- Meena Harris, niece of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, has written her second children’s book, entitled “Ambitious Girl.” Illustrations were done by artist Marissa Valdez.
- In the book, a young girl watches a woman on television be called “too ambitious” and “too assertive.” In response, she vows to become a persistent, assertive, confident, and proud individual.
- Harris has been working to get this book — in addition to her last one — into schools and has partnered with the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books to donate hundreds of book copies to educators and students.
- Ahead of her aunt’s inauguration, Harris talks to Insider about her new book, and what is needed to raise the next generation of ambitious women.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The entrepreneur founded Phenomenal Woman, which creates products addressing sociopolitical injustices, and has another career as a children’s author. Her latest endeavor is a children’s book entitled “Ambitious Girl.” Set to be released on January 19, the book tells the story of a young girl who learns to embrace her ambitions in life.
The book comes a year after the release of Harris’ first book, “Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea,” which was inspired by her mother, Maya and her aunt, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (That became a New York Times best-seller, and more recently, a video that Meena posted of her aunt exceeded 10 million views on TikTok.)
“For young girls to see someone who looks like them elected, to the second-highest office in the land, is really an incredible feeling that we’ve all been fighting for a very long time,” she told Insider. Previously, Meena Harris spoke to Insider about her career paths and growing up in a family of lawyers – ambitious women who inspired her to become who she is today.
When it comes to women, the word ambition often has a negative connotation, Harris said. Last year, Insider reported on a study by American Express and The New York Women’s Foundation, which found that many women didn’t like using the word ambitious to describe themselves and wanted to use the word “motivated” instead.
“Language has power and words have meaning,” Harris told Insider. “We do not typically hear ambition being used against men, or used to critique men. I don’t think I’ve ever really heard that before. It’s about reclaiming and redefining words that, even though they’re just words, we know they have power.”
Ahead of her aunt’s big day, Meena Harris spoke to Insider about her new children’s book, what she learned growing up in a powerhouse family, and what else is needed to raise the next generation of ambitious women.
‘It’s not just the work of women to do on behalf of other women,’ Harris said
Raising ambitious women starts earlier than one might expect, which is why Harris decided to put the topic in a children’s book. “There’s a lot of unlearning and relearning around our bias against female ambitious and women in power,” she said. “It’s never too early.”
Her family always tried to lead by example when it came to inspiring each other, she said. Ambition was a good thing to have in her family – and ambitious women were all she knew.
“I grew up in a family of strong, ambitious women,” she said. “My grandmother Shyamala, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist, raised my mom and aunt – and later helped raise me – to fight for change and be role models for others,” she said. “She would say to us, ‘You may be the first, but don’t be the last. It’s actually a line I put into my new book ‘Ambitious Girl.’ “
After graduating from Stanford University and Harvard Law, she had a brief legal career and held jobs at both Slack and Uber. As reported by the New York Times’ Jessica Testa, she was also a campaign surrogate for her aunt. As she entered the workplace, she told Insider, she realized that many women weren’t raised to see ambition as a good thing.
“It’s a very worthwhile activity to sit down with your kids and start early to define these words,” she said. “On the topic of leading by example, there are many ways that you can demonstrate what it means. And at the very least, encourage them to understand [ambition] as a positive, not a negative.”
In her latest book, a young girl takes advice from the women around her, including her mother and her grandmother, who teaches her the importance of growing up assertive, confident, and proud. Harris said that listening to the dreams and career paths of other people is a good way to teach people how to embrace their own ambition. It shows that ambition isn’t a “dirty” word and having dreams is not a “bad” thing.
This is a lesson that needs to be taught, not just to young women, but to everyone, she said. Because creating an environment that can foster ambitious women is not something left up to women to create. This act requires a complete societal and cultural shift, Harris said.
“It’s about a patriarchal society,” she continued. “It’s not just the work of women to do on behalf of other women. Men who, by default have more power in the world and in most of these systems, it’s up to them to do that as well.”
In the meantime, all women have to do to be ambitious, is to simply not hide their ambition, she said. It’s about wearing that sweatshirt embroiled with the word ambitious on it, she said. It’s about naming what you want and claiming it for yourself – writing your dreams and building toward what you want. For instance, Harris has plans to release more books. “There’s still so much work to do, especially when it comes to increasing diversity in publishing,” she said. “I definitely have plans for more books – I can’t wait to explore topics for older audiences as well.”
It’s about changing the language that one associates with their dreams, to reflect the positivity of what it means to aspire. “This is literally about as cheesy as it sounds, but what are your hopes and dreams?” she said. “The beauty of that is, it means different things to so many different people.”