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Is Elizabeth Warren’s pinky promise of women in power too big a hope for America?

Elizabeth Warren made a pinkie promise with Sydney Hansen in Peterborough, N.H.
Elizabeth Warren made a pinkie promise with Sydney Hansen in Peterborough, N.H.ERIN CLARK/for The Boston Globe/file

Elizabeth Warren is heartbroken.

You could hear it in her voice as she announced the end of her presidential campaign on Thursday.

“One of the hardest parts of this is all the pinkie promises and all those little girls who are going to have to wait for four more years," she told reporters as she stood in the driveway of her Cambridge home, choking back the cry in her voice.

Warren is a warrior. And dismantling the patriarchy was at the top of her agenda — the most intersectional campaign to date. Everywhere she’s campaigned, first for Senate, where she still serves, and then for president, pinkie promises were part of her presence.


She’d wrap her little finger in the fingers of girls and say, “I’m running for president, because that’s what girls do.”

Elizabeth Warren suspends her campaign for President
Senator Warren explains her thoughts surrounding the end of her campaign. (Photo: Erin Clark/Globe Staff, Video: Handout)

“It’s a reminder that for a long time women have been shut out of the process, devalued, told to be quiet. We’re just not doing that anymore,” Warren told People of the feminist pledge.

But America won’t let us win. We can smash a glass ceiling only to encounter a layer of cement, a trap door, another series of rungs to climb. A woman, no matter how qualified, brilliant, and prepared, will be punished for her womanhood. This is a country committed to controlling women in 2020.

All of the candidates were flawed, as politicians always are, but a woman will pay twice the cost for half the offense. A woman has to be likable enough to invite to brunch and police her tone. She has to run three times the race as a man to win.

There were six women running at the start of this Democratic presidential race, the most diverse group we’ve ever seen in American history. Yet, here we are, at the start of Women’s History Month, days ahead of International Women’s Day, with a choice between two white men.


I knew it would end up this way. America prefers the illusion of revolution, gradual change, the small improvements that don’t disrupt supremacist systems.

Barack Obama, a Black moderate, was far too big a change for a country steeped in racism, sexism, and oppression. And Trump was the response to a Black man in power.

This country craves a “normalcy” that a Madame President would not bring. Obama knew that.

“This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,” Obama told wealthy liberal donors back in November. "Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality. The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

But the average American is wrong. This system is broken and so is our ability to dream big and fight hard beyond one candidate. We need a revolution.

Joe Biden performed best on Super Tuesday because he does not represent sweeping structural change. He makes white folk comfortable while speaking just enough about equity so everyone can think they aren’t racist and pat themselves on the backs for having Black friends.

He won because a lot of Black folk know white America wasn’t really going to go the distance with Warren. They aren’t low-information voters. They are survivors. And they know it will require some real soul searching for America to get behind Bernie Sanders and beat Trump.


I understand why Biden makes sense for so many. But I was with Warren. I’m not looking for normalcy or a remix of 2008. Now, I’m looking more and more like a Bernie Bro.

He’s progressive. Sanders and Warren overlap on universal child care, free college tuition, economic justice, and so much more. I just believed Warren had the plans and tact to make it happen. I found her measured and thoughtful in a way that felt more likely to reach across the aisle and get things done.

She didn’t know it all, but worked with others to find solutions. She made mistakes and owned up to them. That said, being a “she” was always going to keep her in third place with Biden and Sanders on the ticket. This is America, where Trump was far more appealing than a far less worse Hillary Clinton.

“If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’ ” Warren said during her press conference Thursday. “If you say, ‘No, there was no sexism, about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’ ”

A woman can be powerful, but not too much.

“Every time I get introduced as the most powerful woman, I almost cry, because I wish it was not true,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters when asked about Warren on Thursday.


Warren hasn’t yet decided who she’s going to endorse. She’s trying to determine how she can make the most impact. One thing is certain, I believe her when she says she’s not done fighting for the people.

She believes in the country more than it believes in itself. On a call to her staff Thursday morning, Warren told them about how one of her supporters shares the Warren campaign mantra with her children before bed.

Mama leans over them and whispers, ‘Dream big.’ And the children together reply, ‘Fight hard.’ Our work continues, the fight goes on, and big dreams never die."

Dream-weaving and ceiling smashing are still on Warren’s agenda. Despite systemic sexism, she is not done fighting for a just and equitable America or the pledges she made to millions of little girls. Neither am I.

As women, the odds have never been in our favor, yet we keep on moving. We do not bow to the patriarchy.

“If you leave with only one thing,” Warren told her staff, “It must be this: choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough — and they will — you will know that there is only option ahead of you: nevertheless, you must persist.”

And that’s a pinkie promise we all need to keep.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.