Four years after women took to the streets to protest a misogynist president, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first female vice president of the United States. She is also the first Black and Asian American vice president. Her husband, the self-described “second gentleman,” was by her side.
For so many women around the country, particularly Black and Asian women, it’s an emotional day. Hundreds of thousands are wearing pearls in honour of Harris, who has worn her signature necklace at other pivotal moments in her life.
And as the vice-president has said, girls around the country were watching. Never again do we have to tell our daughters that a woman hasn’t been elected to the White House. Justice Sonia Sotamayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice (nominated by the first Black president) swore Harris in.
“It’s a huge, historic, emotional day for women. Both personally and on this issue that I’ve been working on for my lifetime,” said Saru Jayaraman, who has long advocated for women’s rights as the president of the nonprofit One Fair Wage. “My children are half Black and half Indian, and Kamala Harris is them in the White House.”
Representative Barbara Lee shared a picture Wednesday morning of herself wearing pearls with special significance.
“I’m wearing Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s pearls, given to me by her goddaughter, who said that her godmother ‘would not want it any other way.’ ” she tweeted. “Because of Shirley Chisholm, I am. Because of Shirley Chisholm, Vice President Harris is.”
Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first to run for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972. Gloria Steinem also paid tribute to Chisholm in a statement.
“I celebrate her, President Barack Obama, President Joe Biden, and each one of the women and men who have led to this moment when Vice President Kamala Harris brings us a step closer to democracy,” Steinem said.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, also noted the significance of Wednesday’s events. “When she takes the oath of office little girls and boys across the world will know that anything is possible,” she said.
Biden is coming in strong when it comes to gender equality. So far, as Bloomberg pointed out, women make up the majority of the new president’s nominees: Twenty-nine of 51 nominees who require Senate confirmation are women. Forty of 64 staffers are women.
He is also bringing a record number of Indian Americans into the administration, — many of them women, including Neera Tanden, nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget, and Vanita Gupta, his pick for associate attorney general.
A few things to note: Obviously, not all women are happy to see these women ascend to power. A majority of white women voted for Trump. Some rioted last week at the Capitol. Still, for feminists who want to see gender equality, a progressive slate of women in the administration is good news. Biden’s economic team, in particular, is packed with progressive economists who’ve focused on gender inequality throughout their careers — including Heather Boushey, who’ll be serving on the Council of Economic Advisors.
It’s also hard not to argue that the U.S. is in a “glass cliff” moment. That’s a reference to research that’s found that women and people of colour are more likely to secure positions of power in times of crisis. Certainly, with more than 400,000 Americans dead and the economy in a recession, this moment qualifies. And that’s a precarious position for women to be in.
And finally, we have a long way to go to reach gender equity in the US.
On Tuesday, Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary designee, sailed through her confirmation hearing. Back when she ran the Federal Reserve, Yellen was arguably the most powerful woman in the world. Now, that position goes to Harris. Harris had to resign her Senate seat to take office, leaving the Senate ― once again ― without any Black female senators.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, considering that it was Black women voters who played such a pivotal role in flipping the chamber.
But as Biden noted in his speech Wednesday, after highlighting the significance of the election of the first woman vice president. “Don’t tell me things can’t change.”
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