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Persisting and resisting: Elizabeth Warren and the mouthy sisterhood

That didn't take long. By mid-week, a group of female novelists I'm friends with – we call ourselves the coven – had ordered coffee mugs printed with the slogan, "Nevertheless, she persisted." It's a doubly energizing way to begin the morning: with coffee, and a reminder that silence is a cave that provides no shelter.

Most women have grown so used to being talked over, ignored, interrupted or silenced that it is part of the daily grind, something to share with friends over a bottle of wine or six. Still, it was shocking to see it happen in the United States Senate, the highest legislative chamber in a land founded on the notion of equality (at least equality between white men). A female senator was told to be quiet, and worse, to go sit down, as if she were a spitball-throwing brat in Grade 3.

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Elizabeth Warren, the gutsy Senator from Massachusetts, had the Senate floor on Tuesday night, during a confirmation debate on whether Senator Jeff Sessions should be made Attorney-General of the United States. She was about to read from a letter by Coretta Scott King, written to protest Mr. Sessions' nomination to the federal bench in 1986 (he was denied that appointment.) Ms. King had accused Mr. Sessions of participating in voter suppression of black citizens, but Ms. Warren didn't get that far into the letter written 10 years before he was elected to the Senate. The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, invoked a rarely used rule that prohibits senators from criticizing each other in the chamber.

Ms. Warren was banned from speaking further in the Sessions debate (he was confirmed on Wednesday). Three other male senators, possessing the proper configuration of chromosomes, were allowed to read from Ms. King's letter without censure. Mr. McConnell, attempting to explain himself, gave birth instead to a million fridge magnets, mugs and fundraising letters: "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

This was a fundamental, and heartening, misstep. Republicans may feel, like the Borg, that resistance to the administration is futile, but the history of social progress proves otherwise. And the key to social progress is persistence. Susan B. Anthony knew it when she said, "I am like a snowball – the further I am rolled, the more I gain." Maya Angelou knew it when she wrote Still I Rise, a poem that Alicia Keys read from the stage to the Women's March on Washington. That reading was greeted by a roar of (mostly female) voices in the crowd, who had one message to convey: Nope, not going to sit down. Not going to shut up.

It is the voice of women questioning and protesting that gets under the skin of this testosterone-poisoned administration. "Be quiet," said then-candidate Donald Trump to NBC reporter Katy Tur at a press conference last summer. Then, during the long and toxic campaign, Mr. Trump's supporters chanted "lock her up," about Hillary Clinton. Another suggested that she should be shot. How's that for an effective, even permanent, way to get women to shut their traps?

Why are these women even out protesting and complaining, anyway? Why are they so frantic about state-level changes that drastically restrict their rights to reproductive freedom? Why were so many young women lawyers showing up at airports to offer legal advice to those caught up in the administration's immigration ban? Wouldn't they be better off comparing lipstick and swapping tuna-casserole recipes? The right-wing TV host Tucker Carlson had Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca on his Fox News show to talk about Ivanka Trump's role in her father's divisive policies. Failing to shoot holes in her argument, Mr. Carlson fell back on this: "You should stick to the thigh-high boots. You're better at that." She shot back, "You're a sexist pig." At least, I think that's what she said. Fox cut her audio.

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Teen Vogue is the resistance now, as is Cosmopolitan magazine, which ran one of the toughest interviews with Ivanka Trump, on her father's family leave policy (a policy that oddly does not seem a priority for this administration). Saturday Night Live, loud and obnoxious, leads the way. Reportedly, the thing that Mr. Trump found most infuriating about SNL's portrait of press secretary Sean Spicer is not that he was portrayed as vein-popping bearer of false witness, but that he was portrayed by a woman, Melissa McCarthy. Oh, the shame!

Then there is Senator Warren, who is used to long, drawn-out ground wars, and to critics accusing her of being a shrill grandstander. The last chapter of her 2014 memoir, A Fighting Chance, is titled "Fighting Again … and Again." In the book, she writes about being perceived as unlikeable, too strident in her criticism of the tax breaks given to banks and corporations. She is up for re-election in 2018; perhaps she'll reprint the T-shirts from her first campaign, which read, "the best senator money can't buy."

Now, of course, she's been handed an even better slogan. One day we'll look back and see how the opposition grew and tried to silence Ms. Warren and the mouthy sisterhood. Nevertheless, they persisted.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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