I’m not going to lie—I cried.
As I sat there with my two sons watching a woman, for the first time in our country’s history, become the presumptive nominee of a major party, it moved me. For the first time, we weren’t the side dish, the add-on meant to get more of the XX vote. Whether you like her or loathe her, we cared more about what she was saying than about who she was wearing. Watching the candidate onstage, I saw a woman, a mother. I saw myself.
I know there are many critics of the candidate to whom I’m referring. If you’re one of them, I beg you to stay with me, because this isn’t a post about politics but about something so much bigger than that. I acknowledge too that I’m eliding race and class, and maybe we can’t ever do that, or shouldn't, but through this scope of gender I registered a victory, one victory.
Why did I cry? Because women make up 19% of Congress. Out of our fifty states, six governors are women—a measly 12%. Of Fortune 500 companies, only 4% are run by women, and the needle isn’t budging one bit. Because I had a science teacher who told me in high school (and I was NOT born in the thirties) that women went to college to get their MRS degrees. Because Americans call ourselves postfeminist when the truth is laid out in the numbers and in our stories. And some of those numbers are 19%, 12%, and 4%. And some of the stories mirror mine.
Because even given the privilege of my race and class, I was still a woman with ambition and skill back when I held conference calls while nursing an infant. Back when I left him sleeping on my lap and edited manuscripts, reaching over his body well into the night and every weekend. Back when I acquired books on the false war between working and stay-at-home moms or on the “new” state of feminism. But even though my womanness and my motherhood arguably made me uniquely qualified at some aspects of my job, I got handed the same box to climb into if I wanted to move up and get ahead, hell, if I just wanted to maintain. I climbed out instead.
Because I am a woman and a mother, I had a way of doing things that might not look business standard or corporate. That might not look male. That might look something like Girl Friday—a business owned by women, led by women. Does it matter? Yes, in two ways. For one, the founders’ experiences shaped a culture that challenges the status quo in terms of how and when work gets done and in how we define success. Secondly, being one of the CEOs shapes perception of what is possible. Like when my children told their father (who works for one of those Fortune 500s) that while he seemed to have a good job, their mom ran a company after all, or when a Girl Friday explained to me the joy and pride she felt looking at a leadership pipeline where she could see herself—for the first time in her career.
And that’s what happened to me last week. Looking at a woman, a mother, standing on that stage, I saw some of myself reflected back to me. And while we need societal and structural change to really move the needle, in that moment, I saw a different ending for one particular story, and it changed my perception of what is possible.