Awhile ago, I was reading this terrific piece by Amanda Terkel and Christine Conetta on the history of women in the Democratic Party, when I came to this delightful anecdote:
At a meeting between Clinton and House Democrats in June, Pelosi told a story about three little boys who attended a recent White House reception. One of them pointed to a painting on the wall and asked, "Who is that a painting of?" His friend told him it was Bill Clinton, but he didn't know who that was. "That's Hillary's husband," replied the third child.This is the sort of story that often gets told because it's about what kids don't know. But this particular story is also about what kids do know: Hillary.
She is a fixture on the national stage in the lives of these three little boys. Hillary. That lady running for president.
Visibility of women is important for girls for a whole lot of reasons, not least of which is because, when we tell girls that they can grow up to be anything they want, it matters there is tangible evidence of that possibility. How we value women (or not) registers to girls sometimes even before we are old enough to articulate how it makes us feel—about our opportunities and about ourselves.
And visibility of women is important for boys, too.
Seeing a woman run for president and capturing her party's nomination is a crucial formative experience for boys who are growing up in a world of increasing gender equality. Many of them will work for female bosses someday—and men who don't reflexively recoil at the notion of female authority tend to do better with female bosses than men who regard them with suspicion or hostility.
Hillary's candidacy also gives boys a big opportunity to have a role model who is not a man. There are boys for whom the rigid definitions of masculinity and manhood proscribed by patriarchal norms don't fit and never will. Such a public alternative to the narratives of masculine leadership is critically important for all boys, but especially those who might deviate in one or many ways from the expectations of men prescribed by their culture.
Supporting a female presidential candidate may be the first green light a boy has ever had to like a female person other than his immediate family members. And further: To like her in a non-objectified way. Boys are taught, in overt and covert ways, that simply liking girls and women as human beings is unacceptable—and a female presidential candidate may present an exception to that rule.
Hillary's candidacy communicates to boys that women are capable—that women are their equals—and implicitly challenges ubiquitous messaging to the contrary. They may hear that "girls are stupid," but a qualified female presidential candidate is a pretty compelling counterargument.
Sexist messaging, even if it isn't delivered at home, penetrates early. [Content Note: Video autoplays at link] This Jimmy Kimmel clip from last fall, in which Kimmel talks to two boys and two girls about gender and politics, makes that abundantly clear.
We have a responsibility, for their own sake, to teach boys that girls aren't their inferiors—and we have a responsibility to girls to teach boys that, too.
Because, in the end, boys (and men) respecting women ultimately benefits girls (and women).
And getting to see women in positions of leadership is a major part of that process.
Plus, you know, Hillary just makes a lot of boys pretty darn happy. And that's pretty awesome, too.
[All photos via Hillary for America.]