What Wendy Davis’ Gubernatorial Bid Meant to Texas Women

Screen shot 2014-11-06 at 6.18.46 PMAs a born-and-raised Texan, I’ve followed Wendy Davis from the night of her epic filibuster to her decision to run for governor up to Election Day. While live-streaming her be-sneakered filibuster from my Los Angeles apartment on the balmy night of June 25, 2013, I wished I could have been in the state Capitol for those remarkable 11 hours.

Overnight, Wendy Davis became the face of a silent majority of Texas women who were tired of having their rights encroached upon and their voices outshouted by white conservative men in powerful state positions. The roar in the Capitol from women that night was deafening and was heard all over the country.

Davis’ Alamo-like last stand against Gov. Rick Perry’s draconian anti-abortion measures turned into a rallying cry as pro-choice Texans mobilized to protect the future of reproductive rights in the state. It was all the more heartbreaking when HB2 passed in a second legislative session.

Abortion clinics began to shutter, women–especially those in the Rio Grande Valley–had to drive more than a hundred miles farther to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion, and remaining abortion providers found themselves under siege with an onslaught of TRAP laws. Despite the occasional 11th-hour reprieve from a federal judge, it looked like Perry’s nightmarish vision of an abortion-free Texas was coming to pass.

There is an undercurrent of something ugly in Texas that targets and hurts women. As I was growing up there, I didn’t yet have the language to name what this oppression was but I felt it; it was insidious, ubiquitous and, most of all, unspoken.

I felt it in middle school when the girls were given a “sex-ed” class that had no discussion of condoms or birth control but basically was comprised of the gym teacher explaining the difference between “good girls” and “bad girls.” (The boys weren’t given any type of “sex-ed” class at all.)

I felt it in high school when a friend became pregnant and, not wanting to tell her Catholic parents, went to our guidance counselor for help only be slut-shamed and given the number to a nearby crisis pregnancy center. (She eventually obtained the abortion she was seeking after a gynecologist convinced her mother that her post-anorexic status would make carrying to term potentially dangerous.)

And I felt it especially when I tried to refill a birth-control prescription during winter break in college. An action that would have taken just a quick visit to Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles turned into a labyrinthine rigmarole in my hometown of Fort Worth. One doctor’s office hastily told me they weren’t taking new patients once I said I was seeking a birth-control prescription; another office said they required two separate consultations; and another said I would need a pelvic exam from their doctor before they could give me a prescription. One simply said, “Oh, we don’t give those here,” before hanging up. All I needed was Low-Ogestrel (28) to treat my painful menorrhagia–a hormonal problem I had white-knuckled for years before getting on the Pill. Instead, I was made to feel like a fugitive. 

I eventually was able to name the problem that I felt had surrounded me: misogyny. Misogyny born of the need to control women and their bodies and the inability to trust women to make their own decisions.

That’s why, when Davis came into the spotlight with her charisma and her Ann Richards-like moxie, I saw change on the horizon for the state that I love. I knew she would be an underdog in a state as red as Texas, but I felt thrilled to mail in an absentee ballot and assert a vision of how I would want my state to be. When Greg Abbott breezed right past Davis in the polls, it was expected but still disappointing. I’m not completely discouraged though, and neither are the many Texans still willing to fight toward a different future. Abbott may have won among white men, but overwhelmingly lost among black women and Latinas–the ones most likely to be disproportionately impacted by anti-choice laws.

I’ll always remain grateful to Wendy Davis for having the courage to run in a political climate so severe, and for how she galvanized countless Texans to make themselves heard. That is what democracy looks like. Even in defeat, she fully engaged the collective consciousness of women in Texas who believe they have the right to decide their fates. The fire she lit still burns bright.

Photo courtesy of transportworkers via Creative Commons 2.0. 

 

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Associate editor of Ms. magazine