"She Persisted" Can Educate Men About Sexism

"Did you see what happened to Elizabeth Warren yesterday?" my son asked me this morning on our daily drive to school. "It was total bullshit."

My son is 18 years old now, and he considers himself a moderate. He rolls his eyes and dismisses me as an SJW most of the time, and even though he voted for Hillary, he's by no means liberal. In fact, he's been known to refer to me as an "anarcho-commie" during some of our political discussions. That's why it was shocking to hear him so passionately and immediately denounce the silencing of Warren by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

When I first heard McConnell's words last night, they rang in my ears like a battle cry—not to mention a presidential campaign slogan. But I didn't expect my moderate son to hear faint stirrings of the same roar.

"Nevertheless, she persisted" invokes for me every time I have been silenced by a man, told to sit down and shut up, and been put in my place. It reminded me of when I met our state senators as the sole female student senate representative of my college and they shook my hand briefly before turning their attention to my male colleague. It reminded me of a thousand tiny slights that together combined over the years to create a gushing wound.

McConnell's words don't have the same meaning for my son — but they still had a meaning McConnell never intended. "She had the right to speak," my son told me, and I knew he finally believed that. In speaking of Warren that way, McConnell unintentionally shone a light on the type of sexism and misogyny women face every day. And, for perhaps the first time, it illuminated our struggle to many men who are often unsure of their footing as allies.

I know some feminists aren't interested in working with male allies. But I believe in the chants we yell at protests: the people united will never be divided. I'm not waiting around for men to see the light and join my fight for true equality, but I believe that when we bring people together, we make more progress.

McConnell's words don't have the same meaning for my son — but they still had a meaning McConnell never intended. "She had the right to speak," my son told me, and I knew he finally believed that.

That's why, as much as it stings to cater to men as allies, I find myself biting my tongue and framing my arguments in terms I think will appeal to them. Men can be our oppressors and our rapists, but they can also be our sons and fathers. We need them to respect us, and I think it's hard for anyone to change their minds without a real dialogue.

That doesn't mean that I don't hold men accountable for their own sexism and misogyny. I expect them to hold their tongues, too, and really listen to my lived experiences as a woman and a victim. But I also recognize that, like it or not, men are often more likely to listen to other men. When men speak out against sexism and declare themselves feminists, other men pay attention. And when my Twitter feed exploded with men denouncing McConnell's words and sharing pictures of revolutionary women with the hashtag #shepersisted, I knew it was adding fuel to the fire women are trying to ignite.

It shouldn't take the words of men to inspire men, of course. But men also shouldn't tell women to sit down and be quiet in the workplace (or anywhere, for that matter). This world is misogynistic and unfair as hell, but it's the only one we've got, and I am willing to work with its imperfections. That means that I will gladly take the support of my son and any other men who are finally beginning to understand the uphill battle women face.

Many male allies may be new to the party, but they helped the women's marches reach historic numbers across the world. If these men didn't listen when we told them about our lived experiences, shame on them. But if they are beginning to see how women are treated — even when they are senators, for god's sake! — and if that understanding inspires them to act? Then I welcome them to the resistance.

There's room for everyone in the fight against the Trump administration. When we come together, we are stronger and more powerful. We can force the stay of Trump's temporary travel ban on people from a number of majority Muslim countries. We can delay (and hopefully prevent) executive orders restricting gay rights. We may not be able to prevent the confirmation of unqualified and dangerous cabinet members, but we can sure as hell try.

Right now, I think #shepersisted is exactly the kind of unifying rallying cry we need to start a revolution.