What Geraldine Ferraro Taught Me About Toughness

What Geraldine Ferraro Taught Me About Toughness

What Geraldine Ferraro Taught Me About Toughness

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
March 28 2011 1:14 PM

What Geraldine Ferraro Taught Me About Toughness

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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.

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"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.