Kamala Harris Is Our Symbol of a Better Future

With our rights in the crosshairs, the vice president-elect is exactly the kind of feminist figurehead we need right now

Photo illustration, source: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris has just shattered a number of ceilings: On Saturday, she became the first woman, the first Black woman, and the first Indian-American woman to be elected vice president of the United States. After days of tensely counting votes, and four years of horrific racism and misogyny from the Trump administration, Harris’ elevation is more than just a win — it’s a salve for those of us who have been so discouraged by the bigotry of our fellow citizens, and a symbol for an American future that doesn’t look quite so homogenous.

I’ll admit, of course, that I wish a woman was moving directly in the oval office. It stings that a young dynamic politician like Harris has made it to the White House via Joe Biden, who will be the oldest president in history. It’s a reminder that too many Democrats didn’t believe that a female candidate could win against Donald Trump; and given how close the vote was, that bet on sexism may have been right.

But as far as 2020 goes — I’ll take it. I won’t be too greedy (for now). Besides, we’re going to need as many feminist wins as we can get. Between the appointment of religious extremist Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — getting conservatives one step closer to their goal of overturning Roe v. Wade — and exit polls indicating that white women continue to align themselves with white supremacy, the fight to protect and further women’s rights is more important than ever.

Vice President-Elect Harris, a longtime supporter of women’s issues, is exactly the kind of feminist figurehead Americans need right now to take us into that battle. Harris knows that the only way to win feminist progress is to get off the defensive: She wants to repeal the Hyde Amendment, for example, which blocks federal funds from covering abortion, and supports codifying Roe, making the right to abortion a federal law.

Harris also doesn’t shy away from conflict — her perfect grilling of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh during the Senate confirmation hearings is forever imprinted on my brain in the best way. And her ability to deal with sexism without losing her cool — her controlled and firm responses to Mike Pence during the vice presidential debates went immediately viral, for example — will serve the administration well as the country deals with a post-Trump backlash.

That’s not to say her feminist history is spotless — she’s taken justified heat over her past opposition to decriminalizing sex work, and from trans activists for her defense as California attorney general of the state’s decision to deny an incarcerated trans woman gender-affirming surgery. But Harris has since taken responsibility for her office’s decision and said she disagreed with the state’s decision: “In fact, I worked behind the scenes to ensure that the Department of Corrections would allow transitioning inmates to receive the medical attention that they required, they needed and deserved,” she said last year. “But the bottom line is the buck stops with me.”

Even with Trump gone, it’s going to be a difficult four years for women. There’s a chance that we could see abortion overturned, we need to reckon with the racism and sexism Trump’s administration enabled politically, and the cultural divide will be as strong and sexist as ever. But Harris — a leader who knows the intricacies of feminist issues, the importance of intersections in those fights, and when to recognize mistakes made — will make that battle at least a little bit easier.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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