Much has been made of the official rebuking of Senator Elizabeth Warren on the floor of the Senate this past week for reading a letter Coretta Scott King wrote in 1986 about our new Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
There is so much patriarchal bullshit wrapped in this action. A woman was silenced for reading something that men were later allowed to read (some people see that as being an ally. Perhaps they could have refused to go forward until she was allowed to read it again).
Senator Orrin Hatch in a bizarre comment, was “astounded” that Warren lacked the “etiquette and courtesy” to “think of the wife” of colleague Jeff Sessions, the U.S. attorney general nominee, before criticizing his record on voting rights.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, he went on to say, “Even if everything she said was true, I don’t think that was the right thing to do.”
Lesson: Women are not allowed to speak the truth unless they are exceedingly polite and thinking about the wives of the people.
Senator Lindsay Graham said, “The bottom line is, it was long overdue with her. I mean, she is clearly running for the [Democratic presidential] nomination in 2020.” With this logic, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, and Ted Cruz should also never speak on the floor of the senate, as their presidential aspirations have actually been announced (unlike speculation about Warren’s aspirations).
The phrase Senator Mitch McConnell used when rebuking her has taken on a new life:
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
I’m now debating which version of the t-shirt with this slogan I want to wear. Much like the “nasty woman” phrase that Trump uttered about Hillary Clinton, these phrases capture women’s imagination because they are so true.
We have been called nasty.
We have been warned.
We have been explained.
Today a friend posted a photo of our 3rd grade class picture. Extra props to the photographer who apparently terrified a usually friendly group of 9 year olds. I think about this version of me, in green pants and a Darth Vader t-shirt (how I wish I still had that shirt!) and I see how I have persisted.
Third grade was a particularly difficult year in my life. My family was going through some things. I was awkward, and felt I did not ‘fit in’ with my classmates (which was about me, not about my classmates, who are still friends today). I was in a constant battle of wills with my teacher, who tried to change the way I held a pencil, and the way I figured out short division when she still wanted me to do long division, and pretty much everything about me. (I trust her intentions for me were good. But really. The way I held a pencil.)
And yet, here I am, persisting in this picture. Yes, I’m taller and bigger than most of the kids in the class. And yes, my dad was in the midst of going blind and spending lots of time in the hospital. And yes, there were many other things I’m not going to process here. That year. Gah.
Instead of disappearing into the background, though, I persisted. Green pants, Darth Vader t-shirt (when my friends all had Princess Leia shirts), bad hair, and all, standing tall in the back row with a smirk on my face. I remember the fight at home that morning as I insisted on that outfit instead of the dress my mother preferred me to wear.
I made it through that year. Or as McConnell would say, nevertheless, I persisted.
My persistence is not an individual, isolated process. I’m grateful for my classmates and friends who gave me space to be awkward (and likely a pain in the ass) while my life was in flux. I’m thankful for family, as we navigated challenges.
And for all the times patriarchal bullshit tried to warn me, and explain to me, and limit me over the course of my life, I’m grateful for that smirk I see in my 3rd grade self that reminds me of the persistence of women. I’m grateful to know that this 9 year old sassy version of me still resides inside me somewhere, encouraging and equipping me for this journey.
I also feel like the 48 year old, much more confidently persisting version of me was standing next to that younger version, cheering me on and giving me the strength to persist through a difficult year.
So here’s to all the persistent women who have come before, and on whose shoulders we stand. Especially when those women are our own selves.
My friend, Layton Williams, wrote this poem that speaks truth.
Persisterhood (a poem)
I’ve been called persistent
like it should make me feel
like stubborn is a sin
and pride, an ugly name.
I’ve been told that
I’m a bleeding heart
and my blood
makes me unclean.
And that because
I am a woman
I should be silent
But I know what they’re afraid of,
and I know that they are wrong
because persistence, heart,
and stubborn pride
are all what make me strong.
And they link me to a
Sisterhood who cries and fights
and refuses to be silenced
by some frightened man’s demands.
So you can try to keep us quiet
and you can try to keep us down,
but you will feel the force
refusing to be bound.
And you can try to conquer us
with laws, or might,
but you’ll learn what we already know, that
always, we persist.