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Shirley Leung

You don’t have to be with Hillary Clinton to appreciate this moment

Sydney Armini, 10, and her mother, Jenny Armini, prepared for ballet camp. Sydney looks forward to having a women president to look up to.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

With her mother’s permission, Sydney Armini, 10, will be up Thursday night to watch Hillary Clinton make history as the first woman to accept a major party’s nomination for president.

“There could finally be someone besides a guy who is the head of our country I can look up to,” the Marblehead fifth-grader said. “I can think of being her. I can’t think of being a guy.”

Lost in the sturm and drang over Clinton’s candidacy is just how extraordinary it is. She could be our next commander in chief, breaking up the all-male club that has lasted more than two centuries.


It’s a moment when many parents will insist their daughters tune in to the Democratic National Convention so they can witness what’s possible for women in this country. It’s a milestone, perhaps a turning point, worthy of us setting aside our politics to soak it all up. You don’t have to support her to appreciate how Clinton has taken a hammer to what she has famously called the “highest, hardest glass ceiling.”

Some millennial women have been quick to downplay Clinton’s achievements as a US senator, secretary of state, and first lady. But many are too young to have experienced the barriers that women face in life and at the office.

Michelle Obama, in her convention speech Monday night, sought to remind everyone of the candidate’s accomplishments, saying “because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters — and all our sons and daughters — now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

We have taken it for granted because women have come a long way. We are CEOs. We are entrepreneurs. We are astronauts, rocket scientists, and brain surgeons. We are politicians, but not nearly enough of us are, if we want to see more female presidents sitting in the Oval office.


Women account for only 20 percent of Congress and even fewer governorships, with only six women currently holding that office.

During this year’s major party races for the White House, only two women — out of a field of 23 Democrats and Republicans — made a run for it.

To Sydney’s mom, Jenny Armini, Clinton’s nomination will be what Geraldine Ferraro’s vice presidential candidacy in 1984 meant to an earlier generation of women. Jenny Armini was only 14 when the New York congresswoman became the first woman to accept the vice presidential nomination of a major party, running on the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale.

Armini was raised in a Republican household, but the significance of Ferraro’s candidacy was not lost on her or her parents.

A sign that reads “President Not Princess” hangs in 10-year-old Sydney Armini’s room. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

“I remember it vividly,” said Armini, now 47, who grew up to become a speechwriter for then acting governor Jane Swift and others. “We were a Reagan house. We weren’t necessarily cheering her on, but this was a moment, and we were going to watch it.”

Armini credits her parents for instilling her with the idea that she could do anything. But there was a difference when she saw on TV the throngs of voters who believed a woman could be a heartbeat away from the highest office in the country.

“In my memory bank, I had that,” Armini said.

Now it’s her daughter’s turn to create that memory for herself. When Sydney was born, Armini had a sign made that still hangs in her daughter’s bedroom: “President not Princess.” Sydney, who is attending a ballet camp this summer, wants to be a teacher when she grows up.


“It’s about the power to visualize,” said Jenny Armini, who is now an independent supporting Clinton. “For too long, women and girls have not had that ability in this country.”

Evelyn Murphy credits Ferraro’s candidacy — albeit unsuccessful — with sealing Murphy’s own political fate. She had campaigned in 1982 for lieutenant governor and lost, but things changed when she ran again in 1986. She won — becoming the first woman in Massachusetts elected to a statewide office.

Ferraro “made it much easier for me to make my case as a qualified woman,” recalled Murphy.

“Hillary — she is going to change the credibility for women running for office and for women aspiring to be anything.”

Win or lose, Clinton’s impact will be much bigger than Ferraro’s or Sarah Palin’s vice presidential run in 2008.

Both were appointed to their respective tickets in part to appeal to female voters.

But Clinton isn’t the nominee because she’s a woman. She’s at the top of the ticket because close to 16 million voters cast ballots for her after a hard-fought primary.

“Hillary Clinton is not running because the country has decided it wants a woman,” said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government at American University who studies gender and political ambition.


“She is running for president — and she happens to be a woman.”

Which may be the most important message of all for generations to come.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.