Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) raised quite a few eyebrows yesterday, appearing at the National Right To Life conference and commenting on his chief Democratic rival, state Sen. Wendy Davis, and her pregnancy as a teenager. Today, the governor’s office tried to downplay the controversy (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
Perry’s office defended his statement, saying Friday that he was “praising Sen. Davis for her success despite coming from difficult circumstances.”
I obviously can’t read the governor’s mind, and it’s certainly possible he intended his condescending and offensive comments to be “praise.”
But there’s no reason Perry’s defense should be taken seriously. Perry didn’t just say yesterday that Davis had overcome difficult circumstances; he said it’s “unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example.”
In other words, the Republican governor has looked at Davis’ life, and has taken it upon himself to decide what lessons she should have drawn from it. And if Davis looks at her own life and draws different conclusions, well, Perry thinks that’s “unfortunate.”
Is anyone seriously prepared to believe the governor was “praising” his adversary with this talk?
Even Perry allies aren’t prepared to defend him on this one. Texas state House Speaker Joe Straus (R) told The Texas Tribune today, “Disagreements over policy are important and they’re healthy, but when he crosses the line into the personal, then he damages himself and he damages the Republican Party.”
What’s more, as Garance Franke-Ruta explained, Perry also offered a classic reminder of a larger phenomenon.
It was classic mansplaining – as Elyse Fradkin pithily summarized it on Twitter, “when a man explains to a woman how she should view the meaning of her own life experience.”
The term derives from Rebecca Solnit’s article, “Men Explain Things to Me,” which opens with a wealthy older man hosting an event in Aspen at which he lectures her on “a very important Muybridge book that came out this year” after she brings up the photographer in casual conversation. He goes on and on at great length until she finally realizes he is playing the expert and seeking to educate her about the book she herself wrote.
The idea of mansplaining has grown to be applied to any situation in which men believe they are the experts and drone on and on about something on which the women being lectured are the actual experts. It also refers to the social syndrome in which women cast themselves as listeners who doubt their own expertise in the face of such masculine certainty.
In Texas, the latter part of that seems extremely unlikely to happen.
On the contrary, Davis is sparking a “Democratic organizing bonanza” in the Lone Star State, just as Texas prepares for another legislative special session, set to begin on Monday.