There’s a docility expected of women that spans all realms of our livelihood, from personal life to professional leadership. Its impact varies with identity intersections, but is a familiar silencing mechanism known to many across the board. It is when women reject this predetermined role, that some (mostly male colleagues) will see threat. This experience of professional sexism was broadcasted nationally through the silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren and gave persistence a platform. Under #NeverthelessShePersisted, women found refuge in a militarized meme that celebrates outspoken perseverance and the gender barriers it breaks down.
More recently, Senator Kamala Harris was subdued by Republican leadership twice in one week citing a lack of “courtesy” towards the witnesses being questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee. While both Warren’s and Harris’s incidents show deeply ingrained misogyny, the interrupting of Senator Harris highlighted the true nature of the double standard. Prior to her time of questioning, Senator Martin Heinrich showed Sessions no mercy while demanding the answers that weren’t being given. Sound familiar? It’s the exact same thing Harris was condemned for, but for reasons unknown (PSYCH it’s racism and misogyny) Heinrich was not only never silenced for his lack of courtesy towards gentle Keebler elf, Jeff Sessions, he was praised.
There are a variety of traits associated with political leadership, many of which women are not given access to. That is to say, specific qualities of leaders are only seen as positive when men embody them. Looking back to the 2016 election cycle, it was clear that Hillary Clinton could never have taken the free reign that Trump did without facing backlash. In fact, Clinton was forced to spend a large portion of the presidential debates not only fact-checking Donald Trump in real time, but also keeping her composure in an almost impossible dance to balance appearing soft but not too emotional, and hard on issues, but not cold. On the other hand, outside male candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were praised for their ability to tell off the mainstream expectations of them.
For much of history, women were refused a seat at the table. Through years of unwavering perseverance, we have worked to take what is rightfully ours, but what lingers is an unaddressed feeling that women will always be guests to the conversations that belong to men. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has shared the story of being asked to justify why she, over the man whose seat she took, deserved admission to Harvard Law School. Hillary Rodham Clinton has openly discussed the attacks she faced while taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). This idea of seat justification today creeps ominously through the tone policing of women leaders and legislators to show that it is not courtesy desired, but silence.
Senator Elizabeth Warren stood proudly for Senator Kamala Harris’ line of questioning, ferociously condemning the attempted muzzling. While still drastically underrepresented, women in Congress work every day to let their voices be heard. For young women nationwide, their outspoken presence empowers women to reject the idea that they must be palatable, and encourages them to own their strength.