On February 7, 2017, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dropped a word bomb in D.C. that has, against his genteel intentions, become a rallying cry for women across the country and across gender and political lines. He sparked a veritable movement made manifest in many profound (and often comic) reactions, emblazoned on everything from t-shirts to mugs, and mocked on talk shows and protest signs. Now, in Minneapolis, “nevertheless, she persisted” is etched in flesh.
Two weeks after Mitchell’s modern “let them eat cake” moment backfired formidably, last Thursday, Brass Knuckles Tattoo Studio in the home city of Prince engraved the phrase (and shorter variations) on over one hundred women and some men as well. The tattooing marathon was for a cause in the spirit of the storm that McConnell ushered in: the local Minnesotan organization Women Winning, which uses a bipartisan approach to promote pro-choice female candidates for public office.
The event was the brainchild of Nora McInerny, a proud Minneapolitan public personality, ubiquitous blogger, author, and social media star. Intending to invite a few friends on Facebook to get the “she persisted” tattoos for a charitable cause, she made a common mistake, a felicitous one for her idea, by creating a page open to the public, and more than 2,000 people wanted “skin in the game.”
McInerny, of course, was one of the first customers for her cause. “Did I ever think I would get a Mitch McConnell quote tattooed on my body? No, I did not,” she said. “But those are three words that any woman would be able to see themselves in, regardless of politics.”
Brass Knuckles tattooist Emily Snow was the lead artist for the event, buying in to McInerny’s concept completely and throwing in her labor for the fundraiser. “We’re working for free” she stated, “and we’re really glad to be supporting these awesome women.”
There were first-time customers with heretofore unadorned bodies and veterans of the epidermal art form adding a powerful message to their living canvas. Noël Anderson, 41, of Minneapolis summed up the emotion of tens of millions of women across all demographic lines who have lived their lives under the thumb of McConnell’s regressive mindset, saying, “It’s not about politics…it’s about a man saying something like that to me for 15 years, and I won’t listen to it anymore.”
Brass Knuckles has extended the massively successful event through the end of March, offering appointments over the next five weeks for those who Snow (and colleague Kyle Mack on his usual day off) couldn’t fit in the overwhelmed studio for what they planned as a one-off single day venture.
And so shutting down the progressive polemic Elizabeth Warren has proven to be a bad chess move for the majority leader, who was already an affectionate object of scorn at the hand of many in media and entertainment, including politico-comedian Jon Stewart, whose graphics morphing McConnell’s head into a turtle was a favorite bit on the Daily Show. But the Republican standard bearer has never waded this far and deep as he has hitting a central nerve in popular culture.
McConnell is not the first politician to utter a ricocheting and dolefully dumb diatribe. For example, consider Trent Lott, another Senate Majority Leader whose words in praise of Strom Thurmond cost him his authoritative post. Secretary Clinton did herself no favors last fall, verbally weaving her “basket of deplorables”—another three words that also made their way onto various and sundry tchotchkes. But Mitchell’s mouthful of male meanness alone will live on in infamy and in ink.—Louis Altman