On Tuesday, as Senator Elizabeth Warren was reading a letter from Coretta Scott King in opposition to the appointment of Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general, senate majority leader Mitch McConnell invoked an obscure rule to silence her. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” McConnell later said. Democrats were outraged; Senator Warren continued reading the letter on Facebook live, which has been watched by more than 11.6 million people (and counting).
The phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted” became a feminist rallying cry overnight.
Observers can’t help but notice that Senator Warren was silenced, but majority leaders allowed democratic senator from Oregon Jeff Merkley—a man—finish it uninterrupted. And although Warren was silenced on the Senate floor, she persisted.
Her persistence—her grit—should be admirable to anyone on either side of the aisle. I sure hope my girls will look to examples like hers as a role model of persevering in the face of opposition, whether it be sexism, oppression or just the everyday difficulties that make us stumble.
Family stories of grit
Senator Warren’s refusal to back down made me think of the women I know personally who persisted. I thought of my daughters’ family tree, which is full of nasty women who refused to give up despite being warned. Their acts of grit were sometimes large, sometimes small, but always a testament to their strong character.
There’s my mom, the girls’ Nana, whose insurance company refused to cover a life-saving medical treatment after chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy didn’t halt her invasive breast cancer. Nevertheless, she persisted, and her fight made the insurance company pay for not only her care but the treatment for other patients.
There’s my grandma, nicknamed Kitty Grandma, who wanted an education so badly that she walked for miles to school. She had no boots to protect her feet from the Illinois weather, and a tiny stove in the one-room schoolhouse didn’t dry her wet skirt or keep her warm; nevertheless, she persisted. She became a teacher and helped other rural children learn.
There’s my sister, about whom boys scrawled horrible things in the locker rooms of her middle and high schools. They photocopied her picture captioned by cruel comments and posted them in the halls, and they talked about her body as if it were a thing that existed solely for their entertainment. Nevertheless, she persisted. She remained a stellar student, supportive friend and impressive athlete in spite of the garbage hurled at her daily.
These are a mere handful of family stories of grit. They are my daughters’ inheritance.
Lessons in persistence
As my girls get bigger, I’ll be sharing the story of how Senator Warren persisted as well as the histories of many other women who have left their mark on our country. I will also share the stories of their female forebears.
My girls will need examples like this all too often. They will face men who want to silence them. They will face men who want to grab them—and they will face men who are emboldened by the fact that our president brags about grabbing women. They will face a system that values their skin over other hues. They will face an economic landscape that would rather pass them over for jobs and will pay them less than men (though, because of their skin color, they will likely earn more than women of color, who make only 56-64 cents for every dollar a man makes).
“Nevertheless, she persisted” is not a marker of a woman who is stubborn, nagging or bitchy. It is a badge to be worn by those of us who will not let injustice go unnoted, will not believe the messages that we are less than, will not stand aside as others’ rights are bulldozed.
I hope that I can be an example of persistence, too. At the very least, I will persist in trying.