Wendy Davis controversy is not a mommy-war story

Wendy Davis controversy is not a mommy-war story

In a short piece over at Hot Air, Kirsten Powers argues that there’s a double standard being applied to Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. Davis has been the subject of numerous pieces, most notably a Dallas Morning News article by Wayne Slater (author of Bush’s Brain), pointing out how she’s left out significant portions of her biography. Instead of being the single mom who put herself through law school, it turns out she’s the lucky mom whose second husband helped put her through school and then, after a divorce from Wendy, was awarded custody of the offspring who gave her “mom” status.  Powers suggests that Davis is being criticized for being ambitious and that men who want to get ahead are not subjected to the same criticism about their choices to stay or not stay at home with their children:

The double standard is reminiscent of how Sarah Palin was treated when she chose to run for vice president in 2008. Her candidacy set off a controversy about whether she was neglecting her children, in particular her special-needs baby. Back then, conservatives were the ones mostly defending her and expressing outrage that anyone would question her decision. Now they see attacking a woman’s parenting choices as fair game.

Sorry, Ms. Powers, but this is not one more battle in the Mommy Wars, where working mothers duke it out with stay-at-home moms over who is doing the right thing, while guys cheer and hiss on the sidelines. This is a battle about the truth. Wendy Davis didn’t just leave out significant details of her bio. She used the redacted version of her back story as a prop in her campaign, a symbol of who she is, how far she’s come and how she can relate to other working men and women (but especially women).

If a male candidate did the same thing, then a pox on him, as well.

What burns me about Davis and her fellow sisters in the liberal universe is that they end up diminishing the real challenges women still face. It is hard for women to decide how to balance motherhood with work, usually harder than it is for men, even in this enlightened era. And women do face double standards where  aggressiveness can be read as witchiness (spelled with a “b”) and not perseverance and ambition in support of nobler goals.

And, yes, I do believe that women are sometimes scrutinized more thoroughly for credentials, while men with similar backgrounds are given a pass. The Sarah Palin example works there. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s background was about as thin as Sarah Palin’s, yet few saw it as an impediment to his seeking higher office. There was an assumption he was qualified…until he proved, with a spectacularly bad campaign, that he was not. (Same goes with Palin’s vice presidential rival, Joe Biden, whose resume might have been deep, but whose understanding was shallow, and whose gaffes were shrugged off while hers were used as examples of her incompetence.)

Finally, despite what some conservatives like to claim, I believe women do face wage challenges where they might not be paid as much as a male counterpart. Before you start citing studies, ask the women in your household if they ever strongly suspected that men in their offices doing roughly the same jobs (or lower-ranked ones) were getting paid more. My guess is that a good number of women harbor this suspicion. It might not be as big a problem as liberals claim, but it’s still an issue.

So, yes, there are challenges women face, double standards that get applied to them. But when Wendy Davis and her supporters claim she is a victim of this unfair treatment, they make a mockery of legitimate claims about double standards.

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist whose works include humorous women’s fiction, young adult fiction, and historical fiction. Her political writings have appeared at Hot Air, the Weekly Standard, Insight, the Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor.


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