LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Patronizing attitude toward women in state Capitol belittles important issues

Monday, March 31, 2014 | 1:16 p.m. CDT

I first walked into the state Capitol in January, where I was asked within 30 minutes if I was lost by an older man who called me a “girl.”

It was a brief, seemingly harmless interaction that wound up foreshadowing many of my experiences with the Missouri legislature thus far.

I know he meant to be helpful, but as an almost 30-year-old woman, I cannot help wondering with exasperation when I will be seen as a grown-up.

Walking into that marbled building is like teleporting to the 1960s, complete with cigar smoking and concealed weapons in offices.

I have testified at three hearings, and I have been present at many more hearings in both chambers this legislative session, which has seen an unprecedented attack on women’s health.

From what I have experienced personally and witnessed first hand, Republicans, especially in the House, have made it very clear they are not interested in women’s opinions — despite the fact that they cannot stop talking about controlling women’s bodies and actions.

This ranges from Speaker of the House Tim Jones, dismissing Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County, as confused when she disagreed with him during a floor debate, to Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla,  “exerting his power as chairman” of a committee to attempt to strike a woman’s words from the record when she pointed out the obvious political motives behind this barrage of bills.

It begins with the seemingly innocuous labeling of women as “girls,” which establishes their position of power. It becomes offensive and unacceptable, however, when they begin attacking another person’s First Amendment rights during a public hearing.

I understand after only a few months how much some men want to put me in my place. Trust me, I can feel your displeasure and read your body language as you lean in, looking down with menacing glares while I testify.

Your job would be so much easier if we women weren’t speaking our minds and fighting to preserve our rights. Well, despite what you may think, it is not your job to demolish women’s right to safe and legal access to health care, nor is it your job to blatantly try to silence us.

We’re not in a courtroom, and you are not a lawyer, Rep. Frederick.

It is time for Republicans to review their job descriptions and focus on important issues, like providing health care to over 260,000 hardworking Missourians by expanding Medicaid.

Let’s save lives rather than waste any more time belittling women.

Dina van der Zalm is a candidate for a masters degrees in social work and public health at MU. 

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Michael Williams March 31, 2014 | 9:44 p.m.

This missive makes it really difficult for me to tell the difference between a legitimate gripe versus a perpetual chip on the shoulder.

(Report Comment)
Joanne Schrader April 2, 2014 | 1:27 a.m.

As a woman who has visited the capitol nearly every week during the legislative session for several years, my experiences are radically different than Ms. van der Zalm's. No one has ever called me "girl." No legislator has been patronizing, menacing, or disrespectful. On the contrary, abortion supporters are usually condescending and give me the cold shoulder. I've also experienced outright hostility to the pro-life message.

Ms. van der Zalm's letter is indicative this same attitude. Despite the fact some women legislators and women who testify hold a different viewpoint than hers, we are apparently invisible. We have no problem speaking our minds or standing up for ourselves, but apparently it is not what Ms. van der Zalm wants to hear.

She tries to portray this as white male Republicans waging war on women's health. Yet to name a few examples, these same legislators want to protect women from abortion abuses and shoddy care. They are concerned about the numerous ambulance calls to Planned Parenthood in St. Louis and its failed inspection. They expanded the tax credit for pregnancy resource centers, which empower women and provide them with tangible support. Something I have yet to see Planned Parenthood do for mothers who who choose life. The breastfeeding exemption to jury duty passed both chambers.

Despite what Planned Parenthood advocates think, I do not have to be at war with my own fertility to achieve equality.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates April 2, 2014 | 2:59 p.m.

Michael...I think chip-on-shoulder about nails it!

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates April 2, 2014 | 3:04 p.m.

Joanne: I guess I shouldn't say "You go, girl!" :-)

(Report Comment)
Joanne Schrader April 2, 2014 | 11:10 p.m.

Thanks, Skip.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 3, 2014 | 6:20 a.m.

One can only truly be insulted by some remark or action if he or she CHOOSES to be. The choice rests with the receiver, not with the person intiating the insult or action.

Granted, that's difficult to remember. After years of personal experimentation I've found it useful not to reply but to consider that the "insulter" may be in need of surgery to remove his or her head from a specific bodiy orifice.

When a person, group or government causes physical or economic "insult," that's an entirely different matter.

(Report Comment)

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