When I was a girl…

Thursday night was historic. Whether you agree with the politics or not it was an historic night – or rather an HERSTORIC night. And quite literally it is the night I have been waiting for since I was a twelve year old girl. And I realized how incredibly lucky MY nieces (ages 7-12 and 26) are to be living through this moment in time. Now that there is no ceiling, the sky’s the limit for them and all the young girls and women to come.

These posts by my sister Janine made me realize just how important Thursday was:

Responses of two of my nieces to Hillary’s speech.

But let’s look back to 12 year old Donna and why this moment is so important to me, so impactful.

I was very lucky to be raised by parents who instilled the virtue of “civic duty” and the idea that you could do whatever you wanted, no matter who you were. They followed politics because they knew that even though it happens thousands of miles away it has very real impacts on our daily lives. Because of this I was introduced to the political process early – my earliest political memories are of Jimmy Carter, though only vaguely, I was only 8 when he lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. I think it was the Reagan assassination attempt that made me realize that politics were here and now.

It was the election of 1984 that really caught brought my attention to politics and the feminism (I think I was a 12 year old feminist, even before I knew what that meant). I was a smart, bookish dreamer with a love of history and a desire to make the world a better place. Enter Walter Mondale, Democrat from Minnesota (this is important – that’s my home, too) as the Democratic party’s nominee. Now this was a man running against a VERY popular president. I mean, Reagan WAS a movie star. And who did Mondale choose to run with him? Senator Geraldine Ferraro. A woman. My 12 year old brain and heart nearly exploded. This really meant I could do anything.

Up until that moment I don’t know that I had thought about politics and the President as anything other than in an historical context. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who had one of the BEST political spouses – Eleanor). But now there was someone who looked like me, someone I could relate to (even if I was only 12) running for vice president – picked because she was smart and qualified and AWESOME. (That’s how 12 year old girls think, right?) I was in love. She was so strong, so wonderful. So historic. I loved catching glimpses of her on the evening news (I’m really dating myself, aren’t I?). Poised. Articulate. Respectful. It wasn’t meant to be, however. As progressive as I thought we were in 1984 the country chose to stick with Reagan. After the loss (yes, I remember) I was a little heartbroken.

But I was paying attention for the first time to Senators from other states – Olympia Snowe (who always makes me think of Olympia Dukakis) and Barbara Boxer are the two who stand out. They were there, in the Senate, fighting for me. They had power and people listened to them. I had a new dream: Senator.

Why Senator? I always said it was because that is where the real power lies, that the President can’t get things done without them. And while this is true I now think it was because I had never seen someone like me embraced as Presidential. I mean, Eleanor Roosevelt was wonderful and smart and had all the qualities I want in a President but even she had to settle for being “First Lady.” That was the highest office a woman could achieve – being the wife of the President. And I certainly didn’t want to be anyone’s wife.

I didn’t realize how long I had been waiting for another woman to be passed the torch Geraldine Ferraro had lit until 1992 when a man from Hope, Arkansas introduced the country to his wife. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Hillary Rodham Clinton. So progressive. So liberal. So real. So much her own woman. No, she didn’t have time to bake cookies. She had shit to do and much to accomplish in her own life. I had found a new love. She was tough, smart, and said what she wanted. She couldn’t be “handled.” And I wanted HER as my president. I settled for her husband.

In the intervening 20-odd years (and I mean odd) I have waited and hoped and gotten excited and heartbroken each time a smart, articulate woman came close to matching the fire lit by Geraldine and Hillary. When Minnesota finally elected Amy Klobuchar I was over the moon. We joined the progressive states who needed and wanted women in power. (I’m still waiting for one to fill the Governor’s office.) There were several female candidates during the 90’s and early 2000’s but the country still hadn’t found the one.

Then it happened. In 2008 my second love decided to run for the Democratic nomination. Hillary.Rodham.Clinton. My fire was re-lit and my excitement for the race was high. She was fierce. She fought hard. But it wasn’t meant to be – though if she had to lose, losing to Barack Obama was alright. And I thought it would be many decades (if it even happened in my lifetime) before I would have the opportunity to see my dream of a female President. It seemed to me that the patriarchy (took me long enough to get to them, didn’t it?) would never allow a woman into that most exclusive, exclusionary of clubs: President of the United States of America. So many other successful countries had benefited from female leaders and yet we, the progressive country that we are, couldn’t make it happen.

Until Thursday night. When we came one step closer to shattering the highest of glass ceilings. And I am so proud to be part of it, to have nieces as excited as I about this moment in herstory.

What does this story have to do with powerlifting? Mostly nothing. Except this: if you don’t try you won’t know how far you can go. And I’m trying so the sky’s the limit.


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