Since when Meena Harris she remembers it, there is an anecdote that is handed down from one generation to the next of all the strong women who make up her family, the community, in short, that made her grow. Whenever his mother Maya and his aunt Kamala faced with an injustice, Meena’s grandmother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a biomedical scientist and civil rights activist, asked, “And now, are you going to do something”?
A frame of mind that has led all three women to be ambitious and successful in life: Maya, a lawyer, is a senior member of the Center for American Progress, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, and was political advisor for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 before directing her aunt’s in 2020. And now Kamala (on the cover of Vogue US February) entered history when, iJanuary 20, he lent oath as first (but not last) female Vice President. And Meena – who studied law at Harvard – quit her job as Uber’s head of strategy and leadership to found the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign in 2017 and January 19 he published his second book, Ambitious Girl (edited by Little, Brown and Company).
Self Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea (edited by Harper Collins, 2020), one of the bestsellers of the New York Times, is clearly inspired by the values Shyamala taught her daughters, Meena, 36, hopes that Ambitious Girl it can “help redefine the perception of who can be ambitious, and what exactly that means”. Meena, a mother of two daughters, says the first step in supporting girls and boys is to “reject the assumption that the ambition of women, especially those of color, can be anything but a good thing.”
Meena tells us what she thinks about inclusion in children’s books, what it means to be a mother, and how much she enjoys cooking with Aunt Kamala.
The sweatshirts of Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign we’ve seen them all on everyone from Serena Williams to Lizzo. What was your goal in general?
“Raise awareness among others on social issues, especially on issues affecting underrepresented communities. And this above all by focusing on feminist initiatives for women of color. Thanks to projects and partnerships dedicated to trans women, agricultural workers and domestic workers, we have tried to amplify the voice of women leaders in communities who seek to make the world a better and fairer place for everyone. Fashion, especially for women, is one of the most personal and at the same time public ways in which we express ourselves. And especially in this period, this form of expression becomes even more important “.
What inspired you to write children’s books?
“I am the mother of two black girls, and therefore the issue of inclusion and representativeness have always been important to me. As a child, I hardly ever saw faces like mine in children’s picture books. And if it is true that things have improved a little, I would like to remind you this: in 2018, the number of children’s books starring animals was the same as that with black protagonists, of Latin American, Asian or Native American origin. put together. In that same year, only a fifth of children’s books were written or illustrated by people of color.
“Something so offensive that I almost seem to hear my grandmother saying, ‘And now, are you going to do something’? I was tired of coloring my daughter’s books with a brown marker, so I started writing them myself ”.
Meena Harris with the newly released book Ambitious Girl
© Meena Harris
Can you tell us what the important women in your life have taught you?
“My mom, my aunt and my grandmother raised me by teaching me to believe that ambition is a good thing. They taught me that being ambitious means recognizing and living your goals fully: it means determination. I never, ever thought, at least until I got much older, that this thing could be something negative, on the contrary, it was something to be happy about.
“My grandmother, in particular, was a central figure in my life, a second mother who raised me. And a lot of who I am today – my activism, my determination to make a difference, the way I educate my daughters – I owe to her. And his life lessons have actually entered my books: ‘No one can do everything, but each of us can do something,’ in the book ‘Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea ‘, or: ‘Don’t let anyone tell you who you are – tell them you who are you ‘in Ambitious Girl“.
Does it ever happen that someone says to you: “You are this, or that”, as happens to the protagonist of Ambitious Girl, and if so, what did you answer?
“It happens to me almost every day! And if they don’t tell me directly, I hear or read what happens to the women I love and respect. My reaction, whenever possible, is to question the assumption behind these claims. I like to ask, ‘Why is that woman’s ambition a bad thing?’ or, ‘Would you say the same thing to a white man?’ I force people to reflect on the biases that their statements imply. I’m not afraid to do it ”.
An excerpt from the book Ambitious Girl
© AmbitiousGirl. Meena Harris
Why do you think adjectives like ‘ambitious,’ proud ‘and’ self-confident ‘have a negative connotation, particularly if they describe a woman?
“There is this study really interesting (of 2003, Ed) in which the same work is presented to two groups of Harvard Business School students with the names of two different tech executives: Howard and Heidi. The two authors are identical in everything – they are both successful, they aim high, they are ambitious in every sense – but they have different names. What happened? The students rated Howard highly competent and capable. The students liked Howard, who would have liked to work with him. Instead, Heidi was judged competent and capable, but the students didn’t like her, nor would the students want to work with her.
“To say that our society is shaped by our prejudices, conscious or unconscious, especially in the US, is an understatement, and this means that women in positions of power are often subject to double standards, and it is absurd. . And when a strong woman like Kamala, or Stacey Abrams, or Hillary Clinton, dares to express herself sincerely, with courage, she touches the nerve of patriarchy ”.
How do you talk to your daughters about the topics you cover in Ambitious Girl?
“The message in my book reflects exactly how I talk about ambition to my daughters. They are still very young, but my partner and I do our best to try to bring these values into everyday life. For example, at Christmas my oldest daughter asked me what Mum Claus does in life. Taken by the inspiration of the moment, we decided to tell her that Mamma Natale is an entrepreneur and that she runs the family business! My girls know their mom is an entrepreneur, so our answer made full sense to them. And if anyone ever dared to question their ambition, their safety or their pride, I know they would have no problem setting the record straight. “
Because it’s important for you to talk openly about failure, and how it ultimately helps you grow, how you do Ambitious Girl?
“It is important to talk about failure, because it is something that everyone experiences, but very few are willing to talk about it openly. And when you inevitably fail, you may feel vulnerable and alone, when in reality you are in good company. We should talk about failure as soon as possible in life, my partner and I are already trying to inculcate in our daughter the idea that there is nothing wrong with trying, failing, and then trying again. For me, it’s about taking on a challenge (or a setback, depending on how you see it). And to do this, we must also understand that we will not necessarily be able to overcome our every failure, but that we cannot be afraid of them. Just because you’ve experienced failure doesn’t mean that you you are a failure “.
For the Harris family, last week was an important week: your second book is out, and your aunt Kamala has been sworn in as Vice President of the United States. What are your favorite memories of Kamala over the years?
“My most recent favorite memory is, of course, when I was onstage on November 7, 2020 with her and my daughters, the night she was elected Vice President. I kept thinking about how proud my grandmother would be, and I wish she was there to see her.
“But in my family we care about the little things as much as the big moments. And among my favorite memories are the moments when we just hang out with each other, whether it’s eating together on Thanksgiving or celebrating our ‘joint’ birthday (we were both born on October 20, exactly 20 years apart. ), which we obviously failed to do with the pandemic. In ‘normal’ times we really like to cook together. My aunt is a fantastic cook and I have learned a lot from her over the years. In recent months, I have tried to take care of myself by imitating her: by unplugging the phone and having fun cooking and trying new recipes “.
Ambitious Girl by Meena Harris (Little, Brown, 2021) has just been released