Conservative Media Can't Talk About Wendy Davis Without Demeaning Her

Wendy Davis

Right-wing media are making sexist and outrageous claims in an attempt to smear Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis over her divorces.

The Dallas Morning News reported January 18th that Davis had been 21, not 19, by the time she got a divorce, a seemingly-minor contradiction to previous statements in which she had described herself as a teenage-single mother. In a statement to Buzzfeed, Davis explained that she had been separated from her first husband “on [her] way to a divorce” by 19, living alone with her daughter in a trailer for a time.

Exactly how young Davis was when she took care of her daughter on her own while facing economic hardship is a small, but understandable, question. Conservative media, however, are blowing the legitimate questions about Davis' backstory out of proportion while making sexist attacks on Davis' character and implying she is not fit for public office.

On January 20, Rush Limbaugh called Davis a “babe” and a “genuine head case,” and claimed the new details proved she needed a man to be successful, as her second husband helped pay for her law school. Limbaugh concluded that her life story was full of “fraud and deceit ... her entire biography has been embellished and falsified by her.”

Radio host Mark Levin also suggested that Davis was a “good Democrat gubernatorial candidate” because she is a “liar” and because there were “allegations -- I stress, allegations -- of adultery.” 

In two posts on his blog, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson used the divorce in an attempt to portray Davis as an unstable and unreliable mother, with two posts headlined, “Documents Show A Texas Court Ordered Wendy Davis to Stay Away From Drugs and Alcohol” and “Wendy Davis' Ex Asked a Court to Order Her Not to Use Drugs Before Seeing Her Kids.”

But Erickson conveniently ignored that a temporary restraining order, or TRO, is common practice in divorce cases involving children, and can include restrictions on alcohol and drug consumption. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite effectively laid out how Davis' restraining order was typical, and an example of a petition form for the TRO is available on the Texas Law Help website, showing that drug and alcohol provisions are included on the form.

Erickson has repeatedly attempted to smear Davis, whom he demeaningly refers to as "Abortion Barbie." Last November, Erickson absurdly suggested that Davis was unfit for public office because she had claimed “mental health issues” in a 1996 lawsuit. Erickson once again showed his unfamiliarity with the law; the language he cited is required boilerplate for the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claim Davis brought against a Texas newspaper.

These attacks on Davis are extreme, but they also follow a predictable pattern. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation has studied every female candidate for governor in the past, and found that women running for executive office often are placed on an “Ethical Pedestal,” which perpetuates the myth that women are more innately honest than men -- allowing male opponents to undermine them by simply questioning their integrity:

To distract from what really matters -- the policies, priorities, and platforms of each candidate -- male opponents often strike early with attacks questioning a woman's integrity. It's a well-worn strategy.

We saw this happen in Senator Elizabeth Warren's race against then-Senator Scott Brown in 2012, when he repeatedly questioned her integrity, and we're already seeing it in State Senator Wendy Davis's race against Attorney General Greg Abbott in Texas.

Image via The Texas Tribune using a Creative Commons License