Happy Friday! Welcome back to Women Rule. Summer is ending, and fall is fast approaching, so I have two questions: What was the best thing you read this summer? What is your favorite recipe when it gets cooler? And an evergreen question: What do you think of this newsletter? Thanks to Maya Parthasarathy for helping me to put this newsletter together.
Will a political backlash have Texas Republicans regretting the state’s abortion ban in 2022? In an article this week, Politico’s Texas-based reporter Renuka Rayasam throws cold water on that theory. She points to a few reasons why a slew of conservative legislation swept the state’s legislature this year, and why, despite talk of how those laws could be a “galvanizing moment” for opponents, Democrats have their work cut out for them.
I wanted to touch base with Renuka not just about some of the points she raised in her article, but also about what it’s been like in El Paso, Texas, as the ban on abortions after six weeks has taken effect. The takeaway? Despite changing demographics and growing cities, Texas is still very much an anti-abortion state. And thanks to some structural issues, that’s likely not changing any time soon.
Katelyn Fossett: What has the mood been like in Texas? Were people expecting the Supreme Court to block the Texas ban?
Renuka Rayasam: People in Texas are no strangers to conservative legislation, and I think if you live here, you see how the state has chipped away at abortion rights over the years, even without court victories. HB2 [which required abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards and required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals] passed in 2013, and the state went from having 40-some abortion clinics to about half that, even though eventually, in 2016, the Supreme Court overturned that law. There’s been a lot written about how that law, until it got overturned, really made it hard for a lot of abortion clinics to operate in the state.
And I live in El Paso, which has not had abortion in a year and a half because of the pandemic. There’s a Planned Parenthood here. But in March 2020, the abortion provider stopped coming. So I think, you know, this concept of abortion deserts and not having that type of care is very familiar to women in Texas.
I think what is unfamiliar is if you live in a big city — if you live in Austin or Houston or Dallas — that kind of care was always accessible or, you know, you could travel to get that care if you lived in another part of the state. What was so surprising is just how quickly the courts didn’t stop this law from going into effect. It happened all at once and the courts, which you’re used to being the bulwark against some of these laws, didn’t block it in this case.
Fossett: I’d imagine that liberal-leaning women are pretty fired up about this and angry, but I’m curious about the more conservative women in Texas. How are they feeling about it?
Rayasam: So if you look at the polling, among GOP women, more than 70 percent support a six-week abortion ban. And publicly, there are a lot of Texas Republican women voter groups, and I looked at what they were saying, and they are cheering on this abortion law for sure.
But for the article, I talked to a lot of women, prominent GOP women, who support abortion rights but won’t say so publicly. And they were saying that, behind the scenes and more quietly, a lot of people were really upset about what happened this week. But there’s just no space for them in their party to speak up. There are a couple who will speak up.
But, you know, they saw what happened to State Rep. Sarah Davis, who I profiled last year. She was a Republican — a pretty conservative woman who supported abortion rights and was conservative on a number of other issues. But she … got primaried by her own party. She got vilified by her own party. She always had Planned Parenthood’s endorsement, but eventually she lost to a Democrat. And so I think people saw that and they thought, Well, if you’re a GOP woman, you’re not going to gain points in your own party for supporting abortion rights. You’re not going to get points from the left for supporting abortion rights. So you just don’t say anything.
(Editor’s note: This happens on both sides as abortion has become an increasingly partisan isssue. A few years ago, Jennifer Haberkorn wrote for POLITICO Magazine about how difficult it is to be an openly anti-abortion member of the Democratic Party.)
Fossett: One of the things you mention in your piece — one of the challenges that Democrats will have if they want to respond to this raft of conservative legislation such as the abortion ban — is the lack of a deep Democratic bench in Texas. Why is that bench lacking?
Rayasam: There are a lot of reasons why. I remember I have a friend who is a state representative who was elected in 2004, and he was one of these young guys who represented a district near Austin. And there was a whole crop of these people 20 years ago, who were going to be the face of the Democratic resistance, and then they all just left. All the Democrats left politics. And when I talk to them about it, they’re like, Well, it’s just too hard to win as a Democrat in the state.
And they had examples like Wendy Davis [who ran for governor in 2014 but didn’t come close to defeating Governor Greg Abbott]. And she was a flawed candidate in a lot of ways, but Republicans control all the levers of power. They control how elections are run. They control how districts are drawn. And even if redistricting doesn’t affect statewide candidates, you can’t just materialize a Senate candidate or gubernatorial candidate out of thin air. That has to come from a congressional district; it has to come from a state House or state Senate district. And Republicans have made it so hard for Democrats to win at the local level that that has really destroyed, I think, the bench in a lot of ways. And then Republicans have a lot more money and a lot more manpower and strategy. And they’re so much more coordinated and fired-up than Democrats, and I don’t know why that is.
I think the state is more purple than the election results show. It is definitely still a conservative state. That’s the other thing here. This is not like some sleeping Democratic giant. This is a conservative state. But there are a lot more Democrats here than I think get represented electorally and honestly, I have not been able to answer that question of why that is. Maybe it’s because when the deck is stacked against you, it’s an uphill climb, because it becomes harder to recruit people who have lives and careers to get into politics.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS …
POLITICO EVENT — The 2020 killing of 20-year-old Army soldier Vanessa Guillen, who had told family she was being sexually harassed by several soldiers prior to her disappearance in Fort Hood, galvanized calls to change how the military deals with sexual assault and harassment. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a veteran and a sexual assault survivor, have long pushed Congress to act on the issue. Now, they have proposed bipartisan legislation to overhaul military sexual assault policies. Their efforts are gaining momentum, but still face opposition.
Register here to join POLITICO Playbook author Rachael Bade on Thursday, Sept. 23 at 1 PM ET / 10 AM PT, for a Women Rule virtual joint interview with Sen. Ernst and Sen. Gillibrand to discuss the state of their proposed legislation and what it will take to end sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.
CALLING ALL WOMEN IN BUSINESS — The Women Business Collaborative (WBC) is proud to announce their third annual summit: “Empowering Through Gender and Diversity,” taking place virtually September 21st and 22nd, 2021. Join them for a day and a half of engaging panels with some of the world’s top speakers and CEOs to discuss how best to create equal position, pay and power for all businesswomen. Speakers include: Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors; Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman & CEO, Magic Johnson Enterprises; Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce; Lilly Ledbetter, author and equal pay activist; and more.
Women Rule readers can access the event for free with the code POLITICO_WBC. For the agenda and information on how to access the event, click here.
What are we talking about when we talk about white women? In now-deleted tweets, writers Robert Rubsam and Matt Yglesias kicked off a conversation about how the phrase “white women” in popular parlance is often code for affluent white women. (See, for instance, Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story “White Women LOL.”) Data scientist David Shor added, “The ‘White women voted for Trump’ thing is weird because they *mean* ‘bourgeois women’ when actually as a group educated white women voted for Clinton/Biden and it’s the working class women whose voting patterns/ideology/beliefs they have a problem with.” Journalist Matt Zeitlin supported that assertion with a reference to a Pew Research examination of 2016 and 2020 voter data. “In 2016, White, non-college women supported Trump by a margin of 56% to 33%,” the Pew report found. “By 2020, Trump’s vote share rose to 64% among this group compared with 35% supporting Biden.”
“DOJ sues Texas over abortion law,” by POLITICO’s Nick Niedzwiadek and Josh Gerstein: “The Biden administration on Thursday sued the state of Texas over its highly restrictive abortion law that the Supreme Court allowed to take effect last week. …
“Thursday’s announcement makes good on Biden’s promise to take on Texas and attempt to block enforcement of the abortion law, setting up a high-stakes fight with Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who are both Republicans up for reelection next year and have vowed to defend the law.”
“The Off-Mic Moment That Changed My View of Larry Elder,” by Erin Aubry Kaplan in POLITICO Magazine: “It was 1997, when [Larry Elder] was at the height of his local popularity, and I was a staff writer for the L.A. Weekly. That year, I had written a cover story called ‘The Butt,’ an essay about Black female physicality that was intended to be humorous but also analytical and serious, an exploration of race and representation through a lens that was unusual at the time, even for a bedrock alternative paper like the Weekly. Essentially, it was a rumination about my own pedestrian struggles with weight and body image that expanded into a bigger rumination about the Black female body, and how the psychology of race and racism is rooted deeply in physical difference.
“The story was noticed by many people in town (not least because it featured my own butt — prominently, but fully clothed — on the cover). One of them was Elder. I recall well how on his show he started complaining about the story, ridiculing the subject matter and the author as incomprehensible. Who was this woman, he scoffed, and what is she talking about?
“At that point, I knew Elder’s worldview well and, like other progressive Black people, had learned to mostly tune him out. But his words incensed me. … On an impulse, I called up the radio station, and in a few minutes, somewhat to my surprise, I found myself on air with Elder. The exchange was brief: I asked him what exactly he didn’t understand about my story, and he huffed but didn’t really answer. I was satisfied, at least. I’d said my piece.
“Afterward, again to my surprise, Elder’s producer followed up with a call to ask if I would now come on the show as a guest, to further discuss the story.”
“In the FX Series on the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal, It’s Not Just the President Who’s Guilty,” by Joanna Weiss in POLITICO Magazine: “The chief sign of whether you’re a winner or a loser — a victim or a victor — is whether you get to write your own history. By those terms, in the 1990s, Monica Lewinsky was a victim through and through. Her affair with President Bill Clinton, once exposed, made her a pawn to those who wanted to take Clinton down, a threat to those who wanted to keep him in power, a lurid fascination to the media, a joke that fed successive evenings of ugly entertainment. Everyone knew her name, and nearly everyone was implicated in her public shaming. The idea that she was human, with feelings and opinions, seldom made it into the narrative.
“In 2021, Lewinsky is fully in charge of her story, thanks to a reputation rehab that began with a Vanity Fair essay in 2014 and worked its way to the pinnacle of modern-day storytelling: a 10-part, star-studded miniseries on prestige TV. ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story,’ which premiered this week on FX, is a production of Ryan Murphy, the creator of ‘Glee’ and ‘American Horror Story,’ who also retold the O.J. Simpson trial for an audience with a fresh perspective. This new series recalibrates an old political scandal for modern sensibilities, starting with the fact that it has Lewinsky’s input and her blessing. (‘All that matters to me is what she thinks,’ Beanie Feldstein, the actress who plays Lewinsky, told the Hollywood Reporter.) …
But if ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’ acknowledges #MeToo, it also complicates the narrative, and maybe even serves as a course correction. When the movement first emerged, there was a broad focus on punishing bad actors and weeding out the problematic people — a hunt-and-purge drive that has extended into other areas of social justice. But in this telling, the world of the ‘90s isn’t a binary place, divided into innocent women and predatory men. It’s a complex web of motivations and major and minor players, in which women aren’t just complicit. They’re largely running the show.”
“The Other Afghan Women,” by Anand Gopal in the New Yorker: “The longest war in American history ended on August 15th, when the Taliban captured Kabul without firing a shot. Bearded, scraggly men with black turbans took control of the Presidential palace, and around the capital the austere white flags of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan went up. Panic ensued. Some women burned their school records and went into hiding, fearing a return to the nineteen-nineties, when the Taliban forbade them to venture out alone and banned girls’ education. For Americans, the very real possibility that the gains of the past two decades might be erased appeared to pose a dreadful choice: recommit to seemingly endless war, or abandon Afghan women.
“This summer, I travelled to rural Afghanistan to meet women who were already living under the Taliban, to listen to what they thought about this looming dilemma. More than seventy per cent of Afghans do not live in cities, and in the past decade the insurgent group had swallowed large swaths of the countryside. Unlike in relatively liberal Kabul, visiting women in these hinterlands is not easy: even without Taliban rule, women traditionally do not speak to unrelated men. Public and private worlds are sharply divided, and when a woman leaves her home she maintains a cocoon of seclusion through the burqa, which predates the Taliban by centuries. Girls essentially disappear into their homes at puberty, emerging only as grandmothers, if ever. It was through grandmothers — finding each by referral, and speaking to many without seeing their faces — that I was able to meet dozens of women, of all ages. Many were living in desert tents or hollowed-out storefronts, like Shakira; when the Taliban came across her family hiding at the market, the fighters advised them and others not to return home until someone could sweep for mines. I first encountered her in a safe house in Helmand. ‘I’ve never met a foreigner before,’ she said shyly. ‘Well, a foreigner without a gun.’”
“The Roe Baby,” by Joshua Prager in the Atlantic: “Roe’s pseudonymous plaintiff, Jane Roe, was a Dallas waitress named Norma McCorvey. Wishing to terminate her pregnancy, she filed suit in March 1970 against Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, challenging the Texas laws that prohibited abortion. Norma won her case. But she never had the abortion. On January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court finally handed down its decision, she had long since given birth — and relinquished her child for adoption. …
“The Court’s decision alluded only obliquely to the existence of Norma’s baby: In his majority opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun noted that a ‘pregnancy will come to term before the usual appellate process is complete.’ The pro-life community saw the unknown child as the living incarnation of its argument against abortion. It came to refer to the child as ‘the Roe baby.’
“Of course, the child had a real name too. And as I discovered while writing a book about Roe, the child’s identity had been known to just one person —an attorney in Dallas named Henry McCluskey. McCluskey had introduced Norma to the attorney who initially filed the Roe lawsuit and who had been seeking a plaintiff. He had then handled the adoption of Norma’s child. But several months after Roe was decided, in a tragedy unrelated to the case, McCluskey was murdered. …
“I had assumed, having never given the matter much thought, that the plaintiff who had won the legal right to have an abortion had in fact had one. But as Justice Blackmun noted, the length of the legal process had made that impossible. When I read, in early 2010, that Norma had not had an abortion, I began to wonder whether the child, who would then be an adult of almost 40, was aware of his or her background. Roe might be a heavy load to carry. I wondered too if he or she might wish to speak about it.”
“Men Fall Behind in College Enrollment. Women Still Play Catch-Up at Work,” by Kevin Carey in the New York Times: “The Wall Street Journal reported this week that men have been hit particularly hard — accounting for roughly three-fourths of pandemic-driven dropouts — and depicted an accelerating crisis in male enrollment.
“A closer look at historical trends and the labor market reveals a more complex picture, one in which women keep playing catch-up in an economy structured to favor men.
“In many ways, the college gender imbalance is not new. Women have outnumbered men on campus since the late 1970s. The ratio of female to male undergraduates increased much more from 1970 to 1980 than from 1980 to the present. And the numbers haven’t changed much in recent decades. In 1992, 55 percent of college students were women. By 2019, the number had nudged up to 57.4 percent. …
“The fact that the male-female wage gap remains large after more than four decades in which women outnumbered men in college strongly suggests that college alone offers a narrow view of opportunity. Women often seem stuck in place: As they overcome obstacles and use their degrees to move into male-dominated fields, the fields offer less pay in return.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to Abbott’s claim on Wednesday.
WATCH — In honor of what would have been the lead singer Dolores O’Riordan’s 50th birthday, the Cranberries have released a new video paying tribute to her.
Alicia Sandlin is joining insurtech startup TrustLayer as director of strategic initiatives. She was previously AVP client director at American International Group. … Chandra Kilgriff will be chief talent officer at the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein and Lehr LLP. She was previously director of diversity, inclusion and pro bono at Robins Kaplan LLP. …
Margaret Francis, COO and president of Armory, a software company, was appointed as an independent board member to the board of directors of Sumo Logic, a data analytics company. … Elizabeth Casey was named deputy general counsel of Fox Corporation and general counsel of Fox Sports. She previously served as executive vice president and associate general counsel. …
Nina Jankowicz, a global fellow at the Wilson Center, will be director of external engagement at Alethea Group, which helps companies detect and mitigate online disinformation.