“When I got to the Senate, I’m telling you, I got my face kicked in,” Ms. Moseley Braun said. “There was nobody there who was Black, male or female. My first day, the officer didn’t want to let me in. Someone else had to say, ‘That’s the new senator from Illinois.’”
“I hope the sacrifices I went through have made things easier for her,” she said of Ms. Harris. “We’ll know she’s arrived, we’ll all have arrived, when it will be so unremarkable they treat her like Mike Pence.”
The focus on someone’s identity can also overshadow the qualifications that earned the job in the first place.
“There were other things about who I was, what I cared about, how I’d done leadership roles that were much more significant in reality than that I was a woman,” said Barbara Roberts, who in 1990 was elected the first female governor of Oregon. “But when I was running for governor, I had a lot of women in my state who, that was the only thing they cared about.”
“We want to recognize the first, but we don’t think that’s all they have to offer,” she said.
These challenges tend to ease with each consecutive person who fills the role, say researchers and leaders who have been in these positions. People get used to seeing different kinds of leaders onstage and it becomes less remarkable — like when six women ran in the Democratic primary after Hillary Clinton’s run.
“In having this pretty bruising campaign, I think she did forge a path for other women,” said Curtis Sittenfeld, who wrote “Rodham,” a novel about Mrs. Clinton. “There was so much conversation about her gender and firsts, and then all of a sudden there were multiple women onstage at the debate and it seemed normal.”