Nevertheless, These Women All Persisted

by Eliza Castile

On Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unwittingly became part of feminist history when he cut off Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a debate over Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions' nomination as attorney general. McConnell defended his actions by saying, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." McConnell probably didn't expect what happened next, but it's a triumph all the same: Almost as soon as his words became known, #ShePersisted tweets began trending on Twitter as feminists used his words as a rallying cry. Many Twitter users have deployed both the hashtag and the phrase "Nevertheless, she persisted" alongside powerful images of badass women — proving that, although McConnell clearly meant to paint Warren's persistence as a negative quality, women who persist are the ones who get. Stuff. Done.

Sessions' controversial nomination is expected to be put to vote on Wednesday evening, and according to the New York Times, his confirmation is virtually guaranteed as no Republicans have said they will vote against the judge. Democrats' concerns about Sessions are valid, though: In 1986, Session failed to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee when Reagan's administration nominated him as a federal judge due to accusations of racism. (Sessions has denied these accusations, saying, "This caricature of me from 1986 was not correct," according to the Washington Post.)

Coretta Scott King famously wrote a letter opposing Sessions' 1986 nomination; it was this letter that Warren attempted to read late Tuesday night. However, McConnell invoked a little-used rule to prevent Warren from speaking, claiming that by reading the letter, she was impugning a peer's character. The move to formally silence the senator was put to a vote, and Republicans upheld the motion. Warren was rebuked and prevented from speaking for the rest of the debate.

The latter part of McConnell's defense of his actions — "Nevertheless, she persisted" — caught the attention of progressives online. When taken alone, those three words are an oddly poetic summary of what it often means to be a woman.

Soon, feminists turned it into a hashtag highlighting women who have persisted against the odds throughout history. Here's a look at seven notable figures who, like Warren, persisted — and who all remind us that we must persist, as well.


Rosa Parks

Above is the mug shot taken by Alabama police of Rosa Parks following her arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. In 1955, the year Parks was arrested, segregation was still in full swing. Black bus riders were required to pay at the front of the bus, then exit and re-board through the back door. When the front became too full, it was custom for bus drivers to make black passengers give up their seats for white passengers.

On Dec. 1, Parks was asked to move to make room for a white person, and she refused. The police were called, and she was arrested, sparking a city-wide boycott of Montgomery's bus system. When speaking of her arrest later, Parks said she wouldn't give up her seat because she was "tired of giving in."


Malala Yousafzai

When Malala Yousafzai was 10 years old, the Taliban took control of much of northwestern Pakistan. Among other changes, girls were banned from attending school — a prohibition Yousafzai defied openly. Soon, she was appearing on television to advocate for education, and at the age of 11, she started anonymously blogging on the BBC's Urdu language web site. By 2011, her activism had made her a public figure.

The Taliban didn't take her opposition lightly, and in 2012, she was shot in the head on the bus to school. Amazingly, she survived to become an internationally famous activist and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two years later.


Harriet Tubman

One of the most badass women in American history, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 and became a prominent abolitionist before the Civil War. Despite getting out of the South, she returned time and time again to rescue those still trapped in slavery; it's estimated that she guided more than 300 slaves to freedom in the North. During the war, she worked as a Union spy and nurse, eventually settling in New York to live out the rest of her life.


Ruby Bridges

The top left photo features Ruby Bridges, the first black child in the South to attend an all-white elementary school. Despite strong opposition from the Louisiana legislature, Bridges began attending the William-Franz school near her home on Nov. 14, 1960. The federal district court judge, worried that the six-year-old was in danger, requested federal marshals to escort her to school that morning.

Bridges was met with a crowd of police and protesters — a ruckus she assumed was Mardis Gras. "I had no idea that they were here to keep me out of the school," she said later, according to PBS. Despite virulent racism and opposition, she went on to finish grade school and studied at the Kansas City business school as an adult.


Coretta Scott King

Although she's perhaps best known for her marriage to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King was a highly influential civil rights leader in her own right. After her husband's death, she founded Atlanta's Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and throughout her life, she traveled the world speaking on behalf of racial and gender equality, religious freedom, and LGBTQ rights.


Zunera Ishaq

In 2011, Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration banned women from wearing the niqab during the public oath of citizenship ceremony. When Zunera Ishaq, who had moved to the country from Pakistan in 2008, learned that she would be forced to remove her niqab to take the citizenship oath, she chose to fight it in court and won. In 2015, Ishaq finally received Canadian citizenship while wearing her niqab.


Emmeline Pankhurst

The influential British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was born into a family of radicalists in 1858; her father, lawyer Richard Pankhurst, was a noted supporter of women's rights. She followed in his footsteps, supporting suffragette groups like the Women's Franchise League, and in 1903, she created the Women's Social and Political Union, a women-only organization dedicated to voting rights. Their tactics were decidedly militant, ranging from window smashing to hunger strikes. Pankhurst was arrested on numerous occasions and participated in hunger strikes herself. If it weren't for her influence, the suffragette movement in Britain would have looked decidedly different.

Here's to the women who persisted throughout history — and to continuing to persist today.