Kamala and Doug: Extraordinary, and Not

December 2020

Fellas, this is how it’s done

Less famous, of course, than vice president-elect Kamala Harris’s warm and glittering election speech on November 7th (and the unspoken words of her white pantsuit on this centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification) are the comments her husband Doug Emhoff was making even before Joe Biden selected Kamala as his running mate.

According to a recent article in USA Today, when Doug was “asked by a 9-year-old in an online ‘Ask a Grown-up’ session sponsored by Fatherly what he would do if Harris got the nod from Biden, he replied: ‘Well, first I’d say “Yay!” And then I’m just gonna do what I always do, Atticus.  I’m going to support her because it’s really important for men and even young boys to support the strong and wonderful women in their lives, and I’m going to do that, and I hope you do that too.’” 

It is widely reported that — unlike Jill Biden, who plans to keep teaching at community college while serving as first lady to president-elect Joe Biden – Doug Emhoff is leaving his job as a corporate attorney by Inauguration Day both to avoid any possible conflicts of interest and to commit himself full-time to his role as the first second gentleman.  His plan is to define the job around access-to-justice work.

Extraordinary, and not

While it’s literally extra-ordinary to have a second gentleman in the incoming administration (and a Jewish one at that, who is married to – as we all know – the first woman vice president, who is also the first Black and South Asian person to hold the office, and was elected on the ticket that got 80 million votes, the most in American history), it’s less extraordinary than most people think that a man who’s successful in his own right would take a step back to lift up his wife’s career.  Anecdotally, my husband puts my career first without sacrificing his own professional goals and growth, several other men in my family do this, and so do many men in my social network as well as in my professional orbit.  Women who are the primary career-person in their relationships are common in my leadership coaching clientele, too.

While the number of women CEOs is pitiful, the pay gap is tragic, and the so-called “happiness penalty” is absolutely real for women who are also parents or caregivers at home, 2019 data from the American Community Survey “suggest that among married, heterosexual couples in the U.S., a quarter of wives, or about 15 million, are the primary breadwinners in their family. In 1960, the share was only 6%,” says the Institute for Family Studies.  (It’s not yet known exactly how the Covid-19 pandemic will have affected these numbers by the time it’s over, but you get the point.)  I’d also be curious to know what the statistics are for non-married heterosexual working couples, as there are a lot of reasons why women who make more money choose not to bind themselves legally to their partners. 

In any case, for those of us men and women who swim against the tide of our culture’s nonsensical narratives about hetero marriage and “breadwinning,” it will be refreshing to have a very high-profile anti-misogynist marriage in the public eye. 

Further resources

Study the contrasts.  Consider which represents masculine leadership that nurtures an abundant and wellbeing-centric (as opposed to a zero-sum-game and profit-centric) future for ensuing generations: Doug Emhoff’s commitment to the women in his life, or vice president Mike Pence’s regard for second lady Karen Pence (whom Mike reportedly calls “Mother”).  In 2002, Mike said he won’t meet one-on-one with women other than Karen, presumably because it disrespects her under the damaging and perverse assumption that no heterosexual man can keep his hands to himself when alone with women.  Then again, maybe Mike’s just generalizing from the predatory behavior of examples like his (perhaps hypocritically, perhaps not) chosen boss: “Yeah, that’s her.  With the gold.  I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her.  You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them.  It’s like a magnet.  Just kiss.  I don’t even wait.  And when you’re a star they let you do it.  You can do anything…Grab them by the pussy.  You can do anything.”

That from the very stable genius who didn’t keep Janet Yellen on as Federal Reserve Chair because he thought she was too short.  (You can’t make this stuff up.)  In another masculine leadership contrast, consider Biden’s expected nomination of Yellen for Treasury Secretary.  The stock market’s milestone jump over 30,000 last week, partly on the news that Biden was picking Yellen as the first woman to hold that office in its 231-year history, may be an indication that our culture’s gender narratives are indeed evolving.

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