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When The Underdog Doesn’t Win: Misogyny, Heartbreak, And Elizabeth Warren’s Resilience Dance

We all love an underdog-the one who works hard, usually harder, and against odds comes out on top. We like it even more than the concept of a sure thing. Except, when we can’t quite get there. Except for those moments in life when Underdog remains down.

Life is a trajectory with problems to be solved and lessons to be learned. The implication is that if we do enough, try enough, suffer enough, we will leap frog and eventually break through to the other side where the scales will be righted.

Yet, sometimes we come face to face with contradictions that we just can’t reconcile.

Why isn’t the relationship working out? Why isn’t my business plan succeeding? Why didn’t the recruiter call me back? Why isn’t my art selling? Why aren’t we getting pregnant? Why won’t this house sell? Why is his illness back?

This week brought more of such questions, causing me to delve deep into this sense that in addition to unfairness, we are also swirling in intentional inequality. I asked the big Why. As in, Why can’t we change the political climate in this country? Why do we perpetuate the very factors everyone complains about? Oh, you know, those structural factors like corporate power, the thumbnail pinning of economic inequality, white privilege, and the double standards of patriarchy? Is it fear, or a reverence for the status quo? Yep, I went there. On a Saturday night no less. Let me explain.

Elizabeth Warren’s run for the 2020 democratic nomination and recent withdraw from the race has been the subject of much debate and analysis. Was she unable to connect with the masses due to her academic demeanor? Did she make a fatal campaign miscalculation? Despite early success in all the right ways, why was she not the right candidate after all?

I heard all these thoughts voiced last night at a dinner party. The men in the group where adamant that they would “get behind a woman, sure”, but that “right now the stakes are too high.” They acknowledged that Warren was, “exactly what we should want”, but, when pinpointing why they felt she wasn’t electable one finally settled on the statement “she’s just too smart.” Then they stated that “the rest of America” would not vote for her. Then they continued to mansplain why their male candidate of choice was best poised to beat the opposition and lectured me about holding up progress.

The women in the group, all of different generations, exchanged an eye flash. Without a word, we knew another reality at play. Warren’s critique is a classic example of an underlying rule-that compared to their male counterparts, female candidates must be all things, but not too much of anything.

So I sat, and silently absorbed the fallibility of this situation. What I was hearing was not only tired, but also incongruent with rational thought.The worst part was that I myself hadn’t voted for Warren, despite appreciating her qualifications, skill, and conduct. She was someone I saw as highly competent, and would have been proud to call our president. So then, what could explain my vote?

Four years, multiple student loans, and a small library of highlighted textbooks taught me that politics is about strategy, psychology, leveraging power and weighing odds, and that increasing knowledge alone rarely translates into change in human behavior. It’s not what people know, it’s what they believe.

Because I am a good student of life, I approached the democratic primary considering not who I saw as the best candidate or potential president but the weighted rules of a game.While I believed in Warren and wanted to actualize change by electing female president, I was also was afraid of our current administration’s impact and of contributing to Trump’s re-election by failing to help put up the most viable candidate. I was afraid of being “idealistic and unrealistic,” “short sighted” or the worst flaw assigned to femininity, “driven by intuitive emotion.”

Sitting amidst that dinner conversation and hearing that Warren’s flaw was, apprently, appearing too smart, brought me face to face with the asinine implications of this statement and with my tragic error. I had believed I was minimizing damage. And yet, by abandoning the underdog that I believed in, I was capitulating to the very system that I wanted to see up ended.

Everyone is for feminism and change, happily on the underdog bandwagon, until dominate cultural perception whispers, then shouts, that we need an older white male to stand up against the current older white male. I understand the argument, but continue to point out a glaring paradox. How is perpetuating the status quo the key to a markedly different future?

The results of Super Tuesday were striking, considering that this election season was peppered with more diversity in candidate voices-remember the fall when we saw a debate stage with an actual degree of cross sectional representation? It looked good, didn’t it ? We felt future forward and pleased. There was that buoyant feeling, that sense of…hope?

We are taught to be hopeful, to go all in on what social science terms a “just world belief.” This is the notion that if we do the work, follow through, figure it out, prostrate ourselves, keep quiet and finally give it up and let go, that we will achieve or receive what we desire. You know, those things that we all want, like-health, prosperity, security, a sense of well being.

We want to be healthy in order to experience this lifetime. So, more fiber, seat belts, probiotics, skin checks, meditation, monthly self-breast exams, an ever changing array of diet modifications, medications, or surgery. We want our roads to be safe and smooth, our wifi to connect, our water to be lead free, our clothes to be affordable and not manufactured through exploitation. We want to be able to take a vacation now and then and to look back over the past year noting achievement.

We want to know the rules of the game so that we can win. But, what about when we don’t? Spoiler-there will be no answers here. Here we are to convene and consider the languishing underdog.

Fortunately, emerging wisdom encourages us to explore discomfort and sit with our feelings. I am not being cynical-this is a good thing.

These harsh realties of life; they hurt. Sometimes, we are quietly and consistently devastated. Sometimes getting up again and again seems like being complicit.

In the midst of her withdrawal from the 2020 race, Warren responded to statements about sexism in politics with a measured but clear nod and said she would have “much more to say about that” as time goes forward. Perhaps she was being judicious given the bigger implications of the democratic primary. Perhaps she was crafting her response. Perhaps she was stung by the experience of being cobbled and judged for being herself and then being passed over. Perhaps she just needed a minute?

We are told this where real character is discerned, perhaps even made. And, a kinder, gentler, more holistic way reminds us that this process, this experience of life, is a polishing. A polishing, not a cake frosting.

We might end up smoothed over, but we will loose edges, parts of us, perhaps even that untouched gloss of ease and confidence. Acknowledge this-we come through, but not unscathed.

Slowly, we broaden our view and move forward into the next season. We learn to “see” beyond the finality of each moment. Some will take a “this too will pass” approach. Others will use the discomfort and a tendency (choice?) towards hope to catalyze their next action.

A dear friend who knows I live for meaningful quotations once offered helpful words in the midst of a particularly grim period. She shared, “In the end, it will all be ok. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”

Figuring out how you are going to make it through is the work of coping. We all get motivated to so in different ways-perhaps even differently at different times. We don’t actually have another viable choice.

The spirit of “everything will eventually be ok, it’s not over until it is” defined my way of carrying on for a long time. Perhaps it is still my default approach.

What if the absolute worst possible thing happened, or didn’t happen? How would you sit with that loss, heartbreak, disappointment, with that injustice? What would you, eventually, do afterwards?

This is not a test or invitation at martyrdom. I am not saying, “How will you be zen about this?” I am saying, how will you allow yourself to wail, weep, to seek shelter, to keep breathing, and not turn away from yourself even if everyone else does? When the wolf is at the door, how will you stand up for your right to live on, live through, and eventually find relief from the worst imaginable thing?

The thing about our worst thing is that we often can’t even imagine what it might be. Because no loss, injustice, nor hurt is measurably tolerable-none is deserved-and none can be chosen or avoided.

A country that consistently passes on females for leadership does not sound like home to me. Losses within families, unactualized dreams, all the inevitable pain and disappointment that await us in this lifetime does not seem like something to accept.

It’s not about finding a contingency plan. It’s about developing resilience, and the ability to move yourself out of suffering. Because we are never at the end of the story. The story continues to be written, and we can’t participate in it’s crafting if we drop out or wait for someone else to write our happy ending.

Yesterday, outtakes of SNL’s Kate MicKinnon and Elizabeth Warren dancing, or “Flipping the Switch,” went viral. Warren participated in the cold open; joining the comic who caricatured her so well during the primary season. But it was this particular moment with MicKinnon and Warren goofing together after the taping that resonates most.

Why? All I can fathom is this universal human reality. When in the company of those who are interested enough to really know us, we blossom and learn how to fully show ourselves. This is how we rise.

Everyday, we have a choice-to hide, or to keep telling our truth. With the support of trusted others, we can lament, we can cry foul, and we can also laugh. Hopefully, we are bolstered, and go on to speak again.

Underdog, she is all of us. She loses sometimes, but she also wins. Even when she experiences loss, she is never inherently wrong, or by nature unlucky, too much, or anything close to unworthy. She will continue to raise herself up, and hopefully, eventually, flip the switch on society.

nurse, traveler, writer, open water swimmer, driftwood collector