Kamala Harris’s Ambition Trap

Editorial / Opinion Piece / Blog Post

October 7, 2020

Kamala Harris’s Ambition Trap


In her 2019 memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, Kamala Harris talks about how, during her first run for office—for San Francisco district attorney, in 2002—she taught herself to campaign. The lessons were partly about logistics (carry an ironing board in your car—the ideal portable podium for ad hoc campaign stops). But they were also about unlearning years’ worth of conditioned humility. “I was always more than happy to talk about the work to be done,” Harris writes of her conversations on the trail. The voters, though, wanted to hear about her: her experiences, her principles, her accomplishments. “I’d been raised not to talk about myself,” she says. “I’d been raised with the belief that there was something narcissistic about doing so. Something vain.”

The political memoir is a literary genre that consists mostly of carefully coded humblebrags; here, though, was an insight about bragging itself. Reading it, I felt a pang. American culture is fluent by now in the easy language of female empowerment. One of the 50,485,942 or so pieces of evidence that the rhetoric has outpaced the reality is the idea that women who achieve things aren’t supposed to say so. The sanction goes beyond general-purpose puritanism (self-confidence good! self-importance bad!). It has to do with the fact that, regardless of our own gender, we still tend to view women as self-sacrificial and self-effacing, first and foremost—mothers, basically, whether they have children or not. That’s how you get a situation where Target sells T‑shirts that read she can/she will—and where you can also pretty safely assume that, if you compliment a woman about the thing she did, she’ll reply, “Oh, it was nothing.”

Click here to read the full article published by The Atlantic on 6 November 2020.

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