I’m Persisting, I’m Speaking, and I’m Voting by
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Random thoughts from a nasty woman facing a long winter

One of my favorite political memes is “Nevertheless, she persisted,” said by Mitch McConnell to Elizabeth Warren back in February of 2017. She refused to be silenced while reading a letter into the Senate record written by Coretta Scott King opposing Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship in back in 1986. McConnell made this infamous remark and Warren was then gaveled down by Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and told to take her seat.

McConnell actually said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” He may have momentarily silenced Warren, but many women saw this effort by a powerful man to keep a woman from speaking her mind as emblematic of the larger problem in our country. Women’s voices have not been not heard.

As a girl growing up in the fifties and early sixties, I got this message loud and clear. Don’t raise your hand too much in school. Boys don’t like smart girls. Keep your ideas to yourself. You’re just a girl. Be a good girl. Follow your parents’ rules and obey them. The ultimate painful label was “You’re a real Sarah Bernhardt.” My parents believed emotional outbursts were unacceptable for a girl.  I was to keep the drama to a minimum and comply with whatever was expected of me. Any strong opinion that contradicted my parents would result in the dreaded label.

During my childhood and adolescence, I didn’t see many female role models in positions of leadership. In 1951, there were eleven women in Congress, including the first senator, Margaret Chase Smith. Even as a college student in the sixties, leaders of protests and teach-ins were almost exclusively male. By 1966, the number of women in Congress was up to thirteen, with two female senators.

Because I chose a career in teaching, a predominately female profession, I started to hear female voices come forward. And yet, for too many women, the experience of Kamala Harris in the vice-presidential debate was typical. Pence felt that, as man confronted by a female opponent and female moderator, he could just interrupt Harris and talk over Susan Page’s reminders that his time was up and he should stop talking. When Harris said,

“I’m speaking. Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” every woman in America knew exactly what she meant.

Thus, as I culled through my pin collection for this prompt “Badges, Buttons, and Pins,” the one from the 2018 Women’s March stood out from the rest. “No, We Won’t be Quiet.” Women voters have found their voice. We have power that I didn’t experience growing up. We can speak up, persist, and even tell men to be quiet because we are speaking. In 2018, women made up 53% of the electorate. Yes, there are more of us. And if the 2018 midterms were a preview of coming attractions (117 women were elected to Congress), we will elect even more of us to represent us, to persist, and to speak our truth.

When Trump refused to denounce QAnon during his NBC town hall on October 15, and also claimed no responsibility for retweeting a crazy conspiracy theory about former president Barack Obama, Biden and Navy SEALs by saying,

“I know nothing about it. That was a retweet. That was an opinion from somebody. I’ll put it out there — people can decide,”

Host Savannah Guthrie responded,

“I don’t get that. You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle.”

You go girl. You didn’t let Trump shout you down. The pandemic prevented him from hulking over you the way he did with Hillary Clinton during the 2016 debates. The best way to handle this bully is to say loudly and clearly, “No, we won’t be quiet.” This suburban woman is speaking … and voting.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Right on, Laurie! Though I may be a bit younger than you, I also got the message that boys didn’t like smart girls, so I shut up about my grades and what I knew. I, too, LOVE that women have found their voices and won’t be silenced, that Trump is now begging for the suburban women to “like” him. Hopefully, they will doom him to defeat, as he so richly deserves.

  2. Marian says:

    Right on, sister. Great story and a wonderful perspective, both on how girls were supposed to behave, and politics through the present. I got the “Sarah Bernhardt” thing from my parents as well, and smart girls weren’t too cool at my high school. On the bright side, yesterday I saw an interview on one of the PBS news shows with a voter who had a black face mask with “I’m speaking” in white letters. The message is spreading!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    You’re absolutely right, Laurie, and thanks for making this great point. The most recent examples of Trump’s misogyny (or at least fear/hatred of smart women) is how he has gone after Lesley Stahl for the unforgivable sin of asking him some tough questions. Quell snowflake! And a further example of his tone deafness to gender issues is his persistent efforts to appeal to suburban women by discussing dishwashers. In 2020? Seriously, Donny?

    Anyhow, great story and do keep fighting the good fight!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      We are all (at least that’s my assumption for Retrospect) fighting the good fight and hoping for some sanity so we *only* have to deal with a growing pandemic. Alas, I fear there is no button, badge, or pin to get rid of that. And new kitchen appliances don’t hold the thrill they did for my mother’s generation these days.

  4. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Laurie, and I agree with everything you say (well, except the Sarah Bernhardt thing, I never heard that). Kamala’s repetition of “I’m speaking” every time Pence tried to interrupt her was definitely the high point of this debate season. As you may have noticed, I have that quote on my facebook profile pic.

    You have so many wonderful buttons and pins that you photographed for the prompt’s image, it seems like you could write a whole other story about them. I’m really curious about “the tenth one goes to Michigan.”

    • Laurie Levy says:

      So funny you asked about that button, Suzy. I wrote a memoir piece based on that it week that I’m going to share with my writers group about my college experience. Hopefully, since you were younger, your experience wasn’t as schizophrenic as mine. The full saying was, “Nine out of ten girls are pretty, and the tenth one goes to Michigan.” Use your imagination, my friend.

  5. Brava Laurie!
    I remember that first New York march the day after Trump’s inauguration.
    I was planning to meet up with women friends – my husband and I hadn’t discussed his coming, I guess we just assumed he wasn’t and so I was really proud when I was heading out the door and he said, Wait I’m coming too!

    And indeed there were many men marching with us that day. One guy had a sign that said, This is what a feminist looks like.

    Mitch McConnell be damned.

  6. I’m not sure we (in Indiana) knew about Sarah Bernhardt! But the messages to girls were definitely the same. (Of course, there were other kinds of constricting messages to boys and our proper role as well.)

    That paragraph–with the Sarah B. reference–was to me the emotional high point of this essay. It really grabbed me with the series of short, staccato sentences and the repeating of the word, “don’t.”

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Dale. All of my female friends who are Jewish, from all over the country, experienced that Sarah Bernhardt put down. Thank you for picking up on all of the “don’ts” that were part of growing up female in that era.

  7. Powerfully put, Laurie…and of course I understand and agree with everything you wrote. What I don’t understand is, how can ANY woman, suburban or otherwise, support that misogynistic hulk?!? It’s just beyond me.

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