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How I came to realize that a woman president would be a huge deal

One of the great and terrible parts of being a journalist in the 21st century is easy access to any story I've contributed to the internet. This made it especially easy to revisit an essay I wrote as a 23-year-old newly minted college grad, working as an editorial assistant at Newsweek magazine.

It was a short contribution to a cover package on a topic du jour that, once again, is quite relevant as the presidential election nears: Hillary Clinton and gender.

As I was the politics team's youngest staff member and token millennial, my editor asked me to contribute to the package. My essay ran under the headline "Sorry, Hillary, but girls already rule." This paragraph is a good summary of the piece:

For many women my age, a female president does not seem like change. She doesn't inspire us to chant "Yes, we will!" because, in a sense, we already have: we have taken more Advanced Placement classes than our male counterparts, enrolled at universities at higher rates and graduated with better GPAs. Now in our early 20s, most of us have not yet made any trade-offs between family and career; we're doctors, investment bankers and lawyers in training.

Polling data from this primary cycle suggests young voters today feel similarly. Bernie Sanders massively outperformed Clinton with young people in the primaries, netting 1.2 million more votes from millennials than Clinton did.

My name, unsurprisingly, did not make the cover.

And this isn't just a story about the so-called "Bernie Bros." Young women in their 20s supported Sanders at a higher rate through the end of the primary season.

I have aged out of this demographic. I'm not a 23-year-old editorial assistant who lives with three roommates. I'm a 31-year-old deputy managing editor who lives with a fiancé and a dog.

In the past eight years, my responsibilities both at work and at home have increased quite a bit. My friends and I became the doctors, investment bankers, and lawyers that we trained to be. We are starting to think about trade-offs between family and career.

I have a different vantage point in 2016, and now it does seem more revolutionary to think of a woman leading the country.

I'm lucky to find myself surrounded by many brilliant women in leadership positions. But it's also true that of the four newsrooms I've worked in during my career, none has had a woman editor in chief. It has undoubtedly become easier to advance, professionally, as a woman in recent decades. At the same time, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives are women.

These are things that were certainly true in 2008 but were also less visible to me at the lower rungs of a magazine — and less salient as I thought about my next career steps.

When I think of the United States as a country that lacks women editors in chief and chief executives, it now seems more remarkable for a woman to become commander in chief. My views have changed over time as I've thought more about how the trajectory of women's careers differs from those of men — and the obstacles still exist for women who want to rise to the very top.

When I was 23, I thought "girls already rule." But that isn't really true.

It's easy to know how I felt about Clinton in 2008 because, well, I decided to write it down in a national magazine. I looked at the possibility of a woman president as not especially revolutionary because I saw friends all around me doing great things.

My thesis just felt so obvious at the time. I couldn't really fathom seeing the Clinton campaign any other way. I didn't need a woman president to inspire me to greatness. I looked at my young male co-workers at Newsweek and thought, There's nothing different about us.

And my perception wasn't totally off! Economic research shows that gender wage gaps are smallest — and sometimes don't exist at all — when women enter the workforce. There's a strong chance I was working and earning just as much as my male colleagues.

But now I'm 31, and this is likely no longer true. This chart from Harvard economist Claudia Goldin shows that the gender wage gap starts off relatively small, with men and women earning similar salaries in their 20s. But pay equity falls rapidly through a woman's 30s and 40s.

Read one way, this graph is encouraging: It shows that the pay gap has shrunk significantly in recent decades. The salaries of women born in 1978 are more equal to men's than those of women born in 1943.

But when you're 31, this graph is mostly frightening, because it shows that the workforce begins to disadvantage women as they begin to have families. The pay gap only begins to shrink again when children become adults.

So it doesn't feel to me, like it did eight years ago, that "girls already rule," as my headline declared. Because even with a shrinking pay gap, women still do the majority of the housework and child care in families with two working parents. Women's salaries go down when they have children — but men's salaries go up. And women are still penalized for speaking "too loudly" or "too frequently" in professional settings.

"Even though women are interrupted more often and talk less than men, people still think women talk more," my colleague Emily Crockett recently wrote. "Women are much more likely to be perceived as 'abrasive' and get negative performance reviews as a result."

As I've spent more time in professional environments, these experiences have become more personal and real — so it matters to me, more than it did eight years ago, to see a woman succeed in spite of them.

Women role models matter

Matt Yglesias recently wrote about research from Amelia Showalter that looked at what happens when voters elect more women to political office. Her research suggests that electing women to higher-profile positions appears to encourage other women to run for office — and win.

We don't know what happens when you elect a woman president, because, well, we've never done that before. But it stands to reason that a Clinton presidency, or even a Clinton run, could have the same effect.

One reason that matters is because, as Yglesias wrote, women tend to legislate differently than men. Historically, women legislators are likely to advocate for policies that relate to women specifically, like pay equity or maternal health care. A bipartisan group of women senators, for example, recently worked together to push a bill that would give survivors of sexual assault in the military more access to health benefits.

That's important, but something else that matters to me — and has mattered more as I've gotten older — is the importance of women role models. Showalter's research focuses on the four-year reach of electing women legislators and how many more women will run for office in that time frame.

I'm more interested in the long-term effects, as young children grow up in a world where their country is led by a woman. This isn't about Clinton particularly; Vox's Libby Nelson has made the point that "you can find Clinton uninspiring ... without downplaying that the first woman to lead a major-party ticket is a big deal."

My friend Emma Sandoe tweeted about what used to happen when she would say she wanted to be president.

With a woman president — Clinton or otherwise — kids, adults, anyone would no longer be able to say that. And that's a big deal.


Watch: How Clinton’s nomination will improve politics