A Female Vice President: What It Means for the Future of Feminism
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the United States saw some major changes in their government last week. Not only was the abhorrent Oompa-Loompa ushered out of office with his head hung low, but the Americans officially swore in the first ever female vice president, Kamala Harris. Vice President Harris is also the first Black and Asian American person to hold the title. Her election is allowing people from all kinds of marginalised groups to see themselves in a role of authority, a role of power and acclaim. To envision themselves in leadership positions they have been blocked from reaching all their lives. In short, this is a big fucking deal for the future of feminism.
Now, am I saying that appointing the first American female vice president is going to magically rectify sexism and achieve gender equality? Of course not. After all, we’ve still got yet another old white dude in office. While Vice President Harris certainly represents the face of change, with her image serving as a stark and welcome contrast to the host of old white dudes that held the role before her, Biden does not. While the Democrats initially presented a slight glimmer of hope that the presidential candidate would be a woman, this was promptly extinguished when Senator Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the race. There reached a point when there was no way around it: the Democrat nominee was going to be a man. People were understandably discouraged. And this was something that Biden undoubtedly knew.
It would be ignorant of us to claim that Biden choosing Harris as his running mate wasn’t – at least to some degree – strategic. In March 2020, Biden announced to the American public in what The Atlantic calls a “seemingly well-meaning gesture” that he would be selecting a woman as his running mate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the statement backfired. It was perceived by many (rightfully so, I would say) as a classic case of tokenism. In her conversation with The Atlantic, Hillary Clinton’s former email director Amanda Litman didn’t hold back when sharing her thoughts on Biden’s declaration, calling it “deeply fucked up.” In essence, he was saying that he was going to pick a woman simply because she was a woman, rather than for her qualifications. And he expected every woman voter, every Black voter, every voter of colour to pat him on the back for it: “Look at Joe, picking a lady as his running mate. What a good guy.”
Before you give it out to me for being cynical, just hold on a second – I’m pointing this out for a reason. Ultimately, Vice President Harris’ election is a huge milestone in the feminist movement. I’m not denying that. What I am trying to highlight, however, is that it in no way means there is no work left to be done.
For one, now that Harris has taken over as vice president, her Senate seat is empty. With her gone, the Senate will have no Black women. It remains to be seen who will replace her, but would it surprise me if they replaced her with yet another white dude? Not really. It would come as a sobering reminder that the systemic forces that have oppressed women, particularly Black women and women of colour, are still very much in place. One woman’s win isn’t going to change that overnight. But there is hope.
Recently, a coalition of notable feminists penned a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to appoint another Black woman in Harris’ place. “Our representative democracy is supposed to represent us,” it reads. One of its signatories was Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza who shared: “Women know exactly what it feels like to be passed over and looked over—even though they are qualified for positions of power. For too long in this country, we have had our lives governed by people who don’t live our lives. … We must make sure we break this trend.”
It also cannot be stressed enough that Harris carried a disproportionate amount of responsibility throughout the election, a trend that will likely continue into her and Biden’s term. For instance, women and communities of colour have been more adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic since it began. While Harris is certainly in a position to understand these concerns better than her white male counterparts, it seems unfair that such a massive burden is likely going to fall on her shoulders. It’s almost as though she is Biden’s get out jail free card; having a Black woman on his team means that he likely won’t be forced to take accountability in the same way. Instead, these responsibilities – and the inevitable public scrutiny – will be appointed to her.
It speaks volumes to the disproportionate amounts of undue and unrecognised labour that women so often have to carry. Be it emotional, physical or professional labour, we see it everywhere. It’s the mothers who go to the office to work in an environment where they aren’t paid as much as men to do the same job. They then come home to a second work shift – this one completely unpaid – in which they act as caregivers to their children and husbands. It’s the women who stay late at work because they worry if they don’t, they’ll be passed over for a promotion (again). All the while, their male colleagues have left for happy hour already.
We even saw it in Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For so long, she carried the weight of an enormous load on her shoulders, one that was far too heavy for one person. As The Rolling Stone puts it: “In her early career, she carried the weight of discrimination, facing rejection after rejection. On the Supreme Court, she carried the weight of the unheard and overlooked on her shoulders. Every single day for 27 years, through battles with cancer and the death of her beloved Marty, she carried us so well.” She was a voice for the voiceless. An advocate for equality and reproductive justice in a country that is constantly at odds with these principles. And that is a weight no single person should have to carry. Not RBG and not the first ever female vice president of the United States.
With an extremely successful career and a strong will behind her, there’s no doubt that Kamala Harris is fit to accept this supreme responsibility. But true change doesn’t start with one person. It takes all of us. Until we recognise that, we are forever doomed to fail. So, as the United States prepares to usher in a new – and hopefully brighter – era, I wait with bated breath and cautious optimism that we are on the right track to a more feminist future.