Meena Harris, the niece of Vice President Kamala Harris, said that growing up she was taught that ambition was a "good thing" and explained why family is the inspiration behind her children's book, "Ambitious Girl."
The bestselling author and CEO of the female-powered lifestyle brand Phenomenal spoke with "The View" co-host Sunny Hostin about her latest book, which she hopes will equip young girls, like her daughters Amara and Leela, with values that empower girls to celebrate their drive to succeed.
"Everything that inspires me really goes back to family," Harris said of her children's book. "It's the family I was raised in and it's the family that I'm now raising." She said "Ambitious Girl" is about helping children understand that "language has power."
"I recognize as a parent now and as an adult that I grew up in a really unique family where I was taught every single day that female ambition is a good thing. It was something to be celebrated. It means purpose and determination," Harris said. "When I got to the working world, I realized that society tells us something much different and that we do not view female ambition so positively."
Harris told Hostin that she believes the best way to unlearn public expectations on women is to instill encouraging values at a young age because "it's a patriarchal society" where women can be viewed as "power hungry" and "sharp-elbowed" when displaying a strong determination to achieve goals.
"I imagine girls reading it before bed and being lifted up with all the confidence in the world to wake up the next morning and just go, go, go ... and not be burdened by what we know inevitably will happen when they get in the real world where they're told, 'You're too ambitious. You're too this, you're too that,'" she said of her book.
A 2018 study from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, found that only 10% of children’s books depicted Black characters, and even less for Asian, Latino and Indigenous characters. Harris said the lack of representation in children's books was a "huge" motivator for her to write "Ambitious Girl."
"You can't be what you can't see," Harris said. "I was watching my girls reading books and they literally want to be what they see ... My older one goes around now saying for the last two years that she wants to be a president and an astronaut when she grows up, and that's because she had a family member running for president and she read a children's book about Mae Jemison."
When reading books to her daughters, Harris said they would often color the skin with a brown marker change pronouns in the book from he to she. "I saw this first hand and I thought, you know, I want to create something where my Black daughters can see themselves on the pages of their books," she said.
While Harris said "we really have a long way to go" in regard to representation in children's literature, she emphasized the importance of “centering Black children, Black girls as leaders [and] the protagonist through whom you're seeing the story unfold.”
Meena Harris' mother, Maya Harris, is the sister of Vice President Kamala Harris. The groundbreaking former senator from California made history on Jan. 20 by becoming the first female, the first Black and the first Asian American vice president in the White House.
Meena Harris commemorated Inauguration Day by dressing daughters Amara and Leela in faux fur coats inspired by a photo of her Aunt Kamala in a faux fur coat as a child standing with her mother, Maya.
"It was a surprise. [Kamala] had no idea," Harris said of her daughters' inauguration coats. "She noticed it actually before I had a chance to tell her and it was just really cute."
Harris said it was "surreal" seeing her aunt be sworn in as vice president. "I was really thinking about my daughters and my older daughter in particular who is four now and can really appreciate this and understand what's going on" she said.
"We're all so proud," Harris said of the vice president. "The impact of it is just extraordinary, and we're just getting started."
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