When I was a little girl, I wanted to be many things, and it often changed daily. For a time, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then, a singer or actress. I wanted to be a writer and then much later a teacher. After learning all of the U.S. presidents, I wanted also to become president, but I only, as far as I can recall, admitted it openly once.
I think I was at a family reunion, or at least a family gathering, when one of the adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I solemnly replied, ” The president.” And all of the adults laughed. As a girl who was often labeled by the adults around me as “bossy,” I remember being annoyed. They didn’t take me seriously. They didn’t see me as a threat or my bossiness as something positive. They found these traits merely endearing when I was small and quiet and wore my hair in a braid.
So, I was annoyed when they laughed. However, it was only much later that I fully understood the implications of their laughter and my own annoyance. It would be something I had to deal with as a girl and as a woman. They may have been laughing at my bravado, my cuteness, my precociousness. But, they were also laughing at the impossibility of a girl being president.
The laughter was later replaced by irritation and sometimes even aggressiveness as I grew and began to find my voice. I was no longer small and quiet. Instead, I talked back. And that’s not something adults find cute.
I honestly believe I was a feminist before I even knew the term. I remember watching my mom prepare dinner for my stepdad before she would sit down to eat. I then watched her get up and down numerous times during dinner to fetch him whatever he wanted, even though she had worked all day, too. As a girl, I told her, “I will never do that if I get married. My husband will have to do those things for himself.” And she, of course, laughed.
Then, as a teenager in English class, I wanted to read something written by a woman because everything we had read was written by men. In history class, I had questions about the suffragists, and Rosa Parks, Clara Barton, and Harriet Tubman. I wanted to know about these women who had left their marks on history, but I wondered why we didn’t know more about their stories–or at least didn’t learn them in the classroom. My questions were answered with laughter from some of my peers and teachers. Irritation from others. And then, there were a few that genuinely tried to give me answers, but they didn’t satisfy.
Despite the laughter and attempts to silence me, I have also seen many women accomplish many things that none of us ever dreamed possible. Thankfully, my mother, who may not identify as a feminist, taught me to be strong. She raised a feminist by telling me everyday of my life that I can be whatever I want to be.
Last year, I heard a song by Grace Potter, and thought, “That would be a perfect feminist anthem.” The song, “Look What We’ve Become” has a strong beat that reminds me of the strong, vocal female musicians of the 90s. And it’s all about overcoming the odds and filling the silence.
They told you to keep your head down
They told you not to run
They told you we’re sorry, you’re not the fortunate one
They told me to keep it quiet
Said my day would never come
So I screamed my lungs out and I ran straight for the sun
And they always told us we would be nothing
Look what we’ve done (look what we’ve done), hey
And they always told us we would be nothing
But look what we’ve become (look what we’ve become)
And they told you you don’t understand
They told you, let it go
And then they took you by the hand
And led you out the door
Your words don’t make a sound
My dreams are on the floor
But you’re rising up from underground
And I’m nothing like I was before
I thought of this song and the laughter I encountered as a girl when I watched the Democratic National Convention this year. The night I saw a woman accept the nomination for president. I didn’t expect my reaction as I watched Hilary Clinton take the stage. I cried the happiest of tears for all of the little girls who have endured laughter at their dreams and ambitions. I cried because, regardless of your politics, a woman could become the next President of the United States of America. She made history. And it’s women breaking glass ceilings that silence the laughter. That night, I wanted to shout, “Look What We’ve Become.”