Senator Kamala Harris made history on Saturday as the first woman, first person of color, and first South Asian to ever be elected to the office of Vice President. It’s an incredible accomplishment for Harris, who has already broken several barriers in her political career.
Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, has also forged into new territory, becoming the first second-gentleman. This means he is the highest-profile, supportive male-partner ever. The second-gentleman is a new position that provides an opportunity for Emhoff to show millions a new vision of masculinity on the country’s biggest stage. And while it’s not exactly an elected position, our second-gentleman elect has already offered signs that he’s up to the role.
In modern, healthy relationships being truly supportive of a spouse demands understanding, validation, love, trust, honesty, good communication, and the ability to strive for equity at home. It’s often tricky for couples invested in traditional gender norms to balance these traits. After all, traditionally masculine men may balk at playing a supportive role to a powerful woman.
But Emhoff is unafraid to express his pride, solidarity, and support of his wife. Shortly after the news was announced on Saturday morning that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States, Emhoff tweeted a picture of he and Harris sharing a tender, celebratory hug on a walking trail. The caption read, “So proud of you.”
So proud of you. ❤️❤️🇺🇸🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/Orb1ISe0dU
— Doug Emhoff (@DouglasEmhoff) November 7, 2020
The simple tweet quickly went viral. As of right now, it has 566,600 likes, 42,100 retweets, and thousands of congratulatory comments. While it was Emhoff’s most celebrated tweet, it was very much on brand. He regularly tweets messages from the Biden-Harris campaign as well as notes of encouragement and appreciation for his wife.
Emhoff has also been a quiet, encouraging presence during the campaign, with many reporting that he’s most comfortable outside of the limelight. He’s traveled alongside Harris and is often seen at events in a suit or wearing a “Kamala” t-shirt, clapping emphatically; a broad smile on his face. Campaign staffers refer to him as their “secret weapon.” But this work is largely in the background.
Emhoff has taken a leave of absence from his job with the law firm DLA Piper, where he works as an entertainment lawyer. Reports have disclosed that he may pursue pro bono work during Biden-Harris Administration in addition to taking on the charity work of Vice Presidential spouses.
To say Emhoff is breaking the mold would be an understatement. For instance, around seven in 10 adult respondents to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey noted that it was “very important” that a man be able to support a family financially in order to be a good husband or partner, but only 32 percent said the same about women. Problems can occur when men aligned to traditional masculine norms feel self-conscious or unworthy of a powerful wife. A 2015 University of Chicago study found that if a woman makes more money than their male partners – even just $5,000 more a year – the likelihood that they’ll divorce increases.
It’s possible that Emhoff signals a change. A second gentleman who proudly embodies the way one should act when roles are reversed could be an excellent model of enlightened masculinity. Millions of little girls see themselves in Kamala Harris and feed dreams of becoming a strong, barrier-breaking woman. Emhoff has the power to show boys and men the selflessness, strength, sacrifice, and love required to be a pillar of true masculine support. So far he’s demonstrated nothing less. Here’s hoping he’ll exceed expectations on the global stage.
Watch Doug Emhoff answer kids questions in Fatherly’s “Ask a Grown-Up” series. You can see the video here.