Texas' 2010 gubernatorial contest is revealing a lot about how residents of the Lone Star state think about gender, or how their politicos think they do. A few weeks ago, Meredith Simons blogged about the newspaper ad that Democratic PAC Back to Basics ran calling Republican incumbent Rick Perry a coward and enjoining voters to "Tell Rick Perry to stop cowering and face Texans like a man." The ad also subtly revived old, totally unconfirmed rumors about Perry's sexual orientation . Mike Hailey at the Texas politics site Capitol Inside took Back to Basics to task for making the respective candidates' virility a campaign issue. But then, in the same column, Hailey admired the strategy for its potential effect on male voters. "There's actually quite a bit of method to the madness and machismo," wrote Hailey. Without any irony I could detect, Hailey continued, "Real men in Texas don't want a pantywaist as their leader." Hailey didn't seem to recognize that his message was no different from that of the "Coward" ad: Male Texans don't want anyone remotely womanly in the governor's mansion. I hate to think what these guys would do-or say-if there were an actual woman running.
What's really disappointing is that politically savvy women in Texas tacitly espouse these old-fashioned notions of what it means to be a man or a woman. Last week Ann Travis, an adviser on Democrat Bill White's campaign, e-mailed White supporters about a $15,000-a-plate wild pheasant and sausage dinner that Republican incumbent Rick Perry is hosting for a select group of male guests. The invitation reportedly states, "wives/significant others join us" after the meal. "Why won't Rick Perry invite women to join him at the dinner table?" Travis asked, with good reason. Austin-based Rachel Farris of the Huffington Post and Christy Hoppe of the Dallas Morning News ' Trail Blazers blog took understandable umbrage as well. Even if Perry is hosting this affair in an attempt to repair any damage done by the "Coward" ad, even though some would probably argue that Perry hosting what Farris went ahead and called a "sausage fest" is no different from a female politician holding a pricey women-only event, the invitation broadcasts loud and clear that female voters are secondary in Perry's eyes.
But there's something else wrong with this invitation that Travis, Farris, and Hoppe didn't note. The invite also expresses a totally retro notion of where a woman's value lies, namely in her attachment to a man. It implies that, even if this dinner were co-ed, women would only be included as dates. As though there is not one woman in Texas with $15,000 and influence of her own to burn, whose support the governor would do well to court independent of her mate's. Also, no woman without a mate will ever have a place at Perry's table. I wouldn't be surprised if Perry thinks just that, but I'm dismayed that his female critics in Texas aren't calling him on it.
Photograph of Rick Perry from Wikimedia Commons.