What Geraldine Ferraro Taught Me About Toughness

What Women Really Think
March 28 2011 1:14 PM

What Geraldine Ferraro Taught Me About Toughness


In 1984, when I was in the second grade, our class at Camp Pendleton's North Terrace Elementary School held a mock election.  I came in on election day with my Mondale/Ferraro pin, ready to be a part of history. As soon as the other kids saw my pin, it was on.


"A woman can't be vice president!" they sneered. (In my memory, it is a faceless "they" and "they" are forever sneering.)
"My dad says a woman can be anything she wants to be!" I told them.

I went to school on a military base, and my father was a Marine officer, but my sister and I had been raised by the biggest feminist I've ever known, a man who used How To Raise Strong, Confident Daughters as a parenting guide and called us "strong" instead of "pretty" to build up our self-esteem. Both of my parents had talked to us about how important it was that Geraldine Ferraro was running for vice president. Because I had also been raised in an idyllic little world in which "Marine" and "liberal feminist" were not at all contradictory, I was genuinely shocked by the reaction of my classmates.

But I also believed in what I said, and I would not back down. I was the only vote for the Democratic ticket in my class, but I didn't take that pin off all day, and I didn't change my mind the next day, when it turned out most of the country had agreed with my second-grade class. I was given a karate kick to the stomach by a fourth-grader for my nascent political radicalism, and after it knocked the air right out of me, the principal suggested to my parents that I "toughen up."  I didn't ever go back to base schools.

I would love to say that I never went back to being karate kicked to the stomach for my belief that women can do anything, either, but while I avoided that particular physical sensation, I have been figuratively kicked a thousand times in the years since. I never stopped believing that it was possible, that it was logical, that it was right that women could do whatever they wanted to do. And as I grew, I had women to point to when the nameless, faceless sneerers mocked my views and said it wasn't even possible-women like Geraldine Ferraro.  She didn't win, but she ran, she tried, and she taught a little girl that there are kicks worth taking for a higher purpose.

Jessica Roake, a frequent Slate contributor, lives in Washington, D.C.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?