I am 34 years old and have watched white man after white man run this country. In a moment of sheer hope and relief, President Barack Obama won the election in November 2008. I have never felt such joy for politics, to see someone win on a platform of hope and change.
November 2012 was a turning point for me as a parent. Twenty weeks away from parenting, sitting 20 weeks pregnant, I held fear for my unborn child. All I could think, was that the outcome of this election meant possible harm and oppression to her little body – to see her stripped of reproductive rights, access to comprehensive education – more white men in charge of her decisions in life. I truly feared that she would come into a world rooted in the same white patriarchy that I have seen nearly all of my life. It was that night that myself and my partner decided that no matter the outcome we were going to parent with the intention of teaching anti-oppression and justice. We always knew that in our bones, but that night we said it.
My daughter is now three years old and she has only known a black president. I say that sometimes to myself, just to hear it again.
This election year, things are looking dramatically different. We’re in a fierce battle of opposition, values, and especially gender. I have been explaining to her that a cisgender woman may actually become president and how that has never happened before. She has no concept to relate this to, and just seems puzzled that a cisgender woman couldn’t have a job just like Mommy does. But I am struggling in explaining to her the dynamics at play, what this cisgender women is living through in her pursuit of the presidency.
I read to her the story “Grace for President” by Kelly DiPucchio. It’s the story of a classroom that decides to have an election of a young black girl versus a young white boy. In the end, Grace wins out but only because one boy classmate decides to vote for her. Otherwise, all of the girls vote for her and all of the boys vote for her opponent. There are many dynamics in this book not unlike what this election year looks like. Grace and her opponent are both qualified in that they are students of the school, have values and opinions, and want better for their friends. They have opposing views, such as whether a certain food in the cafeteria should be offered every day or if it should be taken off the menu entirely. (This analogy reminds me so clearly of so many things being talked about in debates: health care, women’s rights, contraception, abortion, government funded programs, comprehensive education…you name it. We either will get it or we won’t.)
But what strikes me most in this book is that the young boy who is running against Grace doesn’t do very much campaigning. He assumes that because he’s in a lot of clubs, plays sports, and does well in school that this election will be a landslide for him. And the outcome supports this. In comparison, Grace campaigns tirelessly, working to gain everyone’s vote, holding speeches and sessions to hear from her peers. He does none of this. And yet, he still nearly wins. We’re supposed to feel great that Grace pulls it off, turning one young boy to make a difference. All that work, and she only gets one person to turn.
The lesson of course is that hard work, courage, and pursuit pay off. But what a raw deal…Grace has to do all this work just to be considered when her opponent just has to exist. I cannot ignore the work she puts in and the drain on her little body just to achieve this.
I look at this election year and it feels so much of the same. One candidate is the most qualified candidate ever in the history of politics. Yet, we cannot stop talking about what she is wearing, her demeanor, her softness or lack thereof, her marriage, etc. None of these are required to do the work of the presidency but they are top qualifiers for her simply because of her gender. She has to do so much extra work just to get people to hear her, to consider her, to allow her to stand on her own instead of under the past presidency of her husband.
In comparison her contender is a criminal, a racist, a rapist, an abuser, a supporter of violence, and as close to a dictator that we can imagine. This man has been accused of sexually assaulting women, including a 14 year old girl. He has called women fat pigs, dogs, whores. He has encouraged his crowds to resort to violence against those that oppose him. He has stated himself, that he could kill someone for no reason in the streets of New York and still wouldn’t lose a follower. And this is true, he is doing very little work except to be his ignorant, racist, vile self and people love him. In fact, he is being uplifted for simply not being a politician…which is hard to swallow since the majority of our population has the same qualification, yet they chose him.
So yes, I have no idea how to talk to my daughter about this election year. Explaining the persistent racism and white patriarchy feels pretty heavy for her little body. Yet, she is aware of many of the facts, the two different sides and approaches. I have shared my frustrations, my fears, and my anger for what is happening. I mostly fear for what I will have to say if he does win – to explain why people did vote for him, that so many people in this country care more about themselves than others with less, to explain what she might lose, and to explain what this means for people in this country.
In our election story, there is no author to change the ending, to change history. And history is speaking pretty loudly these days.
I can only hope that I am surprised…