When my daughter, Viola, was three months old, she wore a onesie that promised in looping cursive that “The future is female.” The first stories we read to her were the board book biographies of Jane Austen and Rosa Parks. At five, her favorite shirt declared to the world in sparkling script her life’s ambition: Future President.
When Hillary Clinton won the nomination in 2016, my daughter was thrilled. Sure it was pure identity politics, but my then-5-year-old didn’t care; Viola just wanted to have a girl president. She cried on November 9 when I gently gave her the news. It probably didn’t help that I’d been calling Donald Trump a bully for months and she just didn’t understand how anyone could elect that awful man president. But she was only five, and outside of a few passionate tangents about our terrible president throughout the last few years, she moved on — and with the rest of us, she waited for 2020.
Over the last year, as my excitement for Senator Warren’s campaign grew, so did Viola’s. We’d cuddle up together on the couch before she went to bed and watch the first half-hour of the many Democrat debates before she would dance to her room, smiling with excitement for “President Liz.” Of course, Viola knew her father and I supported Warren, but her love grew beyond a desire to please her parents. She loves Elizabeth Warren because Warren is an eloquent, passionate woman who exudes warmth and intelligence — and because she trusted me when I told her that Warren had lots of good ideas.
So after Super Tuesday, when my daughter overheard me ranting to her dad about the way things had gone, she asked me about it.
“What happened to Elizabeth Warren?”
“She didn’t do very well,” I said, reaching out and taking her hand.
“But she’ll still win, right?”
I swallowed my own disappointment as I admitted, “I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem likely.”
My daughter frowned skeptically; she didn’t believe me. Warren would win, of course Warren would win. After all, that was the promise made by half my daughter’s wardrobe, the message implied by all of her books about strong female figures, the fuel powering her own ambition. Girls can be president. Girls can do anything.
When Warren announced she had suspended her campaign, I cried. I cried because I believed in her, and I cried because I wasn’t surprised at all. And mostly, I cried because when my third grader came home from school, I would have to tell her, and she would be surprised. We’ve had long chats about gender inequality, but when you’re eight years old and you’ve grown up in a world bursting with girl power, glass ceilings just sound like a cool way to look at the stars.
“She dropped out? Why?” There were no tears when I told her, only bewilderment.
“She didn’t have the votes she needed,” I explained.
“Why didn’t she? I’ve talked to all my friends, we all would have voted for her if we weren’t kids!”
I hid a smile. We live in a very conservative town; if my daughter’s friends were Warren supporters, it means Viola’s political aspirations may be more achievable than we previously imagined.
“Well honey, I guess people just think Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders have a better chance of defeating Trump.”
And then I had to tell her the hard truth — harder than when she guessed at the mythology of Santa Claus or the invention of the tooth fairy, but with a similar loss of innocence.
“Well,” I said, “Because they’re men, and she’s a woman.”
The look on Viola’s face reflected the horror of my admission. Apparently a woman can’t do anything. Apparently a woman can’t be president. I felt like a liar. I’d made a promise based on hope rather than history. And sure, my lies reflected my idealism, but a real part of me always knew Senator Warren was a long shot because a very large part of our society isn’t ready for a woman president, and they probably never will be.
As my daughter received her first lesson in misogyny, I saw the anger grow in her eyes. I thought of all of our daughters, raised in a country where we tout girl power but refuse to place a woman in the highest office in the land. And I realized that for my daughter, and the rest of the little girls disappointed by the failure of Warren’s campaign for presidency, this is only the first of many times the system will break our collective promise that “the future is female.” And I couldn’t help but think of the old proverb “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
And in that — in a future fueled by the anger of so many women, and so many women’s daughters — I find hope.
Spend this Women’s History Month reading your kids these books about Elizabeth Warren and other female game-changers.