January 23, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: These Boots Are Made for Harvard: Feminist mythology and the Wendy Davis tale.

Ehrenreich’s joke is a nod to the reality of female hypergamy, the drive to mate upward. “Marrying a $10-an-hour man gets you nowhere” may be a heartless thing to say, but that’s another way of saying it’s a coldly rational analysis. Achieving economic self-sufficiency is a challenging goal for someone without a privileged upbringing, but for many women it’s a more realistic one than finding a husband who’s a good provider. Men in turn have less incentive to be ambitious and conscientious when women no longer need or expect them to be providers.

Thus in an important sense “women’s liberation” is a myth, at least for nonaffluent women. A consequence of the past half-century’s massive social changes has been to burden these women with the role of provider and deprive them of much of the help their grandmothers got from men (as well as depriving children of the benefits of a stable family).

Which brings us to Wendy Davis, who turns out to be a personification of this feminist myth. Davis is the Fort Worth, Texas, state senator who became a feminist cause célèbre last year when she led a failed filibuster against a bill to impose modest restrictions on abortion. Now she is running for governor.

Davis’s campaign has leaned heavily on autobiography: “Mine is a story about a teenage single mother who struggled to keep her young family afloat,” she declares on her campaign website. “It’s a story about a young woman who was given a precious opportunity to work her way up in the world. It’s a story about resiliency, and sacrifice, and perseverance. And you’re damn right it’s a true story.”

Well, yes and no. She was a single mom, having married, given birth and divorced by age 21. But “in an extensive interview . . ., Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life,” Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning news reported in a Saturday story that has roiled the campaign.

“My language should be tighter,” the candidate told the reporter. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”

She’s damn right she does. Slater quotes Davis’s website bio: “With the help of academic scholarships and student loans, Wendy not only became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree but graduated first in her class and was accepted to Harvard Law School.”

It turns out that in addition to “academic scholarships and student loans,” she benefited from a marriage to a high-status man. . . .

The details of the Davises’ marriage and divorce would be a purely private matter were they not so sharply at variance with the up-from-the-bootstraps tale she has been spinning. “My story of struggle and sacrifice is not unique,” she tweeted defiantly yesterday. “it is the story of millions of Texas women.”

That’s an example of feminism’s false promise. As it turns out, for Wendy Davis marriage really was the answer to poverty. But even in Texas, there aren’t millions of Jeff Davises to go around.

Read the whole thing.