Gov. Phil Bryant stepped in it Monday. As part of a Washington Post Live event, he was asked how America had ended up so "mediocre" in educational outcomes. He answered: "I think both parents started working. The mom got in the work place."
By Tuesday afternoon, social media was burning up with Bryant's quote, and working mothers, especially, responded. Some defenders said he was taken out of context, as these men always are when they say something remarkably anti-women.
Perhaps the best comment came from Cristen Hemmins, a working mother of three in Oxford, Miss., who quickly submitted a response to the JFP website. In it, she wrote: "You can't demonize welfare moms sucking the government teat and also demonize working moms, Governor Bryant. You can't have it both ways."
This, friends, is the context that Gov. Bryant's statement needs and deserves. He is a prime example of the type of conservative who boxes women into a corner with mixed messages: You shouldn't take the pill or get an abortion. You shouldn't be a single mother. You shouldn't work. You shouldn't get government assistance. You shouldn't demand equal pay or a higher minimum wage. You shouldn't expect the government to take care of your kids.
The hypocrisy goes on, of course, but Bryant's comment this week wrapped it up in a package for women in Mississippi, one of the worst states for them and their children in the country. They are at fault for whatever goes wrong. It doesn't matter that the public schools started slumping under the weight of a backlash from forced integration. It doesn't matter that we vastly underfund our schools. It doesn't matter that politics has forced us to test kids to death to somehow justify the money the schools do manage to get.
And it doesn't matter that these attitudes are targeted at and hurt middle-class, poor and working mothers of all races while the people hurling the accusations are affluent enough to overcome the challenges.
It is no real surprise from Bryant, of course. He has long been fully on the anti-women train--from being the co-chair of the Personhood Initiative (that failed even as he was elected), to joining the far right against contraception, to blaming poor women for their own plight. But this latest salvo should be a wake-up call to Mississippians just as the extreme Personhood effort was: Women work hard to care for their families and are under immense strain in our state. They get little assistance from the government, and for what they do get, they are blamed and belittled for needing.
We can do better, Mississippi. We can start by talking back to so-called leaders like Phil Bryant, regarding of our political party leaning. We can start seeking and supporting more progressive-minded candidates. And we can stand up for women in a state where belittlement of them is a daily sport.
It is time for Mississippi leaders to respect women, or for women to eject those leaders.