Consider every moment, since the dawn of woman, when a female aspired but to no avail. She asked to attend school but was denied. She raised her hand but wasn’t called on. She applied but wasn’t hired. She ran but wasn’t elected.
Imagine the sadness and frustration of every such instance as a spark, their combined energy the size of many suns. That is the measure of grief and fury I felt rise inside me as I watched Elizabeth Warren’s bid for the Democratic nomination wane.
Maybe it’s because, as a woman who has seen so much, she knew that electability was a valid concern. Or maybe it’s because it hurts so dang much to let yourself harbour a dream that you might not see come true
When Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, it hurt in similar ways but didn’t surprise me. Out here in the red hinterlands, it was plain to some of us that centrist ideas did not excite in times of historic inequality.
This election, though, I thought Elizabeth Warren — a class revolutionary to match the moment — might go to the White House.
It turns out that she won’t even go to the general election. Now the same pundits who in 2016 proved they know very little will list the reasons, without realising they’re among the reasons.
Such yapping is forgettable, but one bit of political analysis from this election has stayed with me. It was March 2019, about a month after Warren had entered the race, and my father and maternal grandmother were talking politics at my kitchen table in Kansas.
The time is now
“This is the best chance that a woman has ever had to become the president,” said my dad, a white, 60-something construction worker who has identified as a democratic socialist since Bernie Sanders’s 2016 candidacy. “Now. It’s now.”
“Ten years from now,” said my grandma, a white, 70-something retiree who grew up in poverty and spent decades on the farm where I grew up.
“No, it’s now. It’s now,” Dad replied.
“Hey, I’m game,” Grandma said.
What breaks my heart about this exchange is that my grandmother, deep down, never really believed Warren or any woman would get the nomination. Maybe that’s because she had watched cable news repeat a self-fulfilling prophecy about electability.
Maybe it’s because, as a woman who has seen so much, she knew that electability was a valid concern. Or maybe it’s because it hurts so dang much to let yourself harbour a dream that you might not see come true. Whatever her motivation, you know what? Grandma was right.
Nonetheless, their conversation was a mark of progress — my previously apathetic family now votes with gusto and would consider campaigning for a candidate, and my father must not be the only man who wore a hard hat and rooted for Warren.
Two weeks ago, when she placed fourth in the Nevada caucuses — in spite of thoroughly winning a Las Vegas candidates debate and pulling in nearly $3 million in donations the next day — I was on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
I had just given a keynote address at a Planned Parenthood fund-raiser. It was the first time I’d ever toed the line of journalistic ethics by speaking on behalf of a peripherally political organisation because, well, these are desperate times for women’s rights.
Her dismal returns
After the fund-raiser and after watching Warren’s dismal returns on a hotel television, I spent the next day on the beach with a Geraldine Brooks novel I’d randomly purchased at a bookstore on Sanibel Island.
The book, it turned out, was about a bright girl in the Massachusetts Bay Colony who is indentured as a servant in Cambridge to pay for her brother’s academic studies. Along the way, she tends the miscarriage of a girl whose rapist goes unpunished.
I looked out at the sea and considered that, for all our advancing on gender matters, the novel’s story is alive today: A woman must step aside as a man ascends to the presidency, and a “pro-life” activist would sooner bomb an abortion facility than let a raped girl cross its threshold.
My grandma might not get to see our first woman president. Warren might not, either. I’m 39 — will I? I feel certain of it, yet many women have died after a lifetime of such certainty.
A few nights before the Super Tuesday primaries that ultimately squashed Warren’s chances, I had a dream that I was in a crowd watching her onstage. She glowed like someone who has won in a way that has nothing to do with numbers. We spoke afterward. She was clearly at peace with whatever happened with the election.
Warren might not be bound for the presidency, but she has apparently lodged herself in an another powerful place: the female psyche. The countless little girls with whom she famously “pinkie swore” that women should run for president will remember.
If this supposed democracy is worth lasting, at least one of them won’t be denied.
Sarah Smarsh is a journalist who covers socioeconomic class, politics and public policy in the US
New York Times