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Dear Mr. Second Gentleman

By Elyse Ackerman-Casselberry

Vice President-elect Sen. Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff are seen at the stage during a campaign event, in Wilmington, Delaware on Aug. 12, 2020. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria via CNN) Accessed 1/10/21

Dear Mr. Second Gentleman,

January 20, 2021 will be a historic day for this country as your wife becomes the first female Vice President.  We talk a lot about the lack of female role models as one of the many barriers to women ascending into positions of power.  Kamala Harris’s election to Vice President represents the shattering of one of many glass ceilings. There are many more to go.

This letter is not to opine on all of the reasons why the shattering of this glass ceiling is so important. I don’t want to focus on the fact that women account for only 2% of all top national leadership positions worldwide, 24% of national assembly seats globally, or that this statistic is only marginally better in the United States at 25% and 27% for the Senate and House. Consider that only 4% of CEOs of Fortune Five Hundred companies are women.

I write this letter to you, Mr. Second Gentleman, instead, to explore the importance of having a strong male role model for all husbands out there that are lucky enough to be married to a woman that shatters glass ceilings.  You are perhaps as rare as the female executive.

While we certainly need more female role models to inspire girls and women to reach for top executive positions in all industries, we also need role models for men that support those women.

Marketing to working moms and women reinforces the idea that we can have it all, including a successful career, but our primary role is still at home. We can have a successful career if we also raise our children, keep our husband happy, and keep a clean home. When you google “advice for working moms” you get:

  • Teach cleanup: Your three old can do it!
  • Delegate chores: Ask your children/spouse to help. Your children can do it.
  • Plan your morning: It’ll go better if you prepare at night. Pack lunches, set out clothes for everyone, teach kids to get themselves ready.
  • Plan a work schedule: Talk to your boss about leaving by 5 on certain days, cooperate with your spouse in case you will be late. Your family will learn to cherish their time with you.
  • Plan meals ahead: Only go to the store once a week. Follow easy to prepare recipes, double a recipe and freeze it, order take out! Have your older children cook dinner once in a while.
  • Schedule quality family time.
  • Be a couple: hire a babysitter.
  • Catch a break: Join Monster today to get help staying on top of your career (seriously!)
The same marketing to men says:
  • Define success and set priorities—do you want to coach little Jimmy’s baseball team or do you want the corner office.
  • Make the most of your time—do some extra work when your child naps. Work smarter not harder.
  • Talk to your partner—Are you finding you can’t focus on your career enough because you are helping around the house? Talk to your wife about it!
  • Switch off the technology— Ignore your work calls and emails. You can find more time for your wife, children and maybe even a hobby!
  • Discuss work flex options with your boss.
When I got married to my first husband my father asked my new husband—jokingly I hope–if he would still love me when I was fat and ugly someday. He never asked him if he would help me achieve my dreams and goals, and support me no matter what. He never asked if he would take second seat to my success and cheer me on, or suspend jealousy or resentment as I earned more money than he did. He never suggested that perhaps my husband should be prepared to take on household responsibilities as I took on more responsibility at my job. He didn’t ask if my husband would make dinner on nights that I had meetings until 9:00, or keep track of the school calendar because the demands on my time were so intense.  My dad never thought to ask these questions.

My mother-in-law-to-be did. She asked me how I was going to make sure my husband finished school, and see him into his first career. She insisted I learn to cook his favorite meals. She told me my job was to make her son happy. She made it clear my job was to take over the things that she did for her son on a regular basis as the woman in his life.

The issue of gender roles in partnerships is one of many hurdles towards gender equity that we don’t spend enough time talking about, with its deep rooted cultural and social ties. Just as women need to see role models; they and their spouses also need to see men that embrace new roles. This includes everything from sharing of household and child responsibilities to managing jealousy and competition.

Mr. Second Gentleman, I implore you to help shatter gender stereotypes and the role they play in holding women back. I ask you to make this your crusade. Demonstrate to men that they must support their partners’ dreams. Show men that already have a strong woman as a partner that there is nothing to be jealous of, nothing to be resentful towards, and that partnership means sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow, and sometimes we walk side by side.  Our partnerships should not be a competition. Our egos should not stand in the way of loving and supporting one another.  You, Mr. Second Gentleman, get to be the very first and best true role model for generations of men to look to in this country of how two strong partners can work together, even when the title and position belongs to your partner.

And maybe, just maybe it is the husband that should be looking for easy to prepare recipes, or doubling the recipe to freeze for dinner!

Here’s to all the women shattering glass ceilings and the men right behind them!

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About the Author

Elyse Ackerman-Casselberry is a city manager on the western slope of Colorado. When she started her career in local government less than 14% of chief executive offices were held by women in local government. That number has grown over the years to about 34%, but there is a long way to go.

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