Sexism toward Wendy Davis revives war on women

February 3, 2014

After leading a high-profile filibuster, skyrocketing to Democratic stardom and raising over $12 million, State Senator Wendy Davis and her gubernatorial campaign now face a major challenge — recovering from discrepancies in her biography. Since The Dallas Morning News released a damaging exposé about her early life, Davis has been subjected to intense criticism from conservatives and some has taken a disgustingly sexist turn. RedState editor Erick Erickson, who often refers to Davis as “Abortion Barbie,” tweeted that she “had a Sugar Daddy Ken” and “is so cute when she is lying.” Tea Party activist Todd Kincannon, who has since deleted his Twitter account, called Davis a “hooker,” a “whore” and suggested that she “[paid] off [her] loans in exchange for sex.” Others accused Davis of being a negligent mother.

While sexist attacks seemingly come with the territory of being a female politician, regardless of liberal or conservative leanings, the transgressions against Davis are particularly disconcerting. Within these prominent pundits’ misogynistic insults is the troubling irony that the Republican Party is still reeling from the aftermath of the war on women rhetoric, a narrative that the GOP is desperately trying to recover from. Despite Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus’ insistence that the war on women is fictitious and Senator Rand Paul’s contention that the Democrats have actually waged the battle, few can argue against the polling figures. In the 2012 presidential election, President Barack Obama swept 55 percent of the female vote, whereas Gov. Mitt Romney only carried 43 percent.

As the GOP works to combat the war on women narrative, conservatives must remember that maintaining respectful rhetoric is critical to successfully shedding the anti-woman image. Abortion, birth control and family structure are all polarizing subjects that are certain to generate strong opinions, as they should. Still, there is a stark difference between being passionate and being spiteful — an important distinction when female outreach is needed to stay electorally competitive. While selecting Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers to deliver the State of the Union response may be an indication of progress, her promotion will mean little if the GOP does not address the crux of the matter — the tone of its message.

Ultimately, Republicans must acknowledge that they are their greatest liability, not the Democrats. Had Erickson and Kincannon criticized Davis’ policy instead of sexually degrading her, the backlash would have likely remained on Davis’ controversy rather than shifting toward them. Regardless of whether a voter is pro-choice or pro-life, few can deny that dubbing a woman “Abortion Barbie” is alienating and derogatory. As long as its representatives continue to choose sexist language over respectful discourse, the GOP will continue to be held hostage by the fight for gender equality.

Christina Coleburn is a deputy opinion editor. Email her at ccoleburn@nyunews.com.

*This article was originally published under the title, “Republicans sexist toward Wendy Davis.” 

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