On the heels of the now-national story of Michigan legislators being banned from speaking for mentioning the words “vagina” and “vasectomies”, it’s worth having a look back into the ancient history of earlier this year.
Why? Because they are guilty of far more egregious behavior toward women than having their sensibilities offended by all of these “v” words.
And then some.
First, there’s Senator and serial sexist Rick Jones calling a female public relations executive Kelly Rossman-McKinney a “hooker”.
[Senator Jones] likened longtime Lansing public relations executive Kelly Rossman-McKinney to “a hooker” in the Michigan Information and Research Services’ widely read Capital Capsule, a daily report on state government news.
Rossman-McKinney, a self-described “tough old broad” who has worked in both houses of the Legislature and three executive branch departments, has been a fixture in the state capital for decades. She’s about as thin-skinned as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and she says she figured Jones would swing back after she named him one of Lansing’s Biggest Losers of 2011 in an another MIRS interview.
But Rossman-McKinney says she was stunned when Jones responded by asserting that “Kelly, like a ‘hooker,’ works for whichever client hires her.” She says her anger intensified when an embarrassed Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, told her that Jones had made the unsavory comparison in an unsolicited e-mail dispatched over the objections of the Republican Senate Caucus staff.
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer responded with a blistering op-ed in the Detroit Free Press:
As a female legislator, I often speak to groups of women — from Girl Scouts and graduates to fellow female attorneys and aspiring politicians. I share my personal experiences and discuss the myriad of challenges females face in elected office. But I rarely convey how much chauvinism and sexism still go on in politics today because, quite frankly, I am embarrassed by it. I do not have the heart to tell a classroom full of girls that the same attitudes and animosity they encounter on the playground persist to our highest levels of government.
Sexism in the Legislature is usually more latent, but as of late it has become particularly blatant. Recently state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, publicly and premeditatedly compared a prominent female professional in Lansing to a “hooker.”
Everyone knows how supercharged such terms are, and this is a new low in a political realm that is already known for its cheap shots and name-calling. This is completely out of line, and I am appalled that anyone, let alone a legislative colleague, would exercise such inappropriate conduct.
Sadly, this is just the most recent and most prominent incident in a pattern of Jones’ boorish and chauvinistic behavior and his leadership’s apparent willingness to tolerate it. [...]
It is going to be difficult to change that and attract more female leaders if the Neanderthal quotient continues to grow. Much of the opposition to Granholm’s policies came in personal and often chauvinistic attacks (i.e., calling her “Jenny” in formal statements).
As the first female leader in the state Senate, my rivals often seek to undermine me with dismissive condescension and thinly veiled sexism. In the past few months, Jones has insulted and intimidated a female conservative activist and a moderate pundit alike, notching two formal complaints by two women in two months.
With its “boys will be boys” mentality, the good ol’ boys network in Lansing has gotten out of hand and must stop. A strong woman is NOT a bitch. A successful woman is NOT a hooker or a gold-digger. A compassionate woman is NOT overly sensitive and thin-skinned. And a passionate woman is NOT shrill. [...]
My colleagues often talk about promoting our state so our economy is not incorrectly viewed as a dinosaur. But how credible can we be when our standard-bearers act like cavemen?
Not to be outdown by Jones, WWJ radio host and Republican strategist Greg McNeilly responded to Senator Whitmer’s op-ed with this tweet:
Actually I do think Gretchen Whitmer is a government hooker…just to be clear.
— Greg McNeilly (@gregmcneilly) January 9, 2012
Then, just last month, we had House Representative Frank Foster calling a nurse a “cunt”.
On Tuesday evening, Foster was visiting a home on Lansing’s south side when he walked up to the fence and asked Michigan Nurses Association staffer Julia Smith-Heck to stop mowing her lawn. They had a conversation about the “Protect Our Jobs” campaign to permanently enshrine collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution, which the Michigan Nurses Association actively supports. Foster became hostile and walked away.
He returned shortly afterward, demanding again that she stop mowing, saying it was bothering his autistic son. [Foster does not have children, according to his official bio information.] Smith-Heck declined, needing to finish mowing, but ended a short while later and went across the street to talk to her neighbor.
Foster, a woman and a boy of about 3 or 4 came out and walked up to Smith-Heck and her neighbor. Foster said, “I want to introduce you to my son, Chase. I want to introduce you to the person whose night you ruined.”
He then walked away, asking Smith-Heck, “Are you going to apologize?” She responded, “For mowing my lawn?” Foster said, “So you’re not going to apologize”? She repeated, “For mowing my lawn?” Foster yelled across the street, “You’re a cunt!”
The act of censuring women legislators for speech isn’t escaping notice. Here’s political consultant and commentator Bill Ballenger:
“It’s never happened,” legislative historian and Inside Politics editor Bill Ballenger said. “There is no precedent. There have been altercations in the House and Senate. But the idea of the controlling party, Republican or Democratic, censuring, in a sense, two of its members for speech, literally clamping down on their free-speech rights? It never happened and shouldn’t happen. And, in my view, won’t happen again.”
The legislature is on summer recess for the moment. I’m sure they hope that in the next few weeks, the issue will quiet down and be forgotten.
I can assure you that this will NOT happen, not if I and those who support our Democratic women have anything to say about it. When they return, they can be sure that they will be hearing a great deal more about this.
You can get started on Monday, June 18th when there will be a special performance of The Vagina Monologues on the steps of the state Capitol. The event, titled “Vaginas Take Back the Capitol”, has a Facebook page HERE. So far, the list of speakers includes Sen. Rebekah Warren, Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, Rep. Barb Byrum, Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes, Rep. Dian Slavens, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Lisa Brown, Rep. Vicki Barnett, Rep. Joan Bauer.
This issue, this hypocrisy, this GOPocrisy will NOT be forgotten. The Michigan Republican’s War on Women will not be waged without a fight.
*It’s NOT OK if you are Republican
[Gretchen Whitmer photo by Chris Savage | Eclectablog. Vagina graphic courtesy of the Michigan ACLU, used with permission. All other photos from official government websites.]