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When word hits that a new attempt to thwart the meteoric rise of Sen. Elizabeth Warren is underway, I now think: Good God, man, what next? Is she being accused of adopting too many special-needs shelter animals? Did she hide the truth that the discovery of a breakthrough cancer treatment can, in fact, be attributed to her? What decadence! What lies! What depravity can we expect next from this, one of America’s most earnest and wholesome politicians?
To paraphrase a tweet by Elle magazine staff writer R. Eric Thomas, when I look back at my life laid out on a sandy beach of time and I see the places where there is only one set of footprints, I will know it was Elizabeth Warren’s hilariously backfiring fake scandals that carried me.
Last week there was the (sadly false) rumor spread by known right-wing hoaxer Jacob Wohl that the 70-year-old senator had recently managed to routinely sexually exhaust a 25-year-old marine — a story that broke right as Sen. Bernie Sanders was hospitalized with a heart attack and in the midst of an ensuing tense debate about which of the older candidates might lack the necessary vigor. With all respect and hopes for a speedy recovery to Sanders, for Warren it could not have been timed better if she tried.
This week, it was this grand scandal: Warren has been including an anecdote in her stump speeches about how, in 1971 at age 22, she was invited to leave her teaching job when it became apparent that she was pregnant. But she did not highlight this fact in one interview from 12 years ago, and therefore, the jackals pounced. What lies! What deceit! How could she? This wily woman was not to be trusted! — except that she was, since further research into the event has only shored up Warren’s own story.
It seems that the facts are these: Her contract was set to be renewed when she was pregnant but not yet showing, but then two months later when she did begin to show, she was told that her job would not be waiting for her in the fall. The reason stated in a local news article was that she was leaving the position “to raise a family,” which is pretty much 1971-speak for “fired or pressured to quit due to pregnancy.”
Case closed, right? Not really. Because as charming as it is that there are people alive today who find it shocking that a woman might have been asked to leave her job for getting pregnant 50 years ago, this is an issue that many American women continue to face. The dams had burst, and on social media, it seemed that every woman and her mother were sharing stories of workplace discrimination due to pregnancy and birth.
I am entering the twilight of my fertile years myself, and my husband and I do not yet have any children. Even so, for the past decade and a half, if not more, of my professional life, my career has been profoundly shaped by these phantom babies that everyone around me seemed to think I was — any minute now! — about to have. This was true at 22, and at 28, and at 35. According to the world at large, since graduating college, I have been in a constant state of hypothetical pre-pregnancy. Surely, I must have been desperate to have children immediately. And if not, why not?
To not want children was seen as suspect, but to give any indication that I did want them was a professional liability. Boss after boss, from restaurant owners to heads of non-governmental agencies to freelance clients, have asked or assumed things about my reproductive abilities and plans. This is illegal, but not once has it stopped them. I have been passed over for promotions, and when I asked why, told point-blank that they needed someone who wasn’t going to just go get pregnant and leave them in the lurch. At the time this particular incident happened, I was single and not even dating anyone. Yes, pregnant women often face unfair and illegal consequences, but women like me are also discriminated against for imaginary pregnancies we never even had.
This is what happens when a working world has not been designed for women; when it has, in fact, been specifically designed to exclude us and count on our unpaid labor at home. Warren’s detractors had hoped to show her as opportunistic and dishonest, but instead this “scandal” ignited a national conversation about the rights of women in the workforce — and made her all the more relatable at the same time.