Attacks on Wendy Davis’ Life Story Follow Classic Sexist Playbook
January 23, 2014, 1:00am

By Aviva Shen, ThinkProgress

A Dallas Morning News story triggered media buzz Monday, accusing Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis (D) of exaggerating the hardships in her personal narrative and using her ex-husband to escape poverty.

Davis has said she came from an impoverished family and lived in a mobile home as a teenage mother, but overcame the odds to eventually graduate from college and Harvard Law School. The Dallas Morning News profile and subsequent media reactions have played up her marital and familial problems to poke holes in this story. While these personal details would be hardly a blip on a male candidate’s record, they are now being used to paint the state senator as a classic sexist archetype: the ruthlessly ambitious woman who sacrifices her children and uses her sexual wiles to manipulate men.

Here are the top three most sexist attacks in the Dallas Morning News profile:

She didn’t really struggle because she only lived in a trailer for a few months as a single mom. Claiming that “facts have been blurred” in her story, The Dallas Morning News’ Wayne Slater seized on Davis’ description of her struggles as a 19-year-old divorced single mom, pointing out that she was actually 21 when the divorce was finalized. In fact, Davis was a 19-year-old single mom who was only unofficially separated from her husband, and “lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.”

“Some will question how much of her success was her own doing, and how bad her circumstances were to start,” Slater wrote.

When confronted with this two-year discrepancy, Davis admitted, “My language should be tighter…I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”

She later released a statement saying, “The truth is that at age 19, I was a teenage mother living alone with my daughter in a trailer and struggling to keep us afloat on my way to a divorce. And I knew then that I was going to have to work my way up and out of that life if I was going to give my daughter a better life and a better future and that’s what I’ve done. I am proud of where I came from and I am proud of what I’ve been able to achieve through hard work and perseverance. And I guarantee you that anyone who tries to say otherwise hasn’t walked a day in my shoes.”

She manipulated her husband into paying her tuition. After divorcing and enrolling in community college, Davis met her second husband, Jeff Davis, a 34-year-old lawyer, and married him after two years of dating. Davis helped her pay for the last two years of college and cashed in his 401(k) to help her pay for Harvard Law School while taking care of their children. He claimed Wendy left him “the next day” after he made the last payment on her Harvard Law loan.

The state senator shot down the implication that she had free-loaded on her husband, pointing out that she had her own income as a successful lawyer after graduating in 1993. “I was a vibrant part of contributing to our family finances from the time I graduated to the time we separated in 2003,” she told the newspaper. “The idea that suddenly there was this instantaneous departure after Jeff had partnered so beautifully with me in putting me through school is just absurd.”

She abandoned her children in order to pursue a career. Because Jeff Davis took care of their daughters while Wendy went to law school, therefore flipping traditional gender roles in childcare, right-wing pundits are now calling her a bad mother who “apparently abandoned her children.” “Wendy is tremendously ambitious,” one anonymous source, described as a former colleague and political supporter, told the Dallas Morning News. “She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else get in her way.”

Erick Erickson of RedState even blasted out the headline “Wendy Davis’ Ex Asked a Court to Order Her Not to Use Drugs Before Seeing Her Kids,” a charge entirely based on boilerplate divorce settlement language barring a parent from using drugs or alcohol 24 hours before seeing their children.