With the inauguration of Kamala Harris as the first female, Black and Asian-American vice president, her husband, Doug Emhoff, also registered firsts of his own: the first male and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. Although the details of what Mr. Emhoff might do with the platform are unclear — he has discussed focusing on “access to justice” — his presence indicates slowly shifting gender roles in politics and beyond.
That shift leaves Mr. Emhoff with a responsibility to help define the role for men who come after him and alter traditional perceptions of the role of a high-profile spouse.
“I doubt people are going to be so careful about scrutinizing what he’s wearing or whether or not he decided to put new carpeting in the living quarters there at the vice president’s residence,” said Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University who studies women’s history and first ladies.
Ms. Harris and Mr. Emhoff married in 2014, while Ms. Harris was the attorney general of California. Mr. Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer, became an eager surrogate for his wife on the campaign trail. After the general election, Mr. Emhoff left his job at the law firm DLA Piper amid questions about whether his work could pose conflicts for the Biden-Harris ticket. Mr. Emhoff joined the faculty at the Georgetown University Law Center and is teaching a course called Entertainment Law Disputes this semester. A transition official declined to make him available for an interview.
Chasten Buttigieg, a former theater teacher and the husband of Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Mr. Biden’s pick for transportation secretary, recalled a moment on the campaign trail with Mr. Emhoff. “I’m not a theater guy,” Chasten Buttigieg said Mr. Emhoff told him. “I’m just, you know, a husband, and I’m here to tell people why I love Kamala.”
With Mr. Emhoff’s new role, men in the United States could see that they could step back “and let women lead,” Chasten Buttigieg said in an interview. “And women can be the ones who hold the power in a relationship, and also like what it means to be a loving and supportive spouse, and sometimes that means taking a back seat or encouraging your spouse to fly.”
In an interview posted on his Twitter account on Tuesday, Mr. Emhoff reflected on the legacy he might leave for future vice-presidential spouses.
“I’m going to really take what I learned as I move into this role, but I’m also going to make it my own,” he said. “I understand that I am the first gentleman to hold this role, and I certainly do not want to be last.”