If you were paying attention yesterday afternoon you probably saw this coming. Attacks on Wendy Davis are not the result of Wendy Davis misleading people (for years) about her life story. No, according to Think Progress, this is about “classic sexist” archetypes.
Davis has said she came from an impoverished family and lived in a mobile home as a teenage mother, but overcame the odds to eventually graduate from college and Harvard Law School. The Dallas Morning News profile and subsequent media reactions have played up her marital and familial problems to poke holes in this story. While these personal details would be hardly a blip on a male candidate’s record, they are now being used to paint the state senator as a classic sexist archetype: the ruthlessly ambitious woman who sacrifices her children and uses her sexual wiles to manipulate men.
Think Progress then lays out three points which supposedly conform to this archetype. However, in each case TP misstates the actual objection in order to make the argument fit their sexism template. Here are the headings for each of the three items listed by TP, followed by my commentary.
She didn’t really struggle because she only lived in a trailer for a few months as a single mom.
The point here is not that Wendy Davis never struggled. She clearly did struggle. The problem is that Wendy Davis repeatedly overstates the extent and duration of her struggles, usually by omitting key details. For instance, Wendy Davis claimed that she was raised by a single mother and worked from the age of 14 to contribute to the household. The working part is true. What she left out is that her parents were married until she was 11. Before that her circumstances seem to have been somewhat better.
Similarly, Wendy Davis has repeatedly mentioned her time in a trailer park after having a child and getting divorced at 19. The 19 part was wrong. She divorced at 21. But the more important point is that she only spent a few months in a trailer before moving herself and her daughter into an apartment. A few years later, Davis remarried and moved into a house in a nice part of Fort Worth. She didn’t mention that either. Again, the point is not that she never struggled only that she seemed to hide from view some mitigating factors and context.
She manipulated her husband into paying her tuition.
This is a real stretch. In the Dallas Morning News story, her ex-husband notes that he paid for her two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law by digging into his own savings. He also cared for their two children so she could be away in Boston. Both seem like significant contributions to Davis’ success.
But the bio Davis posted on her website doesn’t mention a 2nd husband at all. Instead it reads “With the help of academic scholarships and student loans, Wendy not only became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, but graduated first in her class and was accepted to Harvard Law School.” The same is true for her current campaign bio. The point is that the well-off 2nd husband played a pretty big role in her success, one that Davis has not really acknowledged.
She abandoned her children in order to pursue a career.
The Dallas Morning News story notes that a) her 2nd husband kept the kids while she was in law school and b) the husband got custody of both kids after the divorce. There is nothing in the story claiming this equates to abandoning her children. In any case, even if that were the claim being made it would not be the first time the divorce of a politician became part of a campaign.
Davis has not been shy about telling her prototypical rags-to-riches story. It has been the cornerstone of her campaign. She is only open to this criticism now because she exaggerated or omitted details of her story to the point it was more prototypical than true. That was her choice. Sexism is not the problem here. The problem is Wendy Davis’ decision to mislead voters as the basis of her campaign. That’s something that doesn’t go over well whether the candidate is a man or a woman.