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Pennebaker: Wendy Davis Needs to Take Back Her Story

by Published on
Wendy Davis
Patrick Michels
Wendy Davis at her gubernatorial campaign launch.

Look, I have no problem with men telling women’s stories—as long as the men in question have the sensitivity and genius of Tolstoy or Flaubert. But let’s not kid ourselves. The guys in the Republican Party and in most of the local news media aren’t going to be limning any fully realized female characters in the near future; they like their women simple and their stories pure.

Anyway, that’s also how we ended up with Wayne Slater’s article in The Dallas Morning News about Wendy Davis, an analysis that practically wheezed with horror that Davis’ life story was more complicated than her initial telling of it. (Well, whose isn’t? I keep thinking. But I know, I know—I need to move on.)

Briefly, Davis was accused of getting the timing wrong on her first divorce and on the length of time she lived in a trailer. Also, her daughters lived with Davis’ second husband much of the time their mother was at Harvard Law School, and the younger continued to live with her father after the Davises divorced. Oh, and Davis’ second husband helped pay her Harvard expenses.

The article also served up a stinging accusation that Davis was “ambitious”—an opinion considered so damning that the source of the quote was granted anonymity. I don’t know about you, but I’d worry about anyone who wasn’t ambitious and went to Harvard Law.

So what? I continue to think. But then I recall that so what? was also my initial reaction to the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry. Here was a war hero running against a president who hotfooted it to the National Guard, dodging domestic golf balls instead of foreign bullets during the Vietnam War, for crying out loud. What a sorry joke. How much damage could the Swift Boat allegations do?

Look at the 2004 presidential election and you see exactly how much damage can be done. When the other side takes control of a candidate’s life story—his or her strongest points, the events that molded that candidate’s life and bolstered her appeal to supporters—she can spend the rest of her campaign running defense and apologizing for minutiae, as the Davis campaign appears to be doing now.

So, stop. Cut the mea culpas.

Wendy Davis still has a powerful, inspiring life story—and I’d love to see her reclaim it loud and clear, without apology. She needs to wrench it back, in fact, and let the other side know it can’t tell her story for her… so get the hell out of her way.

Look at her past, and you realize she understands what it’s like to be young, female, underestimated, poor and uneducated in a state with scant sympathy for any of those attributes. She’s wrestled with marriage and motherhood, education and work, emerging with a promising political career and two adult daughters who clearly love her. And because of those struggles and her gutsy, unflinching filibuster in the Texas Senate, she has inspired so many of us who’d almost forgotten what political inspiration felt like in this state.

I don’t want to forget it again. I want to see Wendy Davis take back her story, complicated as it is, and defy anybody to take it from her. It’s her story, it’s a woman’s story—and sorry, guys, but most men can’t be trusted to tell it in all its complexity. You’ve gotten women wrong too many times, and it’s time for us to tell our own sagas.

Come to think of it, even Tolstoy or Flaubert, for all their genius, fell short in a critical way: Neither Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary made it out alive. This time around, in the 21st century, we’re looking for survivors.

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  • April D. Korbel

    So Davis let her children have continuity in their home and school situation rather than dragging them off to Boston while she attended Harvard? She made a short term sacrifice of time with her children to make a longer term investment in her and their future. I would think those “family values” voters would appreciate that choice. I guess the only thing that would have made them happy would be if stayed in that trailer, not gotten a job and stayed with the kids. Oh, but then she’d have needed government assistance.

    • lessthantolerant

      So Wendy could not have cared for her children while at Harvard? Thank goodness she had a sugar daddy to pay for her freedoms.
      April, how stupid for you to take such a position

      • April D. Korbel

        Why would she want to uproot the kids when she didn’t have to? Parents make these decisions all the time over which one will care for the children. Sometimes staying with mommy isn’t the best option, especially when it’s a short term separation.
        My point was that moving the children to live with her while at Harvard would have disrupted their lives by moving them to a new school, new home, maybe new friends. Law school is very rigorous but temporary. By leaving the kids with her husband she gave them stability and was very likely able to minimize the amount of time she would have to be away.
        Calling her husband a “sugar daddy” demeans him and shows your low opinion of women, especially those who are trying to improve their skills and value in the marketplace.

  • lessthantolerant

    “Look, I have no problem with men telling women’s stories—as long as the men in question have the sensitivity and genius of Tolstoy or Flaubert. But let’s not kid ourselves. The guys in the Republican Party and in most of the local news media aren’t going to be limning any fully realized female characters in the near future; they like their women simple and their stories pure.”
    The stupidity of the opening paragraph tells one all they need to know what Ruth’s aim is. To sound intelligent by reference. Too bad she does not know much about her choices of authors. Tolstoy had 14 children 1 who was illegitimate and had such a stained marriage he wife argued with him constantly. Flaubert cavorted with prostitutes and eventually died from complications of an STD. So her who perceptions are based on their novels?
    Ruth, Wendy’s story is obvious, she is a liar who was compelled to fabricate her story to fit the model democrats think play well to the audience. That audience are stupid people like you.
    Typical detached from the reality of the world, Ruth must believe in someone like Wendy because she wholly supports abortion on demand, because we al know that is the most important issue for all women.

  • Jack Hughes

    Davis has nothing to apologize for in regards to her biography.The Republicans have just done a micro-dissection on her timeline in an attempt to manufacture a smear.

    What Davis does need to avoid is foolish pandering to constituencies that will never support her — such as her recent endorsement of the “open carrying” of firearms. The gun nuts will never, ever, vote for Ms. Davis, and she risks dampening the enthusiasm of liberal/moderate supporters when turnout will be crucial to any strategy for victory.

    • lessthantolerant

      So her being a liar and typical politician are excusable faults to you?

      • Jack Hughes

        If you were honest, you would admit that your opposition to Davis is based on ideological differences — not the dishonest interpretation of her timeline or her decision to advance her education while her ex-husband cared for her children.

        But you’re not so you won’t.

        • lessthantolerant

          I dislike any democrat, I am simply amazed your side wants to make little of the fact she is a lair and fraud.

          • not_Bridget

            The problem is that Greg Abbot refuses to talk about the issues Wendy Davis–and most Texans–care about. Education? He’d like more Charter schools but really has no suggestions. Ms Davis has spoken in detail on educating future Texans.

            Nope, the Republicans would rather whine about a woman’s private life. Most Texas women aren’t timid little housewives, letting their husbands tell them how to vote. We can deal with complicated lives….

          • TheIGofSA

            Gregg Abbott has been most nothing bu issues. Davis’ team is constantly hitting my emails with complaints about him

          • don76550

            I would also suggest staying with a sugar daddy husband until he makes the last payment on your Harvard studen loan – and then splitting, is not too far removed from prostitution.

      • don76550

        To be a democrat is to support rampant lying, perversions, marxism and demonstrate a hatred and contempt for our bill of rights and the principles American was founded on. Voting for democrats is voting for treason.

  • 1bimbo

    i’d like to hear more about jeff davis’ story. what a great father and supportive husband, an inspiration for our sons

  • don76550

    Hard to take back a lie