Yesterday, Cokie Roberts died. My afternoon commute was peppered with women’s voices remembering their friend and mentor for her role in their lives and in the history of journalism. Clips played of her strong, defiant voice, challenging the legacy of patriarchy and the way women’s contribution to a news story were discussed and recorded. Her leadership in the industry was apparent by the number of women in positions of prominence who said she helped pave the way. In each recollection of her significance, the speaker endeavored to explain the most distinctive aspect of her leadership, her kindness. Strong and opinionated, she conducted herself with an unfaltering commitment to decency and manners in a city of cutthroat ambition almost bordering on barbarism. Her specific mix of authority and consideration of others was all too rare. This is especially in the world of politics, where the most visible women are either laughing stocks (think Sarah Palin or Elizabeth Warren) or singular targets of vitriol (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelozi and Kamala Haris).
It all got me thinking about my daughter, about all our daughters, and what we are raising them to be in this world. For certain we need more women as CEOs, more women in houses of government, more women’s voices on the news. We need women leaders in emerging fields of science and technology, where the future and it’s implicit biases are being researched and invented. But more important than what our daughters become, is who they become. If we aren’t focusing on building up their strength of character, their ability to consider others, and their commitment to kindness, than what is the point of having women replace men at their half of the table? What our world lacks is not simply women, but compassion and perspective. In a culture where power is equated to the number of losers in your wake (just look at our presidency), are we raising a generation of girls to serve these same gods of ruthless ambition?
We need to not only encourage young women to speak out and step up, we must warn the next generation what is at stake if they sacrifice their integrity while climbing the professional ladder. There exists no world where a woman (or a certain race, or people of sexual orientation or whatever) is a better choice for a position simply because of her gender. We should be instilling in our children judgement based on Dr. King’s “content of their character.” We should be spreading the message that our everyday choices matter enduringly. It’s in a world where women and men, and everything in between, value kindness, that I’d like to set my daughter up for success.