“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rebuking Senator Elizabeth Warren
A few years back I had the opportunity to hear a speaker address a group of women about surviving and thriving in the work force. The speaker was a woman I admired as a forthright and capable person. But I was surprised when she recounted an experience of making a recommendation in a meeting that was ignored by others at the table, only to have that same recommendation later put forward by a man and greeted with enthusiastic support. The scenario was eerily familiar to women in the audience, including me.
More recently, we have Senator Elizabeth Warren summarily dismissed and banned from further debate in the US Senate when she raised objections to the nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. The decision made by the Senate Majority leader was a rebuke that was meant to silence.
How is it that we are still dealing with these issues? I thought the “revolution” of the 1960’s that characterized the women’s movement and spurred action in other causes had made a dent in reversing inequality, but clearly not enough of a dent.
The fact is, even today, many women either are ignored or, in the case of Elizabeth Warren, are reproached and censored. For women at midlife and beyond this is compounded by a growing feeling of invisibility rooted in ageism. People just don’t see you, or ignore you, and if you yell loud enough you risk being labelled shrill or over the top. It would be easier, certainly for others, if we simply did what was expected rather than put our own needs first or kick up a fuss. But such action comes with a cost and sooner or later you have to say “Enough”!
Silencing and censure not only happen to women. They are also experienced by people who are “other”- by virtue of gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, religion, level of income and so on; people who are rendered invisible and ignored or castigated because of who they are or what they represent.
One thing I have learned over the years is not to take things for granted including hard won battles. You advance two steps and then find you are heading backwards. Such are the times we are in and the times call for a revolution.
Revolutions may conjure up images of armed conflict but what they simply refer to is dramatic change. Successful revolutions are often quiet, creeping up on the status quo leaving the powerful people wondering what happened, not knowing how or why. To be revolutionary means taking steps to improve circumstances and make life better for everyone including ourselves. And many ordinary women do this every day in their work and personal lives. Some efforts look like minor re-calibrations but collectively they represent a seismic shift in establishing a new social order. Revolutionary steps can include:
- Returning to school after the age of 50
- Applying for a promotion at work
- Challenging an ageist comment
- Insisting family members contribute to household duties
- Speaking up at a meeting or social encounter to express a divergent opinion
- Acknowledging to yourself that you can’t do it all and won’t
- Not acting your age-my favourite!
All of this requires that we persevere, persist, and be dogged, tenacious, or stubborn- whatever adjective you choose – in order to live our own lives. The speaker I referred to above kept making her point in meetings, refusing to be silent. Senator Elizabeth Warren took her message outside the Senate chamber to anyone who would listen.
And that is what women do. We get up in the morning and keep going, doing things our mothers could only imagine; whether it is in the board room or on the assembly line. We come into awareness of the baggage of limiting beliefs; standing our ground; refusing to be invisible.
Sometimes in the midst of all this stuff it is difficult to know what to do. After all, there is no set of directions about how to extricate oneself from all the “shoulds” in our lives. Moreover, the external structures and societal beliefs that frame our lives can make change difficult. One thing I do know: it is tough to do this alone. We need each other. We don’t have to do things perfectly or all at once. But the journey is much easier if there is support and a shoulder to lean on. Sometimes we need to seek that out.
To be a revolutionary is to walk a path as if for the first time. Find a trusted friend to walk with you. Do what you need to do. And one day someone will say: “Nevertheless she persisted”.
This blog post is dedicated to my mother, who persisted in spite of the obstacles. This post was also inspired in part by Elizabeth Renzetti’s article in the Globe and Mail, February 11, 2017. The link is: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/persisting-and-resisting-elizabeth-warren-and-the-mouthy-sisterhood/article33969975/