Last week, following state senator Wendy Davis’s remarkable – and successful – filibuster, Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped jaws around the world by responding:
“Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She’s the daughter of as single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential, and that every life matters.”
My first impulse was to marvel at Perry’s tone-deafness. Wendy Davis had become a folk-hero of women’s rights overnight, and her performance reminded everyone of what a filibuster is supposed to be: a chance to match a single lawmaker’s true passion against the majority. If you care that much, then we have to listen to you. I even like Texas’s particularly draconian filibuster rules – no leaning, no breaks, no water, no going off-topic. You can’t read the phone book; you have to talk about the subject of the bill. In that one, youtube-sensational, twitter-overloading performance, Wendy Davis had become an international superstar. Did no one on Perry’s team tell him to let things die down for a day or two? Did no one advise him to at least acknowledge her passion and commend her for taking a stand, if he couldn’t be bothered to address any of the many strong arguments she made against the bill during her filibuster? How could Perry and his team misread the situation so profoundly?
But then I went over what Perry said again, and I had a moment of horrible clarity: Rick Perry, in one sentence, laid bare the entire, misogynistic, heart of the anti-choice movement: “It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example…”
Rick Perry didn’t wait, didn’t show any deference to Ms. Davis, because he has absolutely no respect for her. He’s tone-deaf, because he really truly believes this is obvious – he is right, and she is wrong. Whatever experiences she had, whatever facts support her position, all of that is moot. Like a child being punished, she was supposed to find the moral of her story, to learn her lesson – and if the understanding she gained is empathy, and an appreciation for how complex these decisions are… well, then, she learned it wrong.
Wendy Davis grew up the child of a single mother, and pregnant at 19, found herself, in her own words, “destined to live the life that I watched my mother live.” She made a choice, to keep the child – but going through the fear, anguish, uncertainty, and stress of a teen pregnancy made her all the more empathetic to other women in similar situations. She has lived with her decision for over 30 years now. She has struggled, and she has persevered. She has raised her family. She has served her community. She has met women from all over Texas, from all walks of life. And she just finished speaking for over eleven hours, explaining why women need reproductive choice… But none of that matters to Governor Perry. Wendy Davis doesn’t understand her own damn life, he says. It’s a shame, so unfortunate. But you see, this is why we can’t trust women to make these decisions… because they might not learn the right lessons from their own lives. They might trust their own instincts, make their own choices for their own families, and where would we be then?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I believe abortion is a grave wrong. A terrible answer to a heartbreaking question. But this, precisely THIS, is why I can never ever call myself “Pro-Life” – because the pro-life movement, at it’s heart, doesn’t trust women. Doesn’t trust women with birth control in the first place. Doesn’t trust women to make choices, doesn’t trust women to control their own bodies, and doesn’t trust women to make up their own minds, based on their own experiences. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example….
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard a more misogynistic sentence. It completely discounts Wendy Davis’s experience, and all that she said – all the data, all the passion, all the truths she laid bare in an eleven hour filibuster. To paraphrase Davis’s colleague, Senator Leticia Van de Putte, whose motion to adjourn was ignored by the President of the Senate, at what point will a female senator’s own life experiences be considered valid, if they conflict with the preconceived notions of her male colleagues in the room?