Chloe Williams, 8, and her mom, Selina, 39, a nurse practitioner from Wheatley Heights, joined women and girls nationwide in putting on pearls the morning of Kamala Harris’ inauguration to celebrate the first woman, as well as first woman of color, vice president. But Chloe was excited about something other than the historic import of what happened during the Jan. 20 ceremony.
"I was happy I got to watch TV while I ate my lunch," Chloe says.
That’s as it should be, and hopefully will continue to be, for the girls of Chloe’s generation, Long Island parents say: That a swearing-in of a woman will be so universally accepted and expected that getting to watch TV at lunchtime will be more of the departure from their norm than the fact that a woman raises her hand to take the oath of high office.
"My girls are very young; they’ll never know a country where a woman wasn’t in power," says Jamie Dostal, 35, a music therapist from Merrick who has three daughters, ages 5, 3 and 11 months. For older girls, the refrain they’ve heard growing up — that girls can achieve anything if they work hard, that they can do anything boys can do, including become vice president or even president of the United States of America — is now more than a theory. The election of Harris is strengthening the evolving narrative for Long Island families, offering solid proof that the promise of opportunity can become their truth.
"It’s one thing to think it, and it’s another to actually see it happening," says Kinley Simmons, 13, an eighth grader from Miller Place. "You’re always going to have doubts until you see that it’s physically possible."
EXAMPLE SPILLS OVER
It’s "high time" that the United States had a woman in one of the top two elected positions, says Seemeen Pathan, 42, of Albertson, who is in school to earn a psychology degree and has a daughter, Aieshah Ashfer, who is 14. Pathan is originally from India, where there has already been a woman prime minister; other countries have had women leaders as well, she points out. "Hopefully, we get to see a lot more, not only in politics."
Having a woman of Black and South Asian descent elected to the second-highest office will spill over into empowering woman of color in other fields, girls say. "For her to do it on the political level means I can do it on the psychological level," says Abby Devi Arjune, 19, of Valley Stream, who is studying psychology at St. John’s University in Queens.
Claire Padilla, 16, a high school junior from Dix Hills, says she plans to enter the medical field. "If people were to try to restrict me in the future, I would use Kamala Harris as an example."
It's important for all girls, not only girls of color, to see a woman of color in office, Dostal says. "It’s also important for them to see someone who looks different from them. It’s important to appreciate the differences and also see what commonality we all have," she says of her daughters.
MORE THAN APPEARANCE
Claire’s twin sister, Chloe, who followed Harris’ campaign for president closely, says she was at first disappointed at the election results. "When the presidential race started to become more narrow, I visually was seeing the white male narrative again," she says. "At first I was a little bit disappointed when she was elected vice president because I wanted a Black and South Asian president."
But she says she is heartened that millions of Americans did vote to put a woman of color into office. "I was just so ecstatic that a vice president could relate so much to girls like me, and I was inspired. Sometimes you can get into this mindset of ‘It’s hard for me to do things because of all these boundaries stopping me.’ Seeing a role model who looks like you is so important."
And it’s more than just that, says Aieshah Ashfer, a ninth-grader. "After Kamala Harris was elected, I felt like I was being represented, me as a person," Aieshah says. When big decisions are made, Harris will "vouch" for both women and women of color, Aieshah contends. "She understands what it’s like to be a South Asian woman. She can guide the decisions."
Eric Dostal, 32, a financial planner and the dad of three girls, echoed Aieshah. "If you look at the makeup of a lot of positions of power, the voices you hear are predominantly male. We bring to the table a singular perspective a lot of the time. It becomes really easy to get tunnel vision."
WORK NEEDS TO FOLLOW
Shanell Parrish-Brown, 49, a lawyer from West Hempstead, had a different reaction to Harris’ election than her 16-year-old daughter. "For any Black girl — and I still see myself as a little Black girl — seeing these types of barriers sort of explode brings enormous pride," Parrish-Brown says of her own thoughts.
But her daughter Asha argued a caveat — that women and women of color must not get so ecstatic that they become apathetic to all that still needs to be done. "When something like this happens, we think all our problems are solved … we have to be focused on what work needs to be done," Parrish-Brown says in explaining her daughter’s perspective.
Parents interviewed say they will encourage their daughters to take on that mantle. Ianthe Murad, 47, an audiologist from Great Neck, bought T-shirts for herself and her sixth-grade daughter, Olivia, 11, that say "The next VP will look like me." Olivia has two older brothers, and Murad says she has always taught Olivia she is as capable as them in any capacity. "We will pass that on to our daughters and hope their generation will feel absolutely empowered to raise their voices."
Says Olivia: "This is just the beginning."