“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I think all of us have asked a child that question. When I was a kid, I loved that question–mostly because there wasn’t something I didn’t want to be. Doctor? Sure! Ballerina? Already signed up for class. Gas station attendant? Absolutely. Once I told the woman who was checking out our groceries that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Her response? “Sure you do, kid.” My mother has always encouraged me to be whatever I wanted to be (yes, even gas station attendant), and started researching medical schools when, at age 9, I proclaimed that I wanted to be a veterinarian (yes, I meant vegetarian, and yes, she was slightly disappointed).
So naturally, in my list of future professions, I wanted to be president. I had already decided what my first big mandate would be: To outlaw smoking. I let everybody know this, even my grandmother’s friend who was lighting up right next to me. In my recollection, she actually put out her cigarette, and my five-year-old self was pretty sure she had solved Big Tobacco.
I asked my mom all the time, “Why can’t women be president?” (It was in the similar vein of “Why can’t women be priests?” to which my family priest answered that I could become a nun to “help” the priests because that’s what God wanted from women. We left that church soon after.) My mom’s response, with the grace and clarity of a seasoned teacher: “Women can be president. It’s just that none have wanted to be president yet.”
What a great response–it wasn’t that men ran politics. It wasn’t that we lived in a world where a woman’s role had been relegated to childbearing and domestics. Conversely, it wasn’t that men were “smarter” or women were “simpler.” It was simply that it hadn’t happened yet, opening me up to the possibility that it could happen. And that it could be me, the jack-of-all-trades, who could take that role.
Of course, I didn’t take that role. I’m actually in a very female-dominated profession, education, and I absolutely love my job. But things change; I could suffer a severe personality-changing traumatic brain injury and decide becoming president is really something I’d like to pursue (not that presidential candidates are brain-injured, just that I love my job that much). A female candidate further opens possibilities for young girls–if they want to be firefighters, business people, dog walkers, professional athletes, or scientists, having a female candidate is an example that women can pursue those paths and experience success. It sets the precedent that women can be whatever they well please–even president.