In her acceptance speech, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris made a request of America’s children.
“Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities, and to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before.”
Undoing gender stereotypes is hard, and it requires conversation. Parents, here’s where you have work to do.
Our kids could be paying attention to the historic nature of a woman and person of color being elected to the second highest office in the country, as well as the unprecedented number of Republican women elected in the US House of Representatives.
They could be seeing the possibilities that this election opens up: that girls and people of color can be leaders; that leadership may look and sound different to what they are familiar with; and that men can be married to leaders and support them. (Take a look at future second gentleman Doug Emhoff, who appears to be celebrating with unmitigated confidence and joy, or the partners of many of those House trailblazers.)
There are a lot of lessons embedded in this moment, but kids are unlikely to get there on their own. Undoing gender and race stereotypes — and if you think your kids don’t have any, sorry, we all do — is hard work. Here’s how to help make the most of these historic nominations for your daughters and, just as importantly, your sons.
Our kids are wired for bias
It’s nice to imagine our kids as color-blind and gender-blind. Childhood as a time of innocence is a favorite fiction of grown-ups.
In fact, our kids are wired for bias, and as such, are natural observers of race and gender differences. To avoid talking about these differences with your kids, is, unfortunately, not that different from endorsing them.
“There is an exciting reckoning happening among White parents in America right now,” said Ryan Lei, an assistant professor of psychology at Haverford College, who researches how children develop stereotypes anad biases about race and gender. He believes White families are starting to realize what families of color have long understood: Ignoring biases doesn’t make them go away.
Our kids are constantly being inundated with messages about what boys and girls do, and which skin color comes with which character traits and which doesn’t. Such biases and stereotypes form at a much earlier age than was previously thought, new research has shown, and even take shape in the preschool years.
Who can be a leader?
As such, Harris’ nomination is likely to go against most kids’ understanding, conscious or not, of who