“Young lady, do you make good blueberry muffins?” asked a Mississippi farmer to Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro in 1984
“She was very very nasty to Joe Biden. I cannot believe he chose her as his running mate. Harris is a madwoman.” -President Donald Trump, August 2020.
In the summer of 1984, I was driving in St Paul, Minnesota. It was two months after I had graduated from college. All of the sudden, I heard an announcement on the radio that Senator Walter Mondale had chosen Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, making her the first woman on a major party ticket. I was excited beyond belief and felt that it would add a dimension to the race that we hadn’t seen before. Mondale was 12-19 points behind in the polls and even Ferraro herself had speculated that the democrats would not gamble on a woman unless the candidate was at least 15 points behind.
This was a huge step in our society and ended the boys club in American politics which was the focus of Ferraro’s obituary. The Mondale-Ferraro ticket had a slim chance of beating Reagan, however Ferraro being on the ticket created a lot of public anxiety around the idea of a woman being the Vice President of the United States. When Sarah Palin was selected in 2008, the anxiety level had gone down some and the public seemed slightly more open to having a woman on a major party ticket. Now we have the nomination of Kamala Harris and I am left to wonder how much things have changed. For instance, The President of the United States wasted no time in making sexist remarks and encouraging an old-world view of a woman with power.
Donna Zaccaro, Geraldine Ferraro’s oldest daughter, was interviewed recently and agreed that our culture is more accepting of women in leadership positions. She talked about how her mom’s candidacy really changed our society in terms of women going for and getting higher level jobs in politics, business and law. Donna also remarked that despite the shifts in our culture, Kamala Harris will face a lot of the same challenges that her late mother faced. Before long, the media will be focused on her appearance, her hair, her weight and her clothes. Is she coming across as too meek? Too shrill? or too nasty?
Tucker Carlson, of Fox News, spoke about Ms. Harris this past week and kept mispronouncing her name. When someone in the studio corrected him, he responded with, “who cares?” This is a strange thing to say about someone running for vice president. Why wouldn’t her name and the correct pronunciation matter? Perhaps this is a sign of things to come.
The changes in our society and the fact that Kamala Harris is the third woman to be on a major party ticket will hopefully help ease some of the attacks expected on the road ahead. She is also the first woman of color to be nominated for vice president and therefore is dealing with an additional level of bias and prejudice.
Although it’s unknown if Kamala Harris will be elected as vice president, every time we see a woman in a position of power, we are moving forward as a society.
Kay Gimmestad, LCSW-C is a business coach and clinician in New York City with 20 years of experience working in the profit and not for profit sectors of Human Resources, Health and Human Services. She has built a reputation for being highly skilled in facilitating behavior change while working with employees, both individually and in groups, on matters relating to performance management, substance abuse, crisis intervention, and stress/wellness.