Learning How To Lose
When I think of former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, the first thing that comes to my mind is her shoes. A fearlessly bright shade of pink, this choice of footwear made headlines across the country when Davis debuted them…at an eleven-hour filibuster to prevent a vote on a bill that would have mandated the closure of most Texas abortion clinics.
Meet one of the strongest-willed, most resilient women in today’s political landscape. With this herculean effort (she wore a back brace to avoid leaning against things during her filibuster), Davis shot into newsfeeds around the world, inspired the hashtag #StandWithWendy, and launched herself into the 2014 Texas gubernatorial election. That’s pretty incredible for anyone, but for a woman who began her political journey from a mobile home, it’s even more so. Davis’ story truly reflects the classic “American Dream.” After growing up in a single-parent home and becoming a single mother before she was 21, Davis escaped her situation via early-morning college classes, then four-year university, and finally Harvard Law School and a position on her district Council. After her headlining 2013 filibuster, Davis ran for the Texas governorship in 2014, but lost by about twenty percent, a crushing defeat.
There are crucial lessons for feminists to learn from Davis’ meteoric rise and ultimate fall. Feminism is frequently linked to winning, from battles over legislation to fights to change pervasive cultural norms, but the reality is that sometimes it takes more than one try to achieve a goal, especially when working in an area that’s particularly hostile to your cause. Davis has seen this movie before-- she lost her first election for district council by 90 votes, but came back four years later to win the position. When she was knocked down, she got right back up again and tried again, and it worked. I believe that feminists need to learn how to lose in a constructive way, and that’s why we can learn so much from someone like Davis, who has turned defeats into stepping stones many times over. From her initial battle for district council to her filibuster, each lost fight has turned into a new opportunity and reached a new audience.
Davis’ experience is all the more valuable to feminist activists who are working to change the norm in places that are less-than-welcoming of their ideas. There are some places in the world where feminist theory is widely accepted, and there are other places, like Davis’ Texas, in which people are less receptive to it. It’s going to take more than one headline (no matter how spectacular) to change deep-seated prejudices and entrenched ideas. Davis’ filibuster was an incredible first step in this process for Texas-- in the media storm that followed, many asked if Texas would “turn purple” (i.e. become more evenly split between Democrats and Republicans). But in such a setting, we should have been prepared for a longer fight-- and Davis’s subsequent political journey is a prime embodiment of this. Despite her filibuster and all of the media attention it received, the bill to restrict abortion clinics eventually passed in a special session. Davis kept fighting for what she believed in though, in the form of a bid for the governorship...and, as we know, she lost.
And yet, she’s regrouped. Some might have expected Davis, being a nice Texas girl, to retreat quietly into the relative obscurity from which she began, but Davis is still out there-- still making a racket, still raising her voice. Many see Davis’ efforts as a double failure, a futile push for change in an intransigent environment. I don’t. To me, Davis is an inspiring example of resilience and determination; she is a spectacular illustration of everything that can result from simply speaking up. Even if she has to reassess, she’s made her mark, and I know she’ll do it again. Despite all I’ve learned from Davis’ experiences, I still have so many questions I want to ask her: Where does she get this strength to keep bouncing back from defeat after defeat? What will her next crusade for a better Texas entail? Where did she get the fabulous pink sneakers? Wendy, you’re awesome. Thank you for teaching me how to lose.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Kubzansky, Caroline. "Learning How To Lose." 27 January 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/learning-how-to-lose>.