The Response To Kamala Harris Shows The Problem Some Still Have With Female Leaders

You’d hope we might have moved on from judging female politicians on their housekeeping skills, clothes or families... but apparently not.

Kamala harris sexism

by Gaby Hinsliff |
Published on

Kamala Harris has just become one of the most powerful Black women in the world. As America’s first female Vice President of colour, she’ll be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office, and some think she could even be a future President in her own right. If nothing else, as she said herself, the Democrats’ victory should encourage other little girls to ‘dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve not seen it before’.

So what’s everyone burning to know about this hotshot former attorney turned senator for California? Well, the two most common Google searches about her last week were ‘is Kamala Harris married?’ and ‘is Kamala Harris a mother?’ Sigh.

As we’re currently seeing play out in The Crown, back in the 1970s, British voters found the idea of a prospective female leader so threatening that Margaret Thatcher had to sell herself as just another cosy housewife, posing for photographs doing the washing-up or making gravy.

READ MORE: Why Does It Matter Whether Kamala Harris Has Children?

Half a century later, you’d hope we might have moved on from judging female politicians on their housekeeping skills, clothes or families. Yet Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was dogged for years by questions about why she never became a mother, until she eventually revealed that she’d suffered a miscarriage. And it’s only four years since Andrea Leadsom, running for the Tory leadership against the childless Theresa May, caused a furore by arguing that ‘being a mum means that you have a real stake in the future of our country’, as if not having kids meant you didn’t.

The Internet Is Obsessed With This Powerful Video Of Kamala Harris Telling Her Four-Year-Old Niece She Could Be President

For the record, Kamala Harris is a stepmother to her husband’s two now grown-up children, whose affectionate nickname for her is ‘Momala’. For some, her happily blended family does have a deeper meaning; when the then presidential nominee Joe Biden first made Harris his running mate, TV presenter (and stepmother) Kirstie Allsopp tweeted hopefully that it might help shatter hurtful stereotypes about ‘wicked’ stepmothers.

But that’s obviously not the only sense in which Harris, daughter of a Jamaican-born father and Indian-born mother, is a role model. In the year that Black Lives Matter protests erupted first in America and then around the world, there will obviously be something very poignant about watching an elected woman of colour enter the White House. Yet still the British peer Lord Kilclooney, a former MP for the Ulster Unionist Party, saw fit last week to send a tweet asking who’d become Vice President if Biden moved on and was replaced by ‘the Indian’. He had, he said afterwards, just forgotten Kamala Harris’s name. But if this was a new white male Veep, some wondered, might he have paid them the courtesy of googling first? For this is really about respect; who gets to be taken seriously in public life, and who is constantly battling attempts to erase them.

But if Kamala Harris’s career to date tells us anything, it’s that she won’t be dismissed lightly. Roll on January’s inauguration.

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