This morning I opened my eyes to the news that the US Senate, invoking an obscure rule, shut down Senator Elizabeth Warren while she was reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King. And by shut down, I mean shut up. Along party lines, the Senate voted to officially take away her voice.
In a system meant for debate, while considering whether a nominated candidate was qualified to hold one of the highest posts in the country, a place in which she is among (supposed) equals, they took away her voice. They took the power of her dissent.
Using an arcane rule from a dusty handbook, they scolded her.
Yet another woman who spoke out was told to shut the hell up.
It was an ‘official’ way to attempt to humiliate a strong-minded woman who stood up to question the experience of a man. A rule which has been used a handful of times despite many instances of contention and debate.
There’s nothing new in this. Outspoken women have always been shut up in one way or another, it is only the means which have changed over the centuries. In medieval times, a common ‘scold’ was sentenced to a turn on the ducking-stool, where she was tied and dunked into cold water–often times repeatedly. Think of it as a precursor to waterboarding. Women who dabbled in midwifery and herbs were branded witches, and burned or hanged to the delight of the madding crowds. Women like Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote of equality, had their work overshadowed by the salacious details of their personal lives, in Wollstonecraft’s case, posthumously. Women who demanded the vote were bludgeoned with clubs, beaten, and arrested, force-fed.
Delve into the history books. Women are there—-behind the curtains and in between the lines. Hidden figures. Precious few garner the bold-faced caption headings reserved for men.
That’s what happens when you shut women up.
They have been trying to silence women for centuries, and yet we keep rising up from the ashes of those witch pyres to continue the fight. Every obstacle, every form of torture, every death penalty, every stoning, every cutting, every restrictive law, every arcane Senate rule they have used against us, women have never given up. Women keep pushing forward.
Those ‘witches’? They’re responsible for women’s right to vote, to own and sell property, to have a bank account, to choose what to do with our bodies, to obtain birth control. Those witches? They’re responsible for exposing pay gaps and the prevalence of rape and domestic violence, for pushing for better health care and for family leave. Those witches are responsible for making sure your husband can’t rape you and get away with it.
Up until not that long ago, women were, quite literally, property. Like household goods and sacks of flour. So call women what you like, witches, bitches, demons, fem-i-nazis. Women have been bearing the weight of those labels for all of time. We carry them on our heads and our backs. And still we fight.
Elizabeth Warren. Hillary Clinton. Lucretia Mott. Coretta Scott King. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Cecile Richards, Tammi Duckworth, Elizabeth Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ruby Bridges, Virginia Wolf, Frida Khalo, Rosa Parks. The list goes on. They all have one thing in common, something that many of us who are born girls seem to be born knowing:
You can try to shut women up all you want, but you will never, ever shut us down.