Meet Doug Emhoff – The First Second Gentleman

By Sabrina Völz

Usu­al­ly, the spous­es of vice pres­i­dents of the Unit­ed States don’t attract much pub­lic atten­tion. Many Amer­i­cans prob­a­bly can’t even name more than two or three sec­ond ladies, but that is just a guess. Yet Doug Emhoff is the hus­band of Kamala Har­ris, the first female African Amer­i­can, South Asian Amer­i­can Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. He’s becom­ing a house­hold name and break­ing down bar­ri­ers as America’s first Sec­ond Gen­tle­man as well as the first Jew­ish spouse of any vice pres­i­dent. Does that real­ly mat­ter, you might ask your­self? It shouldn’t, but it does. Let’s take a look at a clip from an inter­view tak­ing social media by storm that gives us insight into his popularity:

So is he ‘just’ a father as well as a charm­ing and sup­port­ive hus­band of a ‘Pow­er­frau,’ as we would say in Ger­man? Or will he play a real role in Amer­i­can life and pol­i­tics? What can we expect of a man in the role of Sec­ond Gentleman?

Before I share what I’ve learned so far, let’s take a look at the role first ladies play and pon­der whether the Sec­ond Gen­tle­man will fol­low suit. First ladies are not elect­ed offi­cials and have no offi­cial duties pre­scribed by the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. Yet they have become an inte­gral part of Amer­i­can pub­lic life. To name a few of the duties they assume: First ladies act as medi­a­tors between the pri­vate and pub­lic lives of the first fam­i­ly. They par­tic­i­pate in rep­re­sen­ta­tive polit­i­cal, social, and cul­tur­al func­tions, many of which include exten­sive trav­el. They addi­tion­al­ly sup­port their spouse’s agen­da in diverse ways, and “claim the ‘soft’ issues such as edu­ca­tion, health, women’s advance­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the pub­lic” (Kohl). It’s actu­al­ly a full-time job, so all of the pre­vi­ous first ladies who had day jobs or careers – includ­ing Michelle Oba­ma – ded­i­cat­ed their time as first ladies to their fam­i­lies and ful­filled pub­lic expec­ta­tions. Dr. Jill Biden is prob­a­bly the first First Lady to con­tin­ue work­ing after her hus­band took office, and Doug Emhoff is the first Sec­ond Gen­tle­man to do so as well.

Doug Emhoff plans to teach while serv­ing as Sec­ond Gen­tle­man. While he did take a leave of absence from his law firm to avoid poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est, he joined the fac­ul­ty of George­town Uni­ver­si­ty Law Cen­ter as a Dis­tin­guished Vis­i­tor. Sim­i­lar to oth­er first and sec­ond spous­es before him, he plans to use his posi­tion for good caus­es, though equal access to jus­tice and legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion are not exact­ly ‘soft issues.’ So yes, he’ll like­ly take a back seat to the First Lady, but he will assume many of the same roles she does. At the same time, my guess is that he won’t be involved in activ­i­ties, such as ren­o­vat­ing the veg­etable or the rose gar­den as Michelle Oba­ma and Mela­nia Trump respec­tive­ly did.

More­over, as Sec­ond Lady, Dr. Jill Biden did work togeth­er on a project with First Lady Michelle Oba­ma. Their ini­tia­tive was called “Join­ing Forces” and was a call to sup­port ser­vice mem­bers. Thus, I’m curi­ous whether the new First Lady will join forces again in some way with the Sec­ond Gen­tle­man. In any event, we’ll see how both the First Lady and Sec­ond Gen­tle­man will man­age their work-life balance.

Then there’s the top­ic of media pres­ence and Twit­ter. On Jan­u­ary 19, one day before the Inau­gu­ra­tion, Doug Emhoff’s Twit­ter account (@SecondGentleman) was ready to go and already had 538,008 fol­low­ers. And now, he has 1.4 mil­lion (at the time I wrote this blog) and a total of three tweets, the first of which was not too surprising:

While he seems to be tak­ing his new role seri­ous­ly, Doug Emhoff doesn’t want to just be lim­it­ed to the role of the Vice President’s hus­band. For exam­ple, he still main­tains his own Twit­ter account (@DouglasEmhoff) as does the First Lady by the way.

And although there’s much we don’t know about how great a role the Sec­ond Gen­tle­man will end up play­ing in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and life, one fact stands out above all oth­ers. As a ‘gen­der ben­der,’ he’s fos­ter­ing a con­cept of Amer­i­can mas­culin­i­ty much dif­fer­ent from many of the men of the pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tion: “I want more women in office, and I want more part­ners, who­ev­er their part­ner is, to sup­port them and to pro­vide an oppor­tu­ni­ty and an envi­ron­ment for suc­cess.” And to that, I have noth­ing more to add.

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