During this dismal election, women of color quietly made history in the Senate.

Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

The pundits didn't see it coming. The polls were all wrong. And many of us — particularly the groups our new president-elect has targeted throughout much of his campaign — feel like we've woken up in a country that no longer wants us. A country we no longer recognize.

This is scary.


Even though today is a tough day, I know I'm finding comfort in remembering that history was made last night in a different but still good way.

The 115th Congress will have a record-high 21 female senators in it next year, including more women of color than ever before.

This session, 20 of the 100 senators are women. Although an increase by one is admittedly not a huge jump, we'll still have the most women ever in the U.S. Senate next year.

While numbers fluctuated in the years between the bars above, overall the figures represent a good sign for gender equality in Washington. Image by Michael Calcagno/Upworthy.

Meanwhile, the number of women of color in the Senate quadrupled.

Catherine Cortez Masto beat Joe Heck in Nevada to become the very first Latina elected to the Senate.

She'll be taking the seat of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is retiring.

“It should have happened a long time ago,” she told Fusion in September of the possibility of making history.

Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

She has no plans to put a progressive agenda on hold because of a President Trump.

“I’ll be one hell of a checks and balances on him,” she told a crowd after the election. “Tonight, we start our fight together.”

Tammy Duckworth, a double-amputee veteran of the Iraq War who was born in Thailand, cruised to victory over incumbent Mark Kirk in Illinois.

"The military gave me leadership skills," she once told the Asian American Policy Review. "It taught me to stand up and express myself. It taught me, then, to defend what I think is the best solution."

Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Plenty of people around the country were rooting especially hard for Duckworth after her opponent made a racist jab at her family during a debate last month.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris held on to her sizable lead and will soon become America's first female biracial senator.

"All of the most substantial movements in this country started with or have been championed by students," she told Lenny last year. "I feel strongly we want to encourage student voice and take it seriously."

Democrat Kamala Harris of California. Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Variety.

These trailblazers will be joining the ranks of other senators who've made history in Washington recently — women like Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay senator, and Mazie Hirono, the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the upper chamber, in 2012.

These women and so many others reflect a Senate that's (slowly but surely) looking more and more like the American electorate.

We've got a long way to go, especially with Donald Trump poised to be the 45th president of the United States. But the changing faces of our leaders mean more and more groups and communities — women, racial minorities, the LGBTQ community, and so many others — have someone fighting for them in the halls of Congress. Representation matters because without their say in Washington, it's easy for the voices of these groups — their concerns, their challenges, their dreams — to go unheard.

Particularly in the years ahead, under a president who ran his campaign on divisiveness and scapegoating, it's more critical now than ever before that we hear these voices and make room for them at the table.

Female senators at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Those of us raising teenagers now didn't grow up with social media. Heck, the vast majority of us didn't even grow up with the internet. But we know how ubiquitous social media, with all of its psychological pitfalls, has become in our own lives, so it's not a big stretch to imagine the incredible impact it can have on our kids during their most self-conscious phase.

Sharing our lives on social media often means sharing the highlights. That's not bad in and of itself, but when all people are seeing is everyone else's highlight reels, it's easy to fall into unhealthy comparisons. As parents, we need to remind our teens not to do that—but we also need to remind them that other people will do that, which is why kindness, empathy, and inclusiveness are so important.

Writer and mother of three teen daughters, Whitney Fleming, shared a beautiful post on Facebook explaining what we need to teach our teenagers about empathy in the age of social media, and how we ourselves can serve as an example.

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