"Where are all the women?" asked 9-year-old Alexandra Desaulniers when visiting the White House portrait gallery. Her mother explained, "There are no portraits of women here because there haven't been any female presidents yet." That's the moment Alexandra decided she wanted the job. After hearing this story, I realized there must be a lot of young women out there thinking about running for president, and I wanted to know who they are.
What I found out is that Alexandra is not alone. More and more American women are choosing to pursue careers in public service -- and they're deciding to do so earlier and earlier in their lives. There may be disproportionately few high-profile female politicians in America today -- but not for long. While women currently make up only 14 percent of governors, 17 percent of the House, and 17 percent of the Senate, women are starting to fill, in greater numbers, the ranks of local and state political offices. This seems only logical since women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population. They are building a platform from which they will get to the higher positions.
And so, it's not a matter of if a woman will lead the United States -- but a matter of when. Will it be in 2016? 2024? 2036? Who knows? But what we do know is that it's inevitable. She's out there somewhere -- Who is she? What is she like?
To find out, I worked with the New York City-based research firm Fresh Perspectives and the nonprofit women's organization The White House Project to collect essays from young women nationwide who want to be president someday. My co-editor Heather Ogilvie and I chose the 35 best essays and traveled the country with award-winning photographer Robert A. Ripps to meet the young women. Robert took photos of the essayists in local settings that reflect their commitment to public service.
This collection of essays reveals what drives the political ambitions of a younger generation of American women -- and reveals their vision for our country. Between the ages of 5 and 35, these outspoken girls and women represent our country's next generation of female political leaders. (I chose 35 essays because this is the minimum age a U.S. president must be.)
The women in the book are from 20 states and diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. They voice opinions from across the political spectrum. Two of the essayists -- Agxibel Barajas and Jennifer Abraczinskas are also featured in my 2008 documentary on women's leadership, What's Your Point, Honey?, that I directed and produced with Susan Toffler. The film paints portraits of seven possible future presidential candidates at a pivotal moment in history when the most viable female candidate ever is running for the highest office in the land. The movie shows that political equality is not about one, breakthrough candidate; it's about hastening the day when just as many women grace the presidential debate podiums as men. On that day, the nation as a whole will get beyond gender to agenda.
The book also lists "35 Current Leaders" serving in public office who have caught my eye as being potential future presidential candidates. I asked them what advice they would give to younger women considering a career in public service.
To make the book very hands-on, I list the women's groups and political organizations that can help young women who are interested in politics to a move on! My hope is that the essays collected in this book will not only inspire other young women to speak out about issues that affect them and to pursue public office, they will also give readers a sense of the direction female leadership is likely to take our country in the future. We've got the New York State Debate Champion Novice Division who we refer to as the "Tiger Wood of Politics," a Political Chair of the Black Liberation Affairs Committee, a super model who just happens to be Wellesley, MIT and Columbia educated AND an entrepreneur at the age of 19, and an a former U.S. Army captain who trained Iraq's first all-female military company, or a 10-year-old who knows that you're never too young to get involved and make a difference and volunteers at fundraisers for her local fire department, helps out at the firehouse, and recently addressed her city council about adopting her anti-litter proposal. For those girls and young women who are mystified by politics, it is that simple! The personal is the political -- it's the sidewalks we walk on, the local libraries and firehouses, the communities and its people -- taken to a local level or international level.
Another aspect that gave me a jolt better than my morning caffeine infusion was when I noted the future contenders' names -- Chidinma Hannah Nnoromele and Folasade Fayemi Kammen, or Lynna Lan Tien Nguyen Do, Wieteke Aster Holthuijzen or Raquel Rivera -- names that certainly give the name Barak Hussein Obama a run for the money. It is obvious we are headed into a new era.
So take a look at these 35 young women in the book, I think we'll be watching them for a long time. And let's open our ears and eyes to them right now as they join this blog on the Huffington Post.
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