"Secretary?!!"

A few days ago my daughter phoned from college with the news that she had been asked to run for the Executive Branch of student government at college. This comes as no surprise since this year Elizabeth was elected to serve on her student Senate.  Bubbling with excitement Elizabeth relayed, "John is running for President, Fentriss for Vice-President, James for Treasurer...and they want me to join their slate and run for Secretary."

"Secretary?!"  I queried.

"Yes and the election is next week. We had a meeting to write our party platform and target our voter base. Each of us has an assignment. I am going to make the flyers!"  As she chattered on and on, the inevitable chorus of thoughts began to resonate in my mind, "Secretary?  Why not President? Or even Vice-President?"

Having been surrounded by the inner workings of the body politic has clearly imprinted the importance of electing women on Elizabeth.  In fact, my daughter has been well trained to run for office and she has the courage to take a risk. Most important, she is confident in her abilities.  She is a young woman who isn't fettered by the old feminist lore of how, but instead thinks how high.

For the past seven years I have dedicated all of my energies to develop an organization to support women who are running for office in California. My idea of a vacation with my girlfriends includes traveling to Washington, D.C. to march for choice.  I just can't help but wonder why she did not comprehend the stereotype in what her team proposed for her -- the common assumption that the women's role should be the "Secretary."

After hanging up the phone, I contemplated a common reflection for 21st century women, "What advancements have we made as women and how will the next generation of leaders, like my daughter, make the women's movement their own?"

Long ago, I remember chaperoning a field trip to the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. During the tour, I remember another mother saying that she would not tell her daughter that she can have it all because you can't.  Did she feel encouraging her to reach for the top was an exercise in folly?  How can women hope to break sexist barriers if they don't dare to risk it all?

Now I question, "Does Elizabeth want it all?"  I don't know the answer what all is anymore.  I do know that Elizabeth does not care what office she is running for. She just wants to opportunity to serve.  For her the thrill simply comes from an invitation by the Junior class boys to join the slate.  She is already immersed in developing their website and how to get out the vote.

At times, the next generation of women leaders appears to be oblivious to the barriers that my generation experienced. Or, if they are aware of them, they no longer hold the same importance for them.  They will work within the parameters that are set.  We fought to not be pigeon-holed as the Secretary, but to win the right to be the President. We consciously knew that we had to work twice as hard, be three times as efficient and strive for the opportunity to succeed.

For now, Elizabeth is content to stay busy with her campaign. As I write this, she is probably outside of the dining commons asking for votes. She has the courage. She has the training. Elizabeth can do anything she puts her mind to and I'm sure she will make a wonderful secretary. But next year, I'm sure she'll make a great President.

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