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Is Wendy Davis a liar or a victim?

By Peggy Drexler
January 31, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peggy Drexler: Wendy Davis, running for governor in Texas, had discrepancies in her bio
  • Was she divorced at 19 or 21, did husband help pay for school, how long did she live in trailer/?
  • Drexler: In misogynistic attacks, right wing calling her "whore," worse. Men not treated this way
  • Drexler: Double-standard smears will help, not hurt

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- Is Wendy Davis a liar? Turns out the Texas senator and gubernatorial hopeful had some help paying for her Harvard Law School education (though she never said she didn't). Turns out, too, that Davis' two children spent most of their time back in Texas while Davis got that education (though she never said they hadn't). She claimed she was 19 when she divorced, but the truth appears to be that she was separated at 19 and divorced at 21 (busted!).

And though she's told stories about the difficulties of time spent living in a trailer with her daughter, a recent Dallas Morning News article might lead us to ask, is that so bad?! She lived in that trailer "only a few months."

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

For these errors, Davis has been branded a liar, a whore and a terrible mother. No matter, one could argue that her embellishments are no worse than those of the average politician, or, for that matter, any 50-year-old recounting details of events that happened some 30 years earlier-- not that anyone's asking male politicians whether their wives helped pay for their education, or who watched the kids while they were off supporting the family.

"So Abortion Barbie had a Sugar Daddy Ken," tweeted Fox News pundit Erick Erickson, referring to Davis' filibuster last year of an anti-abortion bill. Tea Party Republican Todd Kincannon tweeted, "Wendy Davis has solved America's student loan crisis! Just find a dumbass to pay off your loans in exchange for sex." Bristol Palin weighed in with a somewhat less vitriolic but no less pointed jab at Davis and her then-husband's decision to have her daughters stay home with him in Texas while she attended law school: "Gosh," wrote Palin, "children are sooo inconvenient, huh?"

While Davis has conceded that she inaccurately represented, if only slightly, a few facts concerning her background — or, at least, allowed the media to do so for her — the controversy surrounding her candidacy isn't about whether or not she is too untrustworthy to serve as governor as her detractors would have you believe. It's about whether she's too female. Consider that male politicians, and men in other big jobs, leave their families for days or weeks at a time in order to earn their best living. Or that it's not unusual for husbands to go through school with support, financial and otherwise, from their spouses.

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And let's be honest: Would people accept Davis as a legitimate candidate for Texas governor if she had skipped school in favor of staying home with her kids? If she had not become a lawyer or a senator but instead spent her days driving carpool? No. No more than we'd consider asking our male candidates how they had the audacity not to choose to be stay-at-home dads.

This isn't a debate over Davis' values, but rather a reminder that she is a woman, and that a woman's place is at home. The digs here aren't about her character or her politics. They're about her gender, and the fact that voters continue to want their female candidates smarter, sharper and more unimpeachable than their male ones -- and to have stayed home with the kids, too. This is a prejudice that's not even rooted in truth, since a number of studies have found that children raised in single-father homes fare just as well as those in single-mother homes.

Still, this controversy could be the best thing that's happened for Davis, and for female politicians in general. With every blatantly misogynistic conservative view spewed into the discourse, female voters become more acutely aware of, and angry about, society's enduring sexism. And that matters. The GOP's "war on women" has directly impacted votes, and not in a small way. In a Gallup poll conducted shortly before the 2012 election — and not long after events like Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" and the right-wing smearing of attorney and activist Sandra Fluke — 60% of women said government policies on birth control would be extremely or very important in influencing their vote.

So go ahead, Kincannons and Palins of the world. Smear away. Call Wendy Davis or any other female politician a "whore" and a "bad mother" enough and American women will start to wonder what you think about them. Which, of course, isn't very much.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

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he opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

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