On Tuesday night the Senate took to the floor to debate the nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, which Elizabeth Warren responded to by reading a letter from Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. In the letter, Scott King expresses her disapproval for Sessions' nomination as a federal judge in 1986; but as Warren was reading it, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell interrupted her and told her to sit down, under the justification that she had violated a rarely enforced rule by impugning another senator. McConnell explained his actions with a now iconic line: "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."
Since then, the narrative of McConnell's words has been flipped and used as a feminist rallying cry, a fitting sequel to Donald Trump's claim that Hillary Clinton was a "Nasty Woman" last October. Women are already requesting to have "Nevertheless, she persisted" written on their gravestones, and in the meantime, the hashtag "#LetLizSpeak" has been trending on Twitter.
It has not escaped anyone's notice that in his controversial silencing of Warren, McConnell silenced the voices of two women; both Warren and Scott King, whose letter expressed concerns that Sessions was unfit for appointment on the basis of acts motivated by racism, were silenced when McConnell barred her from speaking on the Senate floor. Warren took to Facebook Live to read the letter out loud, lending her voice to Scott King's words during yet another crucial moment in history.
In the spirit of Warren's persistence, Bustle talked to women about times that they had also been "warned" by a man not to do something — and found that across the board, nevertheless, women persisted.
Just Sunday, as I was getting off the F train, a man came up to me. I think perhaps because I was returning from a month in Vermont, with a giant bag and snowshoes, wearing duck boots and a blue bandana at my neck and generally and looking like an LL Bean advertisement, he thought I was from out of town. He said, “New York is a lot safer than it was in the ‘90s, but I wouldn’t go around wearing a blue bandana. Gangs,” he said. We were in Park Slope. I said, “I live here.” He was irritated now, since he was just trying to “help.” “Oh yeah? How long have you lived here?” I said 15 years. He said, “I’ve lived here 20. I’m offering you a piece of helpful advice. Don’t give me attitude.”
My former best friend — who raped me in my junior year of college — warned me that if I continued to speak openly about what he did to me, I could cost him his friendships, jeopardize his addiction recovery, and generally make his life hard.
A potential boss was offering way less than I knew the position was worth, on the vague basis that I would "get more experience" and earn more eventually, despite the fact that I exceeded the qualifications for the job — qualifications that were oddly specific and hard to come by. When I calmly pressed him on it, he raised his voice over the phone warned me that he had other excited candidates, and warned me to "stop making this an emotional issue." I told him it wasn't an emotional issue, it was a business issue. Ultimately he offered more for me to take the job, but I would never work with someone after experiencing a conversation like that.
I've worn glasses since fourth grade, so I fancy myself somewhat of an expert as far as trendy frames go. Back in college, I got a pair of 2010-appropriate oversized, nerdy glasses. When I walked into my restaurant job right after I bought them, a male server said (unprompted), "I hate those glasses. Why would you buy those? You are so pretty and you just ruined it."
When I said that I bought them because I liked them and that I didn't really care if he thought I looked pretty, he 1. informed me that I absolutely DID care if he thought I was pretty and 2. warned me that I would never get married if I kept this sort of thing up.
I didn't feel like trying to explain to him that I don't ever want to get married anyway, so I just told him he was an idiot and kept wearing the glasses.
I received an email from my male boss titled Fantastic Work, which heaped praise about how I led my team to success on a number of projects. About a month later, I received another email from him, on a Saturday, telling me all the ways in which I was falling short on my performance, and referring to specific events that even pre-dated the first email. About a week after that, I had a conversation with HR about how I felt he was unnecessarily harsh and at times cruel to me and another member of my team. Exactly a day after that I was fired.
I had SO many guys — family members, teachers, neighbors, etc. — warn me not to become an English major in college because they were "worried" I wouldn't be able to get a job. When I graduated, many of the same people warned me not to move to New York City because they thought I didn't have enough "experience" to start a career. I'm pretty glad I didn't listen to any of them... otherwise I probably never would have ended up with this dream job of mine.
A few months ago, I mentioned on Facebook that — as a writer — I get more threats when tackling gun control than any other hot button issue (and I write about a lot of hot button issues). Then, I made the same point that many have in light of Trump's "Muslim Ban" (i.e., that I'm much more worried about "good ole boy" gun-nutter retaliation than Islamic terrorism). My older cousin responded: "Careful. I tolerate what you write and your opinion out of respect for family and I never comment. However, there may very well come a day when you need these good old boy's [sic] with guns to have your back. With Love" ... to which I replied: "I'm perfectly able to take care of myself and feel much less safe with the idea of weapons-behind-my-back than not. So, thanks but no thanks."
Right after I graduated out of grad school I needed to take any work I could get. I had lots of bills and rent to pay and my low-paying, PT job wasn't cutting it. I ended up working at a small associates-degree college in Queens. My male boss came up to me one day and told me I looked great with a skirt on. While it seemed undeniably flirty, it also seemed to indicate that wearing pants (as I normally did) was not the best choice. There was this sense that they wanted "feminine" girls working — girls who looked pretty. The school was run primarily by the patriarch of one family, and his son managed me directly. Later, I was told I looked tired; they suggested "a little lipstick." They told me to "keep that in mind for the future." When I repeatedly didn't dress "lady-like" or wear bright pink lipstick (I was dealing with low-income students who just needed someone to help them with their paperwork, not look pretty), my relationships with them grew tense. I was punished for speaking up; they had me sit in a back room and make 40 phone calls per hour (humanly not possible). They listened in on my calls. Then one day they let me go because I was using my cell phone at work (for a brief moment). They told me they had "warned me," and in a way they did — they warned me when they told me my body, my face, my voice wasn't wanted — that it needed to change. I couldn't help but see through the reasoning ("cell phone use"): they wanted me to agree, not never speak up, to assimilate, to be feminine and idyllic. Fast forward three years and I've had countless major bylines, a book publication, and have worked in high-level jobs for a few great companies. The thing I learned from that experience? Work with like-minded people who appreciate diversity, intelligence and fair treatment of employees. I persisted, though. I took what I learned from that experienced and decided to go for what I wanted, and what made me happy. And I'm glad I had the relative privilege to do so, where so many women do not. When women are silenced and punished for their voice, it's up to us to not normalize it — to speak out, to say it is not okay.
I was working as a college intern for a Senator in Washington during the summer between my sophomore and junior years. I worked hard to get that spot and was proud to be the youngest intern there. Being only 20, I didn't go to any of the bars with the other interns; instead, I chose to explore the city at night. I was walking to Dupont Circle one night when a man yanked me into an alley. He warned me not to call out and I would be allowed to walk away after. When I reported the attack, the responding officer warned me against walking at night. Later, the doctor at the clinic I visited warned me about being alone and female in the city. I remember his words — "It is much wiser to have a male friend with you, just in case". All night, all I heard were warnings from men, as if it were my fault I was assaulted. Because of those warnings, I took on the guilt of my rape. Feeling foolish, I didn't talk about my experience for a few years. I was silenced."
Since Warren was silenced on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Jeff Sessions was confirmed as the attorney general — but if Warren's powerful responses to it and the stories of these women above are any indication, in moments like this, there is no better option than to nevertheless, persist.