A Girl Strikes Back | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A Girl Strikes Back

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Donna Ladd

I was astounded to read in a recent Associated Press story that Mississippi House of Representatives Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, refers to fellow legislators exclusively as "men." He likes to warn his conservative followers that only Republicans can set "the agenda" in Mississippi. "Your man, because he's a Democrat, is not a part of that conversation," he often repeats.

After he used the "your man" line to the media, an AP reporter asked Gunn, "What about the women?"

"Man or woman," Gunn said. "Whatever. I should have said, 'the member.'" He added, "I didn't mean to not include the girls," he said.

"The women?" AP responded.

"They like when I call them girls," he said, "cause they think they're younger."

Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Of course, how would he know if the female legislators in his House like that label or not? It's not like they're likely to challenge their speaker who has power over them. That makes it textbook sexism.

I reposted the AP story on my Facebook page, with one remark attached, "Then there's this good ole boy." (See what I did there: girl, boy? Words are my playmate.)

A day or so later, I saw my post on Jim Prince's page. Prince is a newspaper editor and publisher, both of the Madison County Journal and the Neshoba Democrat in my hometown. He is also the immediate past president of the Mississippi Press Association, the same organization that won't allow this newspaper to join as a voting member because we're free-distribution. They ban us even though their members distribute lots of free papers and magazines, including The Northside Sun, whose publisher, Wyatt Emmerich, was a recent MPA president.

The MPA board is all white men, except for one white woman, making it look more like the Mississippi press of old rather than reflect the citizenry of the state with the highest percentage of African Americans. They remain mired in traditions of the past, including the "paid" rule that a newspaper must be, supposedly, bought from a box or by subscription in order to be a member—a requirement many modern press associations in the U.S. have abandoned. Some of the best media outlets in the country are free to consumers, especially this century.

But this column isn't about the MPA, as dinosaur as it might be. When Prince saw my six-word remark about Gunn, he took umbrage. He reposted it, starting out, "The middle class is being left behind and the libs are whining about another manufactured war on women. What about education reform and jobs that would move our state forward?" Because everyone knows we girls can't hold more than one big ole thought at a time. Then, Jackson came up, too, because, you know, wink-wink. "Does anyone other than a handful of liberals in Jackson actually believe this garbage that Philip Gunn and the Republicans are waging war against women?" (A lot of the women who voted against Personhood and for birth-control pills and in-vitro fertilization and making their own health-care decisions certainly do.)

Then, I was a communist who wants to ignore terrorism abroad, while using Gunn's remarks as a diversionary tactic. "I mean this is the same ole bile, nothing more than a diversion, a product of their anger because voters are rejecting their socialist-marxist notions of governance left and right. Europe is on fire. Create a diversion!" Prince wrote.

Next, Prince really popped off a dud: "This demonization over women is 'punishment' for the Speaker's suggestion the state flag be changed out of Christian love. There is absolutely no way the Republicans are getting credit for that kind of advancement."

What? I guess the publisher didn't stop to actually look at what I, and this paper, have written about both Gunn and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, praising them for their admirable Christian arguments that the state flag should change. It was too much fun to falsely accuse me of being anti-Christian to actually factcheck his accusations, which were patently false.

In comments, Prince said I called myself a "victimized feminist," which I would never say because I don't allow myself to be or feel "victimized," although I'm a proud feminist, as are many men I know, including my partner, Todd. Prince said I called him a "communist" because I called out his "communist rhetoric." Again ... not things I said. He's supposed to be a newspaper editor.

Boys will be boys, even in 2015.

As a journalist, I find Prince's quick jump to defend a public servant for insulting a whole gender astonishing. His misrepresentation of what someone actually says, in order to make her look bad, is shocking for someone who knows that "opinion" doesn't include making up "facts" about someone. It is very sad that leaders of the state's press association would stoop to such depths because another newspaper editor takes a position against sexism that they don't agree with.

If a newspaperman wants to defend Gunn, because you're big buddies or something—"aw, Ladd, you know he was joking!"—do that, but how do dumb personal attacks for my "boy" word play help move his argument forward? Sure, it might tickle the Facebook frat house for the feeble attempt to stick it to the feminist, but should that be a grown man's primary goal? Or, should a media executive try to add to the public discourse in a meaningful way?

The saddest part about such poo-flinging is how destructive it is to civic dialogue and others' willingness to speak up. If you, heaven forbid, call out an elected official for insulting an entire gender, then all hell shall rain down upon ye. And if you're a woman who speaks up in our state, they'll pile on twice as much, hoping it silences you.

Here's the thing: I'm just not personally insulted when someone pulls my pigtails on the playground. I'm an outspoken progressive newspaperwoman in Mississippi: I've been called every name possible, every part of my body made fun of on blogs where the bad boys refuse to use real names, and all kinds of goofball online stunts like people sending fraudulent emails under my name.

I'm used to it. But the point is bigger than me and my Teflon response to childish insults. It's about all the other women and men who hear these things, especially younger people who are trying to find a place in our state and community, who might want to challenge the status quo, who would like to speak out without being pummeled by fools trying to squelch diverse opinion.

It's heartbreaking to watch people like Prince—who is from my hometown, where the "Christian soldiers" of the Klan killed "communists" Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner—trot out the same old tropes used for decades to squelch any dissent to racism and hatred of "the other." It's one thing to disagree: It's another to pile on every cliche insult, and some falsehoods to boot.

It's nasty, and people in the news business know better than to make stuff up. Most importantly, they should be better role models at how to discuss and debate like adults.

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