VOICES: Time to get comfortable with the discomfort. Women know the possibilities.

ajc.com

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This guest opinion column by Vicki Giambrone appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Sunday, Nov. 15. Other local columns published that day are linked below.

I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed last week when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said “every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” It wasn’t about politics, not about who won or who lost, it was about a message to all little girls everywhere.

Vicki Giambrone works on child health policy and is a partner at CBD Advisors, consulting in strategic communication, public affairs and government relations.
Vicki Giambrone works on child health policy and is a partner at CBD Advisors, consulting in strategic communication, public affairs and government relations.

It felt so good to hear her words because the discourse had been so frustrating, as evidenced by the social media comments when Harris responded to interruptions from Vice President Mike Pence during their debate with, “I’m speaking.” While many applauded the response with, “I hope every little girl heard that,” many others criticized the comment, calling it “obnoxious” and her “abrasive” and “totally unlikable.”

Explore‘MODERATOR: For her, this hope is also about dreaming big and bold’

It’s hard to believe that in 2020, when we are marking the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting American women the vote, we are still uncomfortable with women in leadership, and even more uncomfortable with women who speak up for themselves.

ExploreVOICES: Harris proves impossible is possible

All of this has been a stark reminder that two sets of rules still exist for women and men — especially in politics. Female candidates are judged more personally. Research shows they must be smart, but not too smart; they also must be likeable and warm. Women of color, have other hurdles as they must be careful not to come off as too abrasive or risk being “an angry Black woman.”

Harris' words have reminded me about the times in my career when I was the only woman in the room and the men talked over me. I thought about the times I was told I was too this or that. If I wanted to get ahead, I should wait my turn, tone down my personality, look different, not show emotion, and don’t show how smart you are because it makes people uncomfortable.

In all those moments ― as difficult as they were ― it has been so much harder for Harris than it ever was for me, because I’m a white woman. As a woman of color in politics, she had an almost impossible path. Despite being just over 50% of the population, women still only hold a fourth of the seats in Congress, and women of color make up only of third that group.

ExploreVOICES: Guardrails off. Doctors should not have to balance politics, science in medical decision making

Now Harris is the first woman in an elected role in the White House — an incredible feat.

It’s at these moments I can hear my grandmother whispering in my ear, “stop being afraid of what others might say, you are a grown (expletive) woman — speak up.”

So make no mistake, the response to Harris over the past few weeks is about sexism and racism and that makes some even more uncomfortable than politics.

ExploreROBINSON: The big, bad fire breathing ‘the media’ is a myth

It’s time to get comfortable with the discomfort because now every little girl and every woman knows it’s possible.

Vicki Giambrone works on child health policy and is a partner at CBD Advisors, consulting in strategic communication, public affairs and government relations. She is a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.

In Other News