Women Won the Inauguration: From Being Overlooked to Owning the Stage

Inaugurations never served any meaning in my life. For the most part, they were all the same: the immersion of a white man into a high-powered position, an event that is all too common in this society. This all changed for me when I saw then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris being sworn into office, by none other than Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor, the first Latina sworn into the Supreme Court, gave the oath of office to the first-ever female, Black and Asian American vice president.

During the former president’s tenure, the role of women and the respect given to them in the world of politics was quite questionable. All my life, I had the desire to serve the public, but seeing the nastiness of the political world, I decided to set my dreams aside and settle for the horrific reality. Vice President Harris’ smile as she stood with her right hand raised inspired me to keep my dreams in mind. Her tenacity and hard work paid off. Her new role as vice president not only served as a major trailblazing landmark but also as a reminder to the youth everywhere that anything is possible.

It was alarming to find out what small role women played in past inaugurations. Until 1805, a first lady had never attended an inauguration. This changed when Dolley Madison made a surprise appearance. First ladies also didn’t have an official role in the inauguration until 1965, when Lady Bird Johnson held the Bible during the oath of office. Other than that, women barely had anything to do with the inauguration ceremony. Countless headlines only focused on the female fashion choices of the event, not the role women were to play in cabinet-levels or the priorities first ladies would have during their husbands’ time in office.

What’s changed?

At the moment, most articles found online are focusing on the monochromatic looks of the event. However, the attention should be turned to the role women are about to play in the next four years, hopefully, pass that. For example, President Biden included a record-breaking number of women within his cabinet. Similar to former President Obama, Biden took the initiative of establishing a diverse cabinet. Alternatively, Biden spoke candidly about his intent to ensure women with cabinet-level positions would never feel as though they were being talked down to or silenced, a complaint many female cabinet members of Obama made.

Women were the main speakers and performers during this recent inauguration, from Lady Gaga to Amanda Gorman providing us with heartfelt speeches and renditions. Women were at center stage and took the initiative to make sure that Vice President Harris’ accomplishments were on full display. It is also important to note that First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will continue to work as a full-time educator while still focusing on the important issues at hand.

What can we look forward to?

As a member of the Women’s Student Association at UF, I looked forward to the possibility to attend the inauguration and witness history. However, due to the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding the safety of the event, we decided to save our trip for the hopeful election of a female president. I’m proud to say that Vice President Harris has changed my outlook on several things. First, I now have the ability to say I can be a vice president with certainty. I see now that no matter your background, it's the hard work and dedication you put into your life that pays off. Her presence in this administration is the first step to having a female president. The astounding sight of seeing a woman in such a high position of power will become normalcy soon enough. Hopefully, Vice President Harris will serve as a reminder that women can have a greater role than being fashion icons at the inauguration and can serve as the pillars of democracy our country deserves.