On June 26, 2013, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis executed an eleven-hour filibuster to stop a GOP-led effort to impose strict abortion limitations. Adorned with a back brace, skirt suit, and pink running shoes, Senator Davis was not allowed to sit down or use the bathroom; she had to continuously stay on topic for twelve consecutive hours in order to stop the bill. In a controversial call, GOP senate leaders attempted to prohibit Senator Davis’ filibuster on a procedural technicality an hour before the filibuster would have proven successful. The GOP’s efforts were quickly overtaken by a boisterous crowd of Davis and reproductive rights supporters delaying the GOP’s vote long enough to kill the bill. (See the video here).
This video went viral and sparked enormous media attention with the new “Stand With Wendy” slogan emerging. Her pink running shoes quickly became the most searched and sought after sneaker. Senator Davis was interviewed by, and will be featured in, the highly coveted September 2013 issue of Vogue. Not surprisingly, an onslaught of op-eds and interviews by people in both the pro and anti abortion camps soon followed. There is, however, a secondary lens which must be utilized in observing Senator Davis’ filibuster, and that is the lens of empowerment.
It is difficult to conjure up another time when a female led a filibuster of this magnitude; Senator Davis gained national attention for her incredible achievement. She stood up, literally, for what she believed in. The topic that inspired her to should not be the sole source of debate. Senator Davis’ initiative is the real story; in a political scene paralyzed by inaction, her movement was refreshing and should be both celebrated and explored. Her pink sneakers represent a much larger picture: female leadership in the 21st Century.
In the US, there are a record 20 women serving in the Senate and 81 in the House, and more recently both the US House Minority Leader and US Secretary of State have been females. While this is a milestone well worth celebrating, the fact is that women are still greatly underrepresented. Yes, there are currently female heads of state, business leaders, and Nobel Peace Prize winners throughout the world, but they are few and far between compared to their male counterparts.
As Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times so eloquently pointed out in his recent article, female empowerment is not just another political buzzword, nor just a “woman’s issue or a man’s issue”. Female empowerment is a global issue. It can boost national GDPs, it can cure social ills, and it can lead to healthier societies. So what is preventing this global change? Apart from the clear social and educational hurdles, a large part of empowerment is having role models for guidance and support. When women come together in support of one another it can be hugely powerful, but the female leadership team in the global game of empowerment still remains small and runs the risk of being easily marginalized. Thus, Senator Davis’ stand should be seen as one more step towards greater female involvement. She is one more teammate and one more role model for future generations of female leaders.