NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED
I came across these three words earlier this year, and they immediately struck a chord. ‘Nevertheless, she persisted’ reflects what daily life with a debilitating illness can feel like, how it can feel to pull yourself out of a period of poor mental health, and what it is like to determinedly work towards the life you crave. For women (and many minority groups), ‘nevertheless, she persisted’ feels true of many aspects of daily life.
It also applies to the development and growth of our businesses. So rarely do owners of heart-felt, meaningful businesses achieve success overnight, and that is okay because we’re working towards the bigger picture of longterm fulfilment. But that big picture can become clouded at times, the journey towards can feel long, and our enthusiasm and confidence can wane. Those are the moments in which we have to simply keep going. We have to push through the doubts, overcome the obstacles, and stubbornly pursue our goals. Regardless of what we encounter, we must persist.
I have been so inspired by these three words, that I did a little digging into the story behind the phrase - their sexist origins and subsequent transformation into a feminist rallying cry - which in turn led to a personal discovery of some amazing women who encapsulate the spirit of persevering against the odds.
Over the coming months, I intend to share some of these stories here, and I hope you will find them as motivating as I do. Some of the women may be people you have never heard of, but I think they all have something to teach us. And if possible, I will be talking to other women like you and I, to find out their stories of persistence against the odds.
Today, I’d like to share with you the origins of ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’, and US Senator Elizabeth Warren, around whom the story centres.
THE SILENCING OF ELIZABETH WARREN
The saying became popular in 2017 after the United States Senate voted to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren's objections to confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, criticising his record on civil rights. In an attempt to back-up her argument, Warren was reading from a 1986 letter about Sessions written by Coretta Scott King (activist, and wife of Martin Luther King Jr.), when she was interrupted... twice.
This led to a vote on whether she could continue, and Warren was silenced for the remaining 30 hours of the confirmation hearings (side note - THIRTY HOURS!). To add insult to injury, a male colleague later read out the same letter without any objection.
Following the ruling to silence Elizabeth Warren, key opponent and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to defend the silencing:
“Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
A VIRAL RALLYING CRY
The expression quickly went viral, and a related hashtag was used to reference other women in similar positions. It’s meaning rapidly expanded to refer to the persistence of many women who broke down barriers throughout history, despite being frequently silenced or ignored. The words appeared online next to images of Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Beyoncé and Michelle Obama.
And this galvanising use of the phrase has also persisted; in 2018, the Women's History Month theme in the United States was "Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women", intentionally referring to Elizabeth Warren's circumstances, and speaking to something that resonated so deeply with many women.
"‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ is really about every woman who really had to use her tenacity and courage to accomplish whatever she set out to accomplish. It’s universal,” said Molly Murphy MacGregor, executive director and co-founder of the National Women’s History Project. “You think about our mothers and grandmothers — they’ve been persisting for a very long time.”
There was, of course, a backlash against the ’nevertheless, she persisted’ movement, with political rivals deeming it ‘ludicrous’ that Elizabeth Warren was being linked with female activists. But the reality is that this very quickly became about much more than one woman being silenced in Senate; it’s resonance with so many women reflected a broader theme, summarised in The New York Times: “that women are too commonly shushed or ignored… a man silencing a woman struck some as all too common, and rang familiar with many women who had their own stories of being silenced” (Daniel Victor).
With the prevailing culture reminding women that they should smile a little more, talk a little less, and be pliant and agreeable, these three words can be drawn upon to give women strength when needed… When we're are talked over in meetings, or new business acquaintances look to the male colleague who is more junior for approval. When we are mansplained to. When we are working hard, but are reduced to our appearance.
SO MUST WE ALL
With ‘nevertheless, she persisted’ - especially in the context of Warren doing nothing wrong, just having an opposing political opinion - McConnell unwittingly summed up women’s ongoing struggle for equal rights.
To wrap up, I want to reference a tweet from Hillary Clinton about this: "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. So must we all.”
SO MUST WE ALL.
On the first Monday of each month, I’ll be profiling a woman who persisted against the odds. So check back in May to learn about the awesome [Notorious] Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Or sign up to my fortnightly email letters via the form below to get updates first-hand.