My Role Model, Senator Barbara Mikulski or “Finding the Worth in Your [Almost Always] Problematic Fave*”

So after the longest run of any woman in the history of the United States Congress, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland is retiring after this 114th Congress in 2017. And for some reason, I am feeling some sort of way about it.

I have been incensed to write this ever since Senator Mikulski’s retirement announcement, not because she is my policy-making idol or someone who defines what feminism looks like for me. To be quite honest, I have not followed her every vote, nor her every speech. But there’s something to Senator Mikulski that I have always looked up to. She is a symbol to me—a symbol of a woman who is not afraid to take up space. A symbol I have always needed.

On the right, Barbara Mikulski in 1994.

Senator Mikulski has always been known to me as a woman who has stomped forward and demanded her due. Who attested to being “one of those emotional women” on the Senate floor while arguing for pay equity; who, early in her career, was the only other percentage point of women in the U.S. Senate. Women I know, admire, and who inspire me daily—my mother being one of them—have always touted her as their own “shero.” Why? Because, Senator Mikulski did not try to maintain a new sense of subtlety or feminine gentleness when she got to the Senate—no, she made her bombastic nature her signature. Something that just was her essence. She was fiery and passionate about issues, and that’s where her political energy came from.

And it’s not only her personality, but it’s the fact that Barbara Mikulski is also no waif. And I mean no disrespect to the Senator at all—rather, I mean only respect. This woman is small and sturdy. She is not the Claire Underwood or Olivia Pope on our television, but the 4’11” juggernaut who wears pants on the Senate floor when she goddamn feels like it. Senator Mikulski’s visage, like her personality, is unapologetic.

And as a woman who can’t stop muttering “I’m sorrys” to every person who accidentally(?) pushes me on the sidewalk, I need that symbol of unabashed space taking up-ness that Senator Mikulski has always been for me. As a woman who does have wide-set shoulders, wide-set hips, and a loud, wide way of talking about what thing is making her angriest, I need to know that I can succeed with that. As a woman who has always had her fire for social justice doused by naysayers or “realists,” I need someone who is bent on raising hell till her and her loved ones get the rights they deserve. And finally, as a woman who has struggled with body, intelligence, and political insecurity in a patriarchal world, Senator Mikulski has always been somebody who I would look to when I was down, and realize, “I can take up this space, because I deserve it and I am more than worthy.”  

I hope that anybody reading this who faces similar or maybe even more complex insecurities than I do, can hopefully treat this post as a push towards finding that someone—be they a celebrity, a politician, or a peer in class—who makes you realize you are worthy of the skin you’re in and the space you inhabit. Maybe they do it through their ferocity (like my Senator Barb), their creativity, their stoicism, but either way, they help you to be you to the fullest, and they awaken the opportunity to celebrate yourself and the uniqueness that makes you you. Because sometimes, in our weakest moments, all we need is to feel inspired to know that we are worthy.

*And here is my disclaimer on “problematic faves”: I am often one of the first to recognize the problematic nature of anything that exists in the world. It’s not that I am trying to be a dark shadow, a pox upon the happiness of all the smiling people in the room. No, rather, it is simply a personal habit of mine to critically analyze something until its not fun any more (I’ll do it to the Oscars, I’ll do it to your fave, and I’ll keep doing it, I tell you). However, I wanted to add this disclaimer, because I know that Senator Barbara Mikulski has done and said what are probably problematic things to many. I’m certain I could find hurt in what she’s said if I read enough, but I also am not going to let that ruin this moment. I am going to bask in that Senator Barbara Mikulski Sun that always makes me feel like I can carpe all the diems, and I am going to feel positive about it. So, please, allow me the indulgence of stoking the fangirling fire a little longer, oh fellow killjoys, because all of our faves are problematic, and sometimes that’s just gotta be okay.

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