Kamala Harris made history on January 20th. So did Douglas Emhoff.
It was momentous, for a number of reasons; not only had the vote itself been contested in the most unfathomable ways, with the outgoing President refusing to accept the outcome of the election, a situation that, true to the tone of 2020, was ‘unprecedented’, but also because Kamala Harris is a Black, South Asian woman- three things a Vice President has never been.
She bought with her to the White House the world’s first-ever ‘Second Gentleman’, Douglas Emhoff, whose appointment to the newly created role has been met with some interest, but without a great deal of fuss and fanfare. Which is interesting, seeing as this is one of those rare times that men, across the world, have a successful, visible, male role model to look to, whose job is, more or less, to support his female partner as she assumes the role of second in charge of the United States of America.
In fact, you could argue that his appointment to this newly created role is, well, somewhat momentous.
For years and years, women have been shifting the needle in terms of work, family and socio-cultural expectations of how we should behave. Interestingly, this shift has not been matched by the men of Australia (or the world) until recently- and even then, it’s moving at approximately the same pace as Australia’s attempts to address the gender pay gap.
In her novel ‘The Wife Drought; Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives’, Annabel Crabb interrogated the barriers that women were presented with when trying to find a way to coexist as an employee, wife and mother. There were a number of issues, that mostly came down to the fact that domestic help was scarce, men were unwilling to take it on, and society didn’t think it was that important for mothers and wives to work, anyway. To do so was a ‘lifestyle choice’.
In her more recent Quarterly Essay ‘Men at Work’, Annabel went back to examine what was happening on the other side of the coin; Why, as women barged into the workplace, did men not feel the need to barge into the home? The answer was that overwhelmingly, they did; but bosses, workplaces, socio-cultural expectations and ‘mothers’ groups weren’t about to make it easy for them.
Here at Women & Leadership Australia, we are fortunate to work with a lot of women. We are also really fortunate to work with a lot of men, as well, who are committed to advancing gender equality in their organisations. More and more, they recognise that a commitment to gender equity doesn’t just mean having more women in the board room; it means having more men in the lounge room, as well. More men able to work flexibly; able to take career breaks to support their families; able to start late and leave early to do the kinder drop-off and get the school lunches ready.
And for some men, it means that we need the world to celebrate and embrace those men who stand behind really amazing women. Someone who takes on the laundry and stays home for the sparky, who is coming sometime between 7 am and 9 pm. Someone to RSVP to weddings and organise gifts for birthday parties and manage holiday plans. Someone to come and entertain fellow partners at client dinners, make small talk with the boss and have blotting papers in their pocket and band-aids in their bag.
For years and years, we have expected women to step back from their careers to support their husbands, but issued snide remarks about men who choose to do the same. In Australia, we scarcely see the male partners of our female politicians- I wouldn’t know Julia Gillard’s partner, Tanya Plibersek’s partner or Julie Bishop’s partner if I fell over them. In fact, the closest comparison I can think of is Clark Gayford, who is the primary carer to his daughter, Neve, while her mum, Jacinda Ardern, keeps things on track in New Zealand.
But on January 20th, 2021, Douglas Emhoff became the first Second Gentleman of the United States, proud to support his partner while blazing a trail for men at home, while she blazes a trail for women at work. And I think that is pretty momentous for us all.
Do you think Douglas Emhoff's new role as 'Second Gentleman' will be a positive step forward for gender equality?