Second gentleman Doug Emhoff wants to change what it means to be the “second spouse” — or, for that matter, the supportive partner of any woman in America.
“I want to be in a world where it’s not unique,” said Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris.
“It shouldn’t even be a big deal that I’m a man, in the future,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash, in an interview for his series special, “Being…The Second Gentleman.” airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturdays. .
“I am here because I am her husband. I am here to support her,” he said.
Emhoff of course nods to the elephant in the room: he’s a man in a role that, until the Biden-Harris administration, has always been held by a woman.
Almost two years into the job, although Emhoff accepts that it’s a badge of honor, he clearly doesn’t want to embrace the stereotype that has long defined him, bristling slightly when Bash asks him if he does the traditional activities that a woman in his place can do. be expected to do, such as choosing porcelain designs or throwing the party.
“Things like this we will do together, my wife and I, the vice president,” Emhoff said, changing the subject to the work he actually does, like deploying across the country, listening on behalf of administration to bring back to Washington on the issues facing the American people.
Emhoff has visited more than 40 states as a second wife and served as an emissary on three solo trips abroad.
“There wasn’t much time for the ceremonial part,” he said.
Emhoff shared that there is a library at the vice president’s official residence that contains dozens of biographies of former vice presidents, books written by former vice presidents, and historical books on the office of the vice-presidency itself. Emhoff and Harris’ favorite book in the library is “Vice Presidents and Second Ladies.”
The couple like to say, “We’re going to need a new book. When asked what the title of this new book would be, Emhoff is adamant he doesn’t think it should have anything to do with sex.
Since Abigail Adams in 1789, the role of second wife of American vice presidents has always been held by a woman, whose traditional place was behind the scenes – to play hostess, to entertain, to be a doting wife.
It wasn’t until Patricia Nixon became second lady in 1953 that the second lady began creating her own agenda, making trips to send messages on her husband’s behalf, defining areas of focus and pushing beyond beyond the idea that she was just an accessory to the man she was standing next to. In 1978, the federal government approved the allocation of a budget for the second lady, sufficient to provide a small support staff, in an office suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where Emhoff works today.
But what exactly is the job of a second spouse? Emhoff is clear in his response: his primary role is to support his wife.
Its mark of modern marital equality is less and less unique, as the boundaries of cultural norms shift. But the fact that in 2021, when Emhoff’s wife took office, a man taking on the role of second wife still surprised people shows the slow shift in American culture around romanticized notions of politicians and the roles of gender. Emhoff is asked if he feels at all emasculated by the concept of being a husband in a supporting role.
“I have a very healthy ego,” he said, noting that being married to Harris and giving up his job in Los Angeles as an entertainment lawyer to move to Washington, D.C., to do so, doesn’t does not necessarily mean his ego. must take a back seat.
“It’s not about you. I’ll be there, I’ll give speeches, and one of the things I say is, ‘Men need to support women. First, it’s the right thing to do, and then, guys, OK, you really have to do it.
Emhoff acknowledged that he was proactively thinking about de-stigmatizing the reversal of traditional marital power dynamics, and that he was keenly aware that he had a public opportunity to show how it worked and that it could be successful.
“Now that I’m in the role, and you really see that not all men would do that naturally, and grow back, and there’s this, that, the toxicity, this, that, this masculine idea of what a man that’s out there that’s not okay…that’s something that I just want to push away,” he said.
Emhoff learned early on from his own father that masculinity has nothing to do with power and the profile of a job – his father, Emhoff’s role model, was a women’s shoe designer in New Jersey.
“Masculinity is about loving your family, caring about your family, and being there for your family,” Emhoff said. “We kind of mix up this concept that if a man shows kindness, empathy, or consideration for others, that’s not masculine, and that’s just not OK, that’s all. just not true.”
Emhoff also had to literally adjust to the day-to-day of being the second gentleman. Beyond the ideological novelty of his role, he learned to live inside the gates of the United States Naval Observatory, where since 1977 the vice presidents have lived in a mansion on the grounds.
The house offers more privacy than the White House – mature trees cover the acres of grass and gardens, allowing more normalcy for locals and fewer curious tourists trying to catch a glimpse.
Emhoff likes to walk outside, which he does with regularity and relative solitude, but if he walks through the doors, a Secret Service detail soon joins him. The security of a second spouse has intensified in recent years, even since the days of Tipper Gore, Al Gore’s wife, who used to step out of the property occasionally with her social secretary for a bite to eat at a favorite neighborhood restaurant. , or even make a stealthy visit to a musical concert. The other participants constantly told her that she “looked a lot like Tipper Gore”, never implying that she was actually Tipper Gore.
Those easier times, however, are over, and the residence and grounds are usually where Emhoff and Harris try to steal time for themselves, a trick learned from their recent predecessors. (Emhoff showed Bash a swing he likes that hangs from a tree on the property, next to a plaque that reads, “Joe loves Jill.”)
Karen Pence also groomed Emhoff, he said, giving him non-intuitive information about things like paying bills and understanding how food gets into the property and their pantry.
“Just the basics of everyday life,” Emhoff said of his helpful conversation with Pence.
In addition to being the first second gentleman, Emhoff is the first Jewish wife of an American president or vice-president, a “first” that he does not take lightly. He talked about the special mezuzah outside the residence door, the one he and Harris found from a temple in Atlanta where Martin Luther King once preached.
Emhoff remains close to his two adult children, Ella, 23, a model and designer, and Cole, 28, who works in Hollywood. (Jazz fans Emhoff and his ex-wife, Kerstin Emhoff, named their children after Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane, respectively.)
Emhoff said the end of his first marriage in 2008 reinforced for him the importance of being a good father and always putting his children first. He flipped his hand over to show Bash the inside of his wrist, which has two sets of tattooed initials, one for his son and one for his daughter.
“It’s a visceral reminder of them,” Emhoff said of the initial tattoos, which he got shortly after his split from his first wife.
Emhoff admitted he has other ink, but it’s too private for him to share.
“It’s personal. To the VP and I,” Emhoff said. “It must be the year we were born,” is his only clue. Emhoff and Harris were born in 1964, their birthdays just seven days away. ‘interval.
Harris calls Emhoff “Dougie” or “My Dougie”, even when the two are out in public. They have a close relationship and loving marriage, recently filled with stories of people Emhoff or she has met, or places and states he has visited on behalf of the administration, constantly moving together in this new unexpected role. Emhoff said he was still shocked and surprised that “a kid from central Jersey playing Little League” was where he is today, married to the black and South Asian first vice president. of the United States, and all the madness that comes with that.
“The constant is that I am there for her. And that will never change.
Bash asked Emhoff how he would feel about living in the largest executive mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, less than three miles from their current residence. After all, 12 second ladies have become first ladies – how would Emhoff like to break that mold too?