Kamala Harris has just been sworn in as the first female Vice President of the United States. Regardless of where you stand politically, I think we can all acknowledge that this is a huge step for women and something to be celebrated. The future is female, right? Right?
I have to be honest, I am not a fan of that expression. Now I’ll say this up front: I’m the mom of a boy. So maybe that plays a role in my reaction to it. But that phrase just doesn’t sit well with me. Are the tides turning? Yes—and thankfully! But the future is not female. At least, I hope it’s not.
I hope the future holds A LOT for women. Women should continue to push boundaries, break glass ceilings, and have the same opportunities as men. I know that’s the spirit of the expression. But I can’t ignore the words:
The future is female.
The spirit of this saying does not exclude males, but the words sure do. And for children, who are generally pretty literal, what might “the future is female” communicate? For our daughters, I imagine it conveys hope and possibility. But it doesn’t exactly say equality, does it? So then, I have to wonder:
What does it say to our sons?
I did my own little informal experiment with this when I asked my 8-year-old if he had ever heard the expression. He said no. “How does it make you feel when you hear ‘the future is female?’” I asked. “Sad,” he replied, “…because there are no boys.”
He brings up a good point. If the future is female, where is the space for my son? And yours?
As moms, we often think (obsess, even) over the impact that words have on our children. It’s why we now lean toward saying things like “practice makes progress” instead of “practice makes perfect.” The words matter.
The words matter.
Maybe this #boymom is just more sensitive to it. But I notice a lot of this messaging floating around. If you listen to Queen Bey (and I think I speak for most of us when I say, emphatically, We do.) you might hear: “Who run the world? Girls.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love this song. But when I think of it from my son’s point of view, I can’t help but see that it’s discouraging.
Or how about this quote from The Notorious RBG:
“When I’m sometimes asked, ‘When will there be enough (women on the Supreme Court)?’ and I say: When there are nine.’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
-Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I love how she gets right to the absurdity of the way things were. But Justice Ginsburg’s quote is similar to “the future is female” because both seem to have this underlying implication that in order to right the wrongs of the past, we have to overcorrect. If we do that, we’re back to molding a society that doesn’t represent everyone. And that’s not what we’re trying to do here anymore.
Just over a decade ago, I worked at a Boston advertising agency. They assigned me to an account that was comprised mostly of men. As you may recall, in 2008 the economy wasn’t doing well. There were whispers of layoffs throughout the halls of my office. And I remember one of the very few other women on our team said to me, “Well, we don’t have to worry. They’re not going to lay off the only women.”
Was she right? Well, all I know is, we didn’t get laid off.
If it had anything to do with our being female, was that fair? Even though it worked in my favor, it’s a little unsettling. Of course, you didn’t see me running through the halls screaming, “Take me! Take ME!” either. Fair, schmair…I’m not a martyr! But now I am a mom. And scenarios like this really worry me when I try to envision the future for my son.
Now, let’s be honest, at an instinctual level, there’s something very satisfying about payback. Revenge. Karma. For there to be nine female Supreme Court justices. To suspend men’s voting rights for the next 144 years. For men to get paid $0.81 to the $1.00 women make. But would it be right, if equality is what we’re after?
Overcorrecting would at least make sense to those of us who have lived for two, three, or more decades. We’ve seen when things weren’t equitable. We’ve witnessed the evolution—no doubt, we’ve contributed to it!
While we may need reassurance that the future is female, I don’t think our kids do.
I have no doubt that our intentions are good when we say it. But our daughters and sons are living at a time when women aren’t just making progress, we’ve made it. Not “made it” like crossed the finish line, but “made it” in the sense that we have a lot of successes under our belts. There’s still work to be done, but the gap is not the same as it was.
The expression is not only unnecessary, it’s also unfair to our boys. What if all our “the future is female” energy sows resentment in our boys? Impacts their self-esteem and self-worth? What if this just drives a cyclical battle of which gender has the upper-hand?
I think that the best response to a history of inequity has to be solutions that are equitable, or we’ve learned nothing and haven’t truly gotten anywhere.
You can say “the future is female” if you’d like, as long as you’re comfortable with its inherent inequity. For me, I won’t be saying it.
But if we keep having these conversations, if we keep examining what we’re doing and how we’re doing, if we try to be fair, aware of biases, and more sensitive to all the needs of all people, I will say, the future is bright.