In 1993, Chelsea Clinton was 12 when her father, Bill Clinton, was sworn in as the 42nd president of the United States and she became one of the most famous children in the world. She lived in the White House until she went to university – first Stanford, then Oxford, Columbia and NYU. Now 38, she lives in New York with her investment-banker husband, Marc Mezvinsky, and her two children, four-year-old Charlotte and nearly-two-year-old Aidan.
She worked on the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and currently works with the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative. Her academic work (she holds a PhD) focused on global healthcare governance and she is the author of three books for children: It's Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going!; She Persisted; and She Persisted Around The World. The She Persisted books tell the stories of remarkable girls and women, female game-changers who have left the world a better and more equal place.
The Pool sat down with Chelsea Clinton – who was at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival and the Hay Festival this weekend – to talk about raising sons in 2018, the possibility of running for political office and what she learnt from her own parents growing up.
The Pool: At your She Persisted Around The World event, I noticed that there were more girls than boys in the audience – is that unusual?
Chelsea Clinton: I have noticed at my events that I do tend to have more girls, but it is very heartening to me how many people bring their sons – sometimes with their daughters and sometimes alone. I do think it’s important that we share stories, centred on women, celebrating women’s achievements, amplifying women’s voices, with our sons as well as our daughters. I certainly want my son to grow up believing that his sister’s dreams are as valuable, valid and important as his own. So, I love seeing boys at my events. I will never tell you that I’ve had an event where there have been more boys – there are always more girls – but generally there are a number of boys in the audience.
The Pool: We’re having this conversation at the moment, aren’t we? About how to raise boys in a post #MeToo world. It’s on the minds of a lot of parents – how do you raise boys to be feminists?
Chelsea Clinton: Yes, I think about this a lot; it predated Time’s Up and #MeToo for me because I’ve been working on early childhood education at the Clinton Foundation for years. So, for a while now, even before I became a parent, I was aware of the research about [how we treated boys and girls differently]. I don’t know if it’s the same in the UK, but in the United States historically, parents are more affectionate with their girls than boys; boys are held less and hugged less. Even from the earliest days in the womb, parents and grandparents and others talk to boys and girls differently, use different verbs and adjectives, emphasise different qualities. So, it’s not only about raising boys to be equally rooted in believing that they are no better than a girl and equally valued to girls, it’s ensuring that that happens not only in how we talk [to them], but also the non-verbal cues – you know, being more affectionate with our sons. I love cuddling my son. [We must] ensure that our sons are comfortable, not only verbally, but non-verbally, in the same way we’re teaching our daughters to be empowered and encouraged and fierce the way that we used to only encourage our sons to be. So, I think there’s a lot of rebalancing that has to happen.
I very much always remember my parents listening to me, asking me what I thought of a story we’d read, asking me how a story made me feel, what did I think was right and wrong about a given situation
The Pool: What parenting lessons did you pick up from your parents? What do you do similarly and what do you do differently?
Chelsea Clinton: I very much always remember my parents listening to me, asking me what I thought of a story we’d read, asking me how a story made me feel, what did I think was right and wrong about a given situation. I’ve already started doing that with my children – really listening to them, even if it takes them a couple of minutes to answer, letting them have that silence to connect to their thoughts and their feelings. Respecting them as people – even if they’re little people, they’re still people. And encouraging them to be thoughtful, and to feel valued for their opinions about the world even at this young age. And that comes from my parents – this unconditional love and support. I tell them I love them all the time – and I remember so clearly my parents doing that. I’m so thankful I can pass that on to my children.
The Pool: And what do you think has changed from a 1980s or 1990s childhood to now?
Chelsea Clinton: I think the fundamentals of how we love and support and nurture our children are the same, but we know a little more about how best to do that now. And I think what’s changed – and my husband and I talk a lot about this and our friends do, too – is children in the era of endless connectivity. How do we ensure that our children are not overwhelmed by that? How do we ensure that they feel equally comfortable on- and offline? You know, teaching them that it’s still important to live in the real world. I care deeply about them having kindness, passion, resilience that will equip them to be good friends and allies, online and offline. And so there are different challenges and opportunities that hadn’t been imagined or invented yet 30 years ago.
The Pool: You’re obviously so passionate about equality and justice – would you ever go into politics or run for office?
Chelsea Clinton: I don’t have any plans to go into politics – as a candidate. But I think at this moment, we are involved in politics. I hope we are. In my country – but also on this side of the Atlantic. In the US, we have just seen so clearly, in the last 18 months, that being a citizen isn’t just something that happens on election day. We have to stand up for what we believe every day, what we oppose, what we affirm. That’s not only true at national level but at state level and in our own cities and local communities. I am deeply political, but I have no plans to run for political office.
The Pool: That’s a really good point – it rings true that in the last couple of years we have all become more political. And what do you think that means for children and young people?
Chelsea Clinton: I do think we are seeing an empowering wave of young people, notably the gun-violence survivors, out of Chicago, out of Parkland. They are stepping forward and saying, “We won’t accept this any longer. And we understand to change the gun laws in this country, we have to elect the people who believe they should be changed.” So, I think we have seen incredible young leaders step forward. Historically, in the United States, maybe a third of young people vote, so I hope that we’ll see a real shift in that statistic. We will see a new generation of young people proving that not only are they not apathetic but that they understand why voting is a critical part of achieving whatever change they want to see in the world.
She Persisted Around The World is published by Philomel Books