Sex and Class at Heart of Davis “Scandal”

For the last week, all eyes have been on Wendy Davis, questioning or defending her parenting and her past. At this point, plenty of articles have been written dissecting when she was divorced, when she was re-married, who paid for what at what time – and I’m not writing one of those pieces. I’m not writing one of those pieces partially because plenty of talented writers have spent hour upon hour researching and clarifying the truth – but mainly because I don’t care. And neither should you.

The most striking thing about the “scandal” and “debate” surrounding Davis right now isn’t that her second husband helped her pay for law school (you’ll find that married couples often share the responsibility for bills, for example), but that sexism and classism are so pervasive in media and politics today that these “revelations” lit every writer, news outlet, and political pundit in Texas on fire.

When was the last time we questioned the parenting skills of a male elected official? If that’s how we’re deciding which way to pull the lever on Election Day, I want to see the divorce decree for every man on the ballot in November. Are they divorced? Who was awarded custody? Who was paying child support? If you didn’t have primary custody of your child(ren) and you weren’t awarded primary and sole conservatorship, I’m not voting for you.

Seem a little unrealistic? The idea that men who we vote into office are unfit parents and that their parenting skills affect their ability to carry out the responsibilities of their office is one that I don’t see written about very often. When men who serve as elected officials have poor relationships with their children, lie about their marriages and divorces, or are involved in, God forbid, actually illegal activities, it’s written off as the price we pay for qualified elected officials. It’s a more sophisticated iteration of “boys will be boys,” to be sure, but that’s the core of the argument. We expect – and excuse – men who misbehave by breaking laws or treating their families poorly.

We – and I’m talking about courts, the media, the public – presume that women are the default caregivers. It’s a message that patriarchy has rather successfully ingrained in generation after generation. Even today, with women running the U.S.’s international policy and running for president, it seems impossible to escape the assumption that any woman who dared separate from her children for more than a few days (leaving them in the “dangerous” hands of their stable, successful, involved father) has failed, not only as a mother but as a woman; as a member of society. Davis, by all accounts, was an involved mother who was walking the thin line between the competitive, all-consuming environment of law school and the difficult and equally consuming job of raising children.

As the daughter of a woman who had a child young and went on to an acclaimed law school after my birth, I can appreciate the kind of struggle that it takes to make both of those things co-exist in the limited number of daylight hours that we’re all restricted by. But my mother isn’t running for public office – so nobody is questioning whether she should have been at home with me and my father instead of attending law school. This is a 21st century way for the media to announce that Davis should have been a stay at home mom, spending each day with her kids, rather than working to fulfill her professional ambitions. Instead of allowing this kind of rhetoric to dominate our electoral cycles, we should be re-directing the spotlight back towards those making these issues the debate of the day. Why should the fact that a young mother attended a prestigious and competitive law school make her a bad mother – or for that fact, ineligible for the Governorship twenty years later?

It isn’t just male privilege working to discredit Davis’s run; articles written about how long Davis lived in a trailer and supported her family by working two jobs also reek of class privilege. When Davis announced her candidacy for Governor, there were those who posed questions about whether her background was respectable enough for the leader of our state. Upon reflection, it seems that those opposed to Davis’s candidacy have decided that she didn’t live in a trailer long enough to be the leader of our state. When we allow wealthy political pundits to make the determination that Davis’s short tenure in a trailer and then a series of crappy apartments with her children disqualify her for public office, we cede our power as an electorate to those who would fill every open office with wealthy white men who have always operated with the privilege of race, sex, and money.

Instead of dumbing our decisions at the ballot box down to match the shallow and often sexist claims espoused by political pundits and media outlets, we have the option to demand better. We have the option – and the obligation – to see beyond the layers of privilege that often overwhelm these conversations to see the heart of the issue: Davis is a woman, and in Texas, that’s still a strike against her.

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Texas Politics: An Open Letter to the Media

Dear News Outlets,

I want to clear something up — something that friends and relatives have asked me — and something that I feel has been inaccurately represented by news organizations reporting on the SB5 filibuster. There was no previously organized Democratic “scheme” to run down the last 12 minutes of the special session with help from those in the gallery, rotunda, and outside the gallery and Senate chambers. There was no concerted effort to organize the hundreds or thousands of people left in the Capitol at 11:48, no carefully organized attempt to subvert democracy.

What there was, and in abundance, was the fierce spirit of Texas women (and the men who love them). Thousands of Texas men and women gathered in the Capitol on Tuesday to send a clear message to Gov. Perry, Lieutenant Gov. Dewhurst, and every member of the GOP caucus that we would not be bullied into silence. We decided, individually and as a group, that we would no longer permit men to congregate in secret, making decisions that should be solely between a woman, her doctor, and her family.

The GOP’s claim that the cheering in the last 12 minutes of the night was orchestrated by Democratic leadership is not only irresponsible, it’s false, and I’m disappointed to see you run with that message — rather than fact-checking with any of the thousands of Texans at the Capitol. Jessica Luther was an amazing presence throughout the week, tweeting accurate information and helping organize people in real time. She summed up our disappointment in certain national media coverage eloquently:

“If you had asked me on Tuesday morning if TWO THOUSAND people would show up that night, that 200,000 would watch the livestream, that Barack POTUS Obama would tweet about us, I would have said that wasn’t going to happen. No way. No how…It feels wrong to paint it as if some mastermind created the BEAUTIFUL moments that happened on Tuesday.”

Was it strategic? Certainly. Leticia Van de Putte lit a flame: one that could not be dampened by GOP leaders demanding that we follow the rules of decorum (the same rules that Texas Republican Senators can be seen ignoring in their efforts to push SB5 through), nor by the dutiful state troopers who began to arrest those in the gallery. I was camped on the second floor, outside of the Senate gallery, and when we realized that the GOP had and would break any and every rule to end the filibuster, we realized that we could stand for Wendy, ourselves, and every other Texan woman who has a fundamental and Constitutional right to make decisions about her own body. She stood to represent the voices of thousands of Texas women, and in the last 12 minutes of the night, it wouldn’t be possible for troopers to arrest every last one of us. We stood too many, and we stood too long, to go unheard. The last 12 minutes became ours for the taking, and in Senator Davis’ words, it truly became the People’s Filibuster.  But was it planned? No. And if you ask me, it was all the more powerful in the beautiful spontaneity of our actions.

It’s no surprise that the GOP is attempting to spread misinformation: but I believe, perhaps naively, that news outlets covering the events of the last week should be doing so responsibly.

Alexis