That Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry has a problem with single mothers should come as no surprise. But he managed to stoop to a new low when he criticised Wendy Davis, the state senator who thwarted the GOP dominated Texas Senate in one of the most extraordinary displays of political passion and endurance this country has seen in a long, long time, for even being alive.
In a speech to the largest anti-abortion group in the United States, Governor Perry slammed Democrat Wendy Davis, saying, “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.”
You heard that right. Because Wendy Davis was the daughter of a single mother, and was a single mother herself, she’s a hypocrite. She shouldn’t even exist. “What if her mom had said, ‘You know, I don’t want to do this?” Perry later speculated, conjuring up a world where Wendy Davis might have been aborted, or had aborted her own child when she’d become pregnant.
Unluckily for him, Wendy Davis’s mother had a choice. So did Wendy Davis. And one thing Rick Perry doesn’t like is women making choices for themselves.
Unlike Rick Perry’s parents, Wendy Davis’s mother raised four children after her divorce, with only a sixth-grade education, on her own, without any child support. Wendy Davis worked from the time she was 14 to help support her mother and siblings, and despite becoming a single mother herself after her own divorce at 19 went on to graduate from Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School. She put herself through college working as a waitress four nights a week, and a receptionist in a doctor’s office in the morning. She wasn’t born into a rich rancher’s family; nothing was ever handed to her on a silver platter.
Rick Perry’s arrogant comments were not just without dignity, reflecting a dark and negative point of view – they were calculatedly obtuse, an intentional ignorance of the English language. Because pro-choice means admitting women are not only capable enough to rise from the sort of adversity Wendy Davis did to become Harvard educated lawyers and members of the Texas Senate, but to make decisions about their lives and their bodies by themselves – whether that is an abortion, or choosing to have a child and raise it even in difficult circumstances. Rick Perry is deliberately equating abortion with women being intelligent enough to make decisions for themselves as is any white, male conservative, something he seems fundamentally incapable of recognizing. To have a child, or not, is a choice that belongs solely to a couple or individual woman involved, and the state has no right to insinuate itself into that decision.
Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, gets it. “Rick Perry's remarks are incredibly condescending and insulting to women... Women are perfectly capable of deciding whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child, and they don't need Rick Perry's help making that decision.”
But like all too many Republicans, Rick Perry just can’t disguise his disdain for women, or his malevolent desire to control them, keep them in their place, treat them like chattel to be dominated by men. The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t so much a cautionary tale to Republican men like Rick Perry, but a wish fulfilment fantasy. Perry is not only smarting because a woman had the audacity to stand up to him, but actually won, even when the battle was far from fair and square. He can’t accept it, won’t accept it, and – just as the Texas Republicans did their best to falsify the timestamp on the vote to ram through SB5 – he’s called for a second special legislative session to begin on Monday where the bill will almost certainly be signed into law. They can’t win fairly, they know it, and don’t care if the world watches while they cheat.
But one thing Wendy Davis’s brave filibuster showed not just Texas, but the entire country, is that rich white conservative men like Rick Perry and the rest of his ilk in the Texas government might have to gerrymander and rig the rules to stay in power, but they are not representative of the majority of people. Wendy Davis has woken a sleeping giant, and it’s pissed off. She and the minority Democrats in Texas might ultimately lose this battle, but she has aroused an awareness that the crazies and the fundamentalists on the right not only can be beaten, they must be.
Or the proud daughters and sisters and mothers of Texas, and all the men who love them, will continue to be subjugated to the will of a malevolent few who know that opposing abortion is less about protecting any ‘rights’ of the unborn than it is about controlling an individual’s right of choice and silencing the voices of any who threaten their ideology and their power.