Oh my word I had no idea how much I was going to think about this tweet about 4th grade elections:
At first I just laughed and mentally fist-bumped her, and then I started having dozens of flashbacks to growing up as an ambitious girl in America.
One memory involves a friend from high school, Ryan Anderson. Ryan is a great guy. He is now and he was then. Friendly, kind, handsome and popular.
One reason I’ll always be grateful to Ryan: Once when I was a sophomore, all my friends had been asked to Junior Prom, but I hadn’t and I was so sad about it. Ryan came over and picked me up on his moped and hung out with me all evening and made sure I didn’t feel rejected. And Ryan was such a good guy, that my friends were rather jealous they went to junior prom instead of getting to hang out with Ryan. : )
Anyway. A couple of years later, it was time to run for Studentbody President for senior year. I was born ambitious and had been working toward Studentbody President since I learned the position existed.
I had taken every leadership opportunity I could find, and was basically in charge of everything I could possibly be in charge of. I joined clubs, got great grades, was super involved, made an effort to get to know each kid at my school.
I literally gave handwritten birthday notes to every single person in my grade (and this was long before Facebook), was Class President as a Sophomore and Junior, was elected Governor of Girls State, and was chosen to attend three different nationwide leadership conferences during my sophomore and junior years (the photo of me at the top is at the HOBY Leadership Conference).
I did everything I could possibly do to prepare. And I made no secret of the fact that I wanted to be Studentbody President.
Well, one day Ryan came to me in the hallway at school and let me know he was also thinking about running for Studentbody President.
I imagine my face must of fallen. I’m sure I turned pale. I’m sure my voice shook as I told him: If you run, you will win.
Now like I said, Ryan was a great guy. Was he as involved with as many groups in the school as I was? No. Did he take his studies as seriously as I did? No. Had he worked toward this goal his whole life? No. Did he have my leadership experience? No. Would he enjoy the actual work of being Studentbody President as much as I would? No. Would his campaign be as good as mine? No. Again, Ryan was a great guy and very admirable — on the football team, a drummer in a local band, very friendly — I have nothing but great feelings about Ryan.
We were both popular. So that wasn’t going to be factor. But I knew he would win anyway.
He was a boy. And I was a girl.
In the town I grew up in; in the country I grew up in, the default was: boys win. They were expected to lead, expected to be in charge. In fact, I had been asked as Class President more than once: “Is it weird to be a girl and be President?” (I was never sure how to answer, since I had never been a boy and wasn’t sure how to compare the experiences.)
After Ryan told me he was thinking about running, I remember going home absolutely crushed. I sat on my bed and wept. Here was this thing I had prepared for and worked for since I could remember. And if Ryan wanted it, he could simply take it. Just like that.
It didn’t matter that he wasn’t as experienced. It didn’t matter that I was probably the most prepared student council candidate our high school had ever seen. If Ryan wanted it, it was his. I knew it like I knew the sky was blue. I told a few close friends about it, and they agreed: If Ryan ran, he would win. People would vote for the boy candidate as a default.
I don’t know who or what changed Ryan’s mind, but he didn’t run. Maybe it was seeing my face fall when he told me. Maybe filing the paperwork to run was too much trouble. I never asked him. He didn’t run, and I did, and I won.
And yet I know in my bones that all he would have had to do is officially say he was running and he would have won. He could have skipped the posters, skipped any preparation. It wouldn’t have mattered. It was his for the taking.
All these years later, I’m painfully aware this is too often still true. Too often still a universal experience for ambitious girls and women.
I shared these thoughts in an Instagram story video and the responses were so interesting. So many stories from women who have been beaten out by a less qualified man. So many stories from women who had watched their daughters passed over. And there were a few responses with good news too — happy stories where the best person for the job won. I’m sharing a small sampling here.
Am I trying to say ANY boy will beat ANY girl no matter what? No of course not. In my high school, there were certainly boys who could have told me they were running and it wouldn’t have bothered me at all — maybe they didn’t have the name recognition or I knew they wouldn’t be taken seriously.
Related, if a boy candidate and a girl candidate are running against each other for student council and they are both equally prepared/qualified, I’m not talking about that either. The discussion is about prepared and qualified girls and women regularly being passed up by less prepared and less-qualified boys and men. For example, I don’t think there is a woman alive with Pete Buttegieg’s credentials who would be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. That’s not a slam about Pete, it’s a comment on our country’s deeply held sexism, that we would allow Pete to compete in the same class as candidates like Harris, Warren, Klobochar, and Gillibrand.
It doesn’t necessarily matter how prepared, experienced, and capable a woman candidate is. They are judged on other factors that no seems to be able to pin down or define.
Of course it’s easy to see this playing out in the Democratic Primary. There are some great men running, but it’s clear to me that Elizabeth Warren is miles ahead of any of them in preparation, experience, capability, and willingness to do the work. Frankly, she appears to be quite a bit smarter than every single one of them too, and a far better teacher.
Yet here she is, having to fight for a place at the table, to defend her right to participate, while less capable men get media attention, and presumed electability by default. I want to beg the country: Get over your biases about women leaders! There is no man running that’s even close to as capable as Elizabeth Warren. Not even close. If you want actual change, if you want things to actually get done, she is the candidate.
Those soccer players who didn’t make any posters, and didn’t have a platform, shouldn’t have won. It’s an easy bet they did a crappy job at an assignment that wasn’t even particularly hard.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Can you relate? Have you seen a woman you know (maybe you!) passed up by a less-qualified man? Or does what I’m describing seem unusual to you? Would love to hear your thoughts.
P.S. — This isn’t really a post about Warren, but I can’t help myself but cheer her on whenever I can. The Unity Candidate IS Elizabeth Warren. She won both the reddest county and bluest county in Iowa. She has the highest number saying she’s their second choice. She has the lowest number saying they’d be “disappointed” if she’s the nominee. She can and will bring everyone together. You don’t like Warren? That’s fine, you don’t have to tell me — but I’m always glad to hear why you like the candidate you like.