This week, Kamala Harris will become the first woman, first Black person and first South Asian person to be the vice president of the United States. As a result of her historic win, the vice president’s spouse will also be a man — the Second Gentleman — for the first time in history.
Partners of prior vice presidents — all women, of course — have received little to no attention from the public. However, novelty draws attention.
Harris is married to Doug Emhoff, who has garnered a large following on social media and received significant media attention. Emhoff is often praised for his prestigious career (until recently, he was a lawyer; he quit to concentrate on his Second Gentleman role), his public devotion to his partner, Harris, and the fact that he is a good father to his two children.
Emhoff is a corporate attorney, most recently working at the law firm DLA Piper. On social media, he describes himself as a “devoted dad” to his two children, Cole, 25 and Ella, 21, from his first marriage. He also identifies himself as the “proud husband” of Harris. In November, he tweeted: “So proud of you” in reference to Harris’ presidential run and later: “I’ve got you. As always” after she decided to withdraw from the presidential race. He took a leave of absence from his job to join her on the campaign trail and has now left to support his wife full-time, a decision which has garnered further praise.
Emhoff is open about his desire to support women in office. “I want more women in office, and I want more partners. . . to support them and to provide an opportunity and environment for success,” he said in an interview in October. And he has received extensive praise for his modern approach to Harris’ political endeavors. Oprah Magazine wrote that he is the “ultimate hype-man we all deserve in a partner.” The Washington Post wrote it was a “quiet, consistent delight to see Emhoff so seamlessly inhabit the role of supportive political spouse.”
On social media, Emhoff has his own fan club, the #DougHive. The LA Times described the #DougHive as “women who are thrilled by the novelty of a man comfortably taking a back seat in politics.” He has over a half a million followers on Instagram and three quarters of a million on Twitter.
It’s important to bear in mind, however, that although Emhoff’s breaking of traditional stereotypes is welcome, we need to recognize that his behavior is ordinary, not extraordinary. The Second Gentleman has a master’s degree, a profession and is a publicly supportive partner and highly visible parent — just like every prior VP spouse since 1993.
Before becoming Second Lady, Karen Pence worked as an elementary school teacher for 25 years. Dr Jill Biden continued to teach at a community college while her husband was in office.
Every spouse of a vice president since 1961 was a parent and was expected to parent in addition to official responsibilities. Every prior spouse of a vice president publicly supported their partners through long campaign trails and sustained the strain of public office. However, until Emhoff, no prior vice president’s spouse has received such excessive praise for doing just that.
It is undeniable that the very existence of the first Second Gentleman is a step towards gender equality, and that it sets a valuable precedent. But there is nothing radical about Emhoff’s behavior. So let’s celebrate this milestone, but not accept a double standard. If we want Emhoff to set an example for young boys, we cannot continue to praise him for what has been expected of every single female partner of a vice president that has preceded him. Rather, we must expect the same behavior from him: that must be the baseline.