Kamala Harris shattered the glass ceiling, becoming the first woman and the first black person of South Asian descent to be elected Vice President of the United States.
Her husband, Doug Emhoff, also joins her in breaking stereotypes as the first “second gentleman” in US history and becoming the first Jewish spouse of a vice president.
Until now, the United States has viewed women only as wives, or first and second ladies to the president and vice president.
After Joe Biden’s victory in the November presidential election, the media struggled for some time over what they should call Emhoff.
This week, the administration created the Twitter handle @SecondGentleman, making the title official.
“I understand that I am the first man to take on this role and I certainly don’t want to be the last,” Emhoff said in a recent video.
“I want to set an example for those in the future who can look back on how I approached it and I hope that will help them as well.”
I am incredibly honored and honored to be the first @SecondGentleman the United States. As we count towards opening day, I do my homework and look to the past for inspiration. pic.twitter.com/bhE7SvCls2
– Doug Emhoff (@DouglasEmhoff) January 16, 2021
Joel Goldstein, a retired constitutional law professor who has written extensively on the presidency and vice-presidency, told Al Jazeera that these firsts in the new administration “all reflect that America’s core ideals include commitment in favor of pluralism and inclusion ”.
“[Emhoff’s] status [as first Jewish spouse] further reflects a step towards bringing America closer to its ideal as a place where minorities can advance to such positions, ”Goldstein said.
After Biden and Harris won the election, Emhoff, a prominent lawyer, announced that he would be stepping down from his post at Los Angeles law firm DLA Piper.
He will be teaching law this semester at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, bringing 30 years of experience in intellectual property, entertainment and media law.
As the second gentleman, Emhoff said he plans to advocate for legal justice reform, helping people gain fair access to the legal system.
Lonce Bailey, a professor at the University of Shippensburg in Pennsylvania, told Al Jazeera that Emhoff has a certain skill set that he imagines the White House would use strategically.
“He has a very large network in the legal, entertainment and business worlds. He’s described as that great liaison, that person you could send to almost any group or riding, and he’ll connect, ”Bailey said. “His skills are more advanced than many.”
While the vice-president’s husband role has been relatively insignificant, Bailey said Emhoff “will be a vice president’s most important wife since Abigail Adams.”
In 1789, Abigail was the first “second lady” while John Adams was vice president to George Washington, and was known to be a founding mother of the country, Bailey said.
The “dynamic” second lady, the volume of letters, advice and political conversations between her and her husband, John Adams – who eventually became president – was significant.
‘An incredibly positive example’
First Lady Jill Biden, who will continue her professional career as a teacher when she moves to the White House, will become the first lady to hold a day job.
Bailey said Emhoff’s new position also highlighted issues with sexism.
In December, many criticized an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal when author Joseph Epstein wrote that Jill should consider removing the title “Dr” from her name because she was not a doctor.
“’Dr. Jill Biden ‘sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a little comical,’ he wrote.
Jill had received her doctorate in education from the University of Delaware and the editorial was criticized by many as sexist and misogynist.
Many have noticed how Emhoff responded on Twitter: “Dr. Biden earned his degrees through hard work and sheer courage. She is an inspiration to me, to her students, and to Americans across the country. This story would never have been written about a man.
Dr. Biden earned her degrees through hard work and sheer courage. She is an inspiration to me, to her students, and to Americans across the country. This story would never have been written about a man. pic.twitter.com/mverJiOsxC
– Doug Emhoff (@DouglasEmhoff) December 12, 2020
“He pointed out that the reaction to him having this role brought out the sexism that usually accompanies spousal dismissal as insignificant, or not as accomplished, or not as relevant,” Bailey said.
From what the public has seen on Emhoff so far, many seem impressed.
“I love the confidence and openness with which Douglas Emhoff approaches this issue. What an incredibly positive example for boys and girls (and adults) everywhere, ”Mimi Rocah, a former SDNY prosecutor wrote on Twitter.
– Mimi Rocah (@ Mimirocah1) January 16, 2021
Harris and Emhoff showed what a successful couple could look like, a refreshing scene for audiences after four years of Donald and Melania Trump barely able to hold hands in public at times.
His love and support for his wife at every stage of the election campaign even spawned a #DougHive hashtag.
– Stephanie – January 20, 2021 🇺🇸 (@StephsMundo) January 15, 2021
Goldstein said that Emhoff, as the first man to be a first or second spouse, reflects “another step in America in recognizing that men, as well as women, can play a supporting role in their career success. spouse ”.
“Vice President Harris’ status will send an important message to little girls and women, boys and men, that our country is stronger when it is open to talented women in leadership positions and that the status of Mr. Emhoff will send a message that it is appropriate and admirable. so that men also support women in their life in their career aspirations, ”said Goldstein.