In silencing Sen. Warren, a new feminist rally cry born: 'Nevertheless, she persisted'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, bless his heart, has coined a new feminist rally cry.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

He used it to rebuke Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who read past statements from the late Coretta Scott King and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., during a debate Tuesday night over attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, an Alabama senator.

“He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position,” Warren read, quoting remarks Kennedy made in 1986 when Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge.

McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, called foul, saying, “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.” And that set up a vote on her conduct. Warren's fellow senators backed McConnell's rebuke by a vote of 49 to 43, which means Warren isn't allowed to speak during the rest of the debate over Sessions.

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“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” McConnell explained. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

There it is.

Three little words that women can draw on for decades to come, when something needs to be said and, darn it, we plan to say it.

When we’re being talked over in meetings. When we’re fighting to be heard in male-dominated fields. When we’re standing up for our values. When we’re doing valuable work and people reduce us to our appearance.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

One of my favorite Michelle Obama quotes is contained in Peter Slevin’s excellent biography, “Michelle Obama: A Life.” It’s in response to the public’s obsession with her looks, which all too often veered into shallow (and sometimes cruel) territory.

“We take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see,” she said. “And eventually, people stop looking at the bangs, and they start looking at what we’re standing in front of.”

Obama made an art out of persisting.

In “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace),” author Jessica Bennett points to research showing women are twice as likely as men to be interrupted when they speak during professional meetings.

Her advice?

“Just keep talking,” she writes. “Keep your pauses short. Maintain your momentum. No matter if he waves his hands, raises his voice or squirms in his chair, you do you.”

Or, she suggests, push back. “Bob, I wasn't done finishing that point. Give me one more sec.”

Persist.

Sometimes the floor remains yours; sometimes you get rebuked and silenced by your colleagues.

But you say what needs to be said. And here and there, you inspire a rallying cry.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

And we’re grateful to her.

hstevens@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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