How do I know this? Because this is Woman 101. It’s the first page of the instruction manual teaching us how we’ll need to navigate the world. I have never met a woman who hasn’t heard this piece of advice. And I doubt that in 232 years of male leadership there’s ever been a sitting president or vice president who has.
I keep thinking about how, at some point in Kamala Harris’s life, she has painstakingly reviewed her office wardrobe with the understanding that the difference between “slut” and “feminazi” is a few inches of worsted-wool hemline. At some point, she has approached a stranger in a public bathroom because the Tampax machine is broken again, and she has said, I’m so sorry, but do you have — and then she didn’t have to finish the question because women in bathrooms know that there is only one end to that question.
At some point, “she has had to think expansively about motherhood,” another friend told me.
Whether her birth control would be refilled on time. Whether children would curtail her career, officially or slyly. What unpaid maternity leave and paid day care would do to her financial stability in a country where Black women are paid an average of 63 percent of what White men are paid. What pregnancy would do to her body in a country in which Black women’s maternal mortality rate is more than three times higher than it is for White women.
There is something profoundly moving about the fact that Kamala Harris has walked through the world as a woman. That she has thought, talked, purchased, exercised, sought medical care, sought justice, laughed and bitten her tongue as a woman.
This isn’t because men can’t be compassionate and sympathetic to women’s issues. Of course they can. But in the entire history of the United States we have only had presidents and vice presidents for whom the experiences of women are known and understood secondhand, if at all. And there is a difference between being sympathetic to women’s issues and knowing that, if a condom breaks, you are the one who is going to be walking into a medical clinic through a gantlet of protesters screaming that you are a murderer.
At some point in the lives of these two women, they realized that they did not want to live in a world in which mothers are considered parents and fathers are considered occasional babysitters. They did not want the cost of an $8 box of tampons, multiplied by 12 or 13 periods a year, multiplied by 30 or 40 years of menstruation, to add up to the difference in whether a girl could go to school. How many male people in power know what a box of tampons costs?
When Sally Ride went to space, NASA’s male engineers suggested she would need 100 tampons for a seven-day trip. If you have ever menstruated, you know why this is hilarious. If you have not, then perhaps you can see why having female people in positions of power can be useful.
We are informed by our experiences. Our experiences sometimes allow us to fill in the gaps that others have missed.
At some point in Kamala Harris’s life, in January, she may stand on a stage in front of the U.S. Capitol, and she may take the oath of office.
But I can’t stop thinking of all the other points in her life she’ll carry with her.
How someone must have told her, once, to use her keys as a weapon in a parking lot. How something like that shapes you. How it hopefully makes you into a person who never lets anyone walk in the dark alone.