accomplished something America could not. Some did it 60 years ago, and technically, until Harris becomes President Harris, the US has not caught up at all.
In addition to these leaders, Margaret Thatcher in the UK (1979-1990) and Angela Merkel in Germany (2005-present) have carved out their places in history with formidable leadership of two of the most powerful nations on the planet. Love them or hate them, there is no question in effectively every corner of the world that women can steer the ship. Just look to New Zealand, Norway and now Finland, with the world’s youngest prime minister.
They all believe and trust in women. Why can’t we?
On January 20, I watched as a person who looked like me and WAS like me again take the oath. This time I am a decade older and my daughter has since had two young girls herself. I urged them to watch Kamala raise her right hand, to imprint on those fresh young minds the image of a woman assuming, with competence and responsibility, the authority of the second-highest office in the US. They need to know that the phrase “Me Too” belonged to them at that moment, not the hashtag.
There was great symbolism on that day, for a variety of reasons. And I do not kid myself that the road forward is steep and rocky. It will not be easy and it may very well be short. But we can hope there will be a legacy of electability for American women and that come 2024 or beyond there will be a President Harris taking that oath.
This wish is one so many Americans hope for, though not all. The time is ripe to disprove the doubters and remind my fellow citizens that gender does not determine whether you are fit for office. Your character, capabilities, vision, intellect and drive do.
Aspiring to higher office led Harris and so many other women to assume leadership seats in our Congress and now the vice-presidency. The time to dream big is here for all young girls, for up-and-coming female professionals, for my mother’s generation who fought so hard for equal rights, and the many women before her, and ultimately, for Me Too. DM/MC
Tiffany Jackson-Zunker is an international affairs and strategic communications professional. She holds an International Relations degree from Stanford University and a Master’s degree from the University of California Berkeley.
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