We were driving home from the gym this weekend, singing loudly to songs from The Greatest Showman when my daughter asked a question that made me stop. I turned the music down and asked her to repeat herself. I thought I heard wrong.
“Why hasn’t there ever been any girl presidents?” she asked me for a second time, out of the blue.
My inner feminist cheered. She was thrilled that this 5-year-old girl had randomly asked about this on her own and had the aptitude to realize something was off. She was raring to go – ready to explain all the injustices of the world.
As a whole, I was completely caught off guard. We had been rockin’ out to This Is The Greatest Show and I, for once, was not thinking about worrying about the politics of the world.
I had to think about this answer though. Despite my political beliefs, I didn’t want to come off too pushy and too angry about everything of late.
In my head the answer was easy: The electoral college, Russia and people thinking it would be a grand idea to protest by not voting or voting for a third-party candidate. The feminist on my shoulder has another version of that answer that includes more venom. However, all of that is too complicated for a 5-year-old.
Besides, I realized she wasn’t just asking me about Hillary and Trump. She was asking me a broader question. Someone had explained to her that there had NEVER EVER been a girl president.
This wasn’t about the politics of today. This was about the history of it all.
This was about helping a little girl understand something she didn’t see in the world yet. She still doesn’t know that society will try to place limits on her potential because of her gender.
Because she doesn’t understand this one fact, it didn’t make sense to her that only boys had been president.
I didn’t want to be the one to enlighten her to the history of the world and the way it has treated women – mainly because I was afraid I’d get it wrong and give her anxiety.
She’s already a worrier, just like me. I often try to soften any issues so I don’t stress her out. Nothing says stress like, “They don’t think we’re as awesome as they are so, consciously or unconsciously, they limit us.”
Currently, she doesn’t see herself any differently in potential than the little boys she plays tag with at school. She knows they have different anatomy, but other than that, she believes they can (and should) get the same opportunities. In kindergarten that means they each get to be to be line leader, lunch helper and whatever other miscellaneous jobs are given to children their age to make them feel helpful, important and give them a sense of responsibility. She knows they can so all the jobs just the same.
I wanted to avoid all of that but give her an answer based in history and in facts (remember facts!), and one that wasn’t vilifying anyone.
For a split second I thought about telling her that there haven’t been a lot of women who have run for president. While technically true, I didn’t want to give her the impression that woman haven’t wanted to run for president or didn’t care about it.
Then I thought about telling her that not enough people have voted for a woman to be president. But, that wasn’t technically true either. It just wasn’t enough people in the right districts in the right states.
(Keep in mind this whole train of thought happened in about 15 seconds. I’m a girl and mom and I can overanalyze the shit out of things in less time than most people can speak a sentence.)
I took a deep breath and went for it – trying to break it down to basic facts.
“Because to be president you have to run,” I said. “Then all the people have to vote and not enough people in the right places have voted for a girl yet.”
“All the people have to vote?” she asked.
“Well, they should but some don’t,” I said. “Ideally, they should all vote.”
“Even the people in Texas?” she asked. Her cousins live in Texas so I’m guessing that’s why she mentioned it.
Florida and Ohio are usually the sticking points, I thought.
“Yes, but lots of other states are important too,” I said.
“So someday a girl will be president…maybe,” she stated.
It wasn’t something she was asking me. It sounded like it was something she was saying to reassure herself. The, “maybe,” she attached to the end of the sentence was a little too wistful for my taste. My inner feminist thought so too.
“Hopefully,” I said, just as wistfully.
She seemed satisfied with the conversation, so I left it alone. I believed I had been able to get in enough of the highlights to get the point across.
For now, I needed to let the little girl in the back seat be a little girl. She doesn’t need to worry herself over this issue yet. She just needed a question answered in a way simple enough for her to understand and broad enough to not cause worry about her future as a girl.
However, when she gets there – when she realizes that with each step forward, the world will try to push her back – I’ll be there to help her tip toe towards her goals. And I’ll probably be singing show tunes.