In 2007, Representative Nancy Pelosi was elected to the position of Speaker of the House, the first woman to serve in that capacity. That year’s State of the Union address found me watching the first woman to sit behind the president at that address. It was a heady moment for me, a 39 year old woman who had been waiting her whole life for the nation to fulfill its promise that equality included girls and women. I watched Pelosi that night and felt like a few panes of the glass ceiling were ready to be shattered.
That year, I used Newsweek magazine to teach current events in my American government class. The story that followed that State of the Union described the speech and the political leaders who were there. It was required reading for my students as we prepared to discuss the agendas proposed by Republican and Democratic leaders. Newsweek devoted an entire paragraph to a description of Nancy Pelosi’s appearance, right down to the color of her hair and her stylish shoes. The appearance of the men in that room didn’t merit a mention. For the men, the story talked about ideas. For the one history-making woman in the room, it was the cut of her suit that mattered the most.
I was furious and disappointed in equal measure. How could I teach the young men and women in my classroom that it was ideas that mattered when it was clear that women’s ideas took a backseat to their hairstyles? It was a very painful reminder that women and girls still had a long, long way to go.
Last night, 16 year-old-me watched side-by-side with my 16 year old son as a smart and accomplished woman accepted the nomination of her party to be our nation’s president. She did it on her terms, embracing her identity as a mother and a woman and treating both as the superpowers they are.
I am 48 years old and I have waited many years for this day. I was excited about the moment but it wasn’t until Hillary Clinton settled into her speech last night that I realized how powerful it would feel to watch a woman in this position. I cried for most of the speech; I am that woman who wears her emotions on her sleeve. I cried because I am weary of the ways that women are marginalized for their accomplishments; held to a standard that is higher than men and always expected to do more for less. There is a narrow path for women in authority; it’s the unspoken rules that are the most restrictive. Hillary’s candidacy will challenge the unspoken rules and it’s about time we acknowledge that fact. Last night, I shed some tears of pride and relief in equal measure. I will live on political pins and needles until November but you can bet that when our sons and daughters wake up in a nation where, as Hillary said, “a barrier has fallen and cleared the way for everyone,” I will watch with my heart in my throat and shed a few more tears.
I am proudly with Hillary. America, let’s do this thing.