“Nevertheless she persisted” – the origin itself of this now infamous phrase exemplifies resilience and strength among women, at a time when attempts to silence us are actively taking place. Senator Mitch McConnell used this phrase to describe his colleague, Senator Elizabeth Warren, after she read a letter from Coretta Scott King on the senate floor, and was voted into silence by McConnell and some other senators. He used this phrase, following the events, to pin the blame on Warren, but women everywhere knew that she could not be held accountable for his mistake, and adopted the term as a feminist motto, wearing it proudly on pins and t-shirts within days. Women showed that we reject being silenced, we reject being blamed for men’s mistakes, and we reject any and all attempts to use our strength against us. Persistence like Warren’s is a gift, and it lives in the heart of every young girl – the challenge is to preserve it.
Women in our society battle misogyny every single day, in both small and large ways. From getting paid less than our male counterparts for the same work, to being dress-coded at school because our clothes distract boys, to enduring catcalls and gross comments from entitled men, it becomes evident that women and girls face an abundance of gender-based issues. Our society undervalues us – teaching us from childhood that vacuums and kitchen sets and tall, skinny dolls are our toys, are where our young minds should dedicate their interest. Society exposes us to language like “sissy” or “run like a girl” that implies weakness and a lack of power within us. We call our daughters beautiful and call our sons strong. “He’s mean to you because he likes you,” we say. “Boys will be boys,” we say. “She was asking for it,” we say.
We put fake women on billboards and magazine covers and then judge adolescent girls when they fail to look photoshopped to perfection in real life. We pull middle school girls out of class because their shorts end too high, their bra straps are showing, their shoulders are exposed. Do our bodies really take such supreme priority over our education? We elect men, and more men, and even more men, and then wonder why girls do not pursue political fields. We openly and consistently sexualize women and compress all of their value into their looks, and then shame them for wearing low-cut shirts. We shame stay-at-home mothers for not working enough; we shame working mothers for not being with their children enough. We shame women who wear makeup for “lying”; we shame women who don’t wear makeup for not looking professional. We shame curvy women because we assume they do not exercise; we shame skinny women because we assume they do not eat. We shame, we shame, we shame.
Nevertheless, women persist. Through both everyday perils and lifelong disadvantages, women remain resilient and hardworking, and so many of us achieve amazing things, despite the challenges that come with womanhood. It is immensely important to acknowledge that for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and other female minorities, persisting has its own unique challenges. As women, we simply must support and uplift our fellow women through the intersectional issues we face, by educating ourselves on difficulties dealt with by other women and by informing ourselves of our own privilege. Unity as women is what makes our persistence so monumental – we all, collectively, refuse to accept the misogyny and sexism of our world any longer. When we stand up for ourselves, we inspire our fellow women to do the same, and pave the path for future generations of women to receive better treatment than we do, just as women of the past and present have done for us.
Women of all backgrounds, in all fields, well-known and unheard of, have used their persistence to make existing as a woman easier and fairer for my generation and beyond. Women in politics, like the brilliant Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American congresswoman in the US, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice, or Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major national party, inch us closer to the magnificent shattering of the glass ceiling.
Women in sports, like Kathrine Spritzer, the first woman to run the Boston marathon, Billie Jean King, winner of the Battle of the Sexes, or Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, prove again and again that running, throwing, hitting like a girl is a goal to strive for. The work of suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, authors like bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Rupi Kaur, or Audre Lorde, activists of decades ago like Angela Davis, Yoko Ono, or Betty Friedan, activists of today, like Malala Yousafzai, Oprah, or Kerry Washington, and storytellers like Ava DuVernay or Shonda Rhimes has opened doors for women and substantiated to young girls that they contain immense power, intelligence, capability and value.
Our own mothers, sisters, grandmothers, teachers, and friends inspire and energize us by just charging forward as a woman each day. My own mother’s persistent compassion and empathy unfailingly motivates me to better myself, and the girls I’ve met through the Chester County Fund for Women and Girls’ Girls Advisory Board have been some of the most uplifting, encouraging, and positive influences of my life.
When we as women work with and for each other, we achieve incredible things, and, possibly more importantly, when we as women achieve incredible things, we set the stage for generations of girls to come. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton said during the fight for women’s suffrage, “I never forget that we are sowing winter wheat which the coming spring will see sprout and other hands than ours will reap and enjoy.” Let us persist, nevertheless, each day, with the knowledge that women of the future will reap and enjoy the products of our persistence.
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