There’s no indication that state Rep. Kenny Havard was aiming for anything other than a turn as class clown when he introduced his jokey amendment to a serious bill aimed at cracking down on human trafficking.
Nor has he seen the light and apologized for greeting a proposal to raise the minimum age to 21 for dancers at strip clubs with an amendment mandating that they can also be no older than 28 or weigh no more than 160 pounds, which he quickly withdrew. The fault for the subsequent hubbub, he insisted, didn’t lie in his own not-so-implicit commentary on women’s desirability but on rampant political correctness.
But by stumbling into this mess, Havard has inadvertently started a discussion that’s well worth having.
Credit the women in the House, starting with state Reps. Julie Stokes and Nancy Landry, who immediately spoke up, labeled his comments offensive and linked them to more general attitudes in the Legislature.
And credit those who are continuing to talk about it, such as Democratic state Rep. Helena Moreno, who explicitly linked the episode to the House Labor Committee’s rejection of a bill aimed at helping women receive equal pay for equal work, and state Sen. Regina Barrow, also a Democrat, who told The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen that many men don’t get how comments about women are supposed to look can put them on the defensive.
And don’t forget the men who do get it, such as Democratic state Rep. Walt Leger III, who bemoaned a Donald Trump-era culture in which “making offensive comments and then feeling entitled not to apologize is politically expedient.”
Allen found plenty of women who said they don’t feel they’re subject to sexism in the state government, and that’s fine. Not everyone is going to have the same experiences or respond to situations the same way.
But if there’s a lesson here, it should be that blaming the excesses of political correctness is not a get-out-of-jail-free card that absolves the speaker of any responsibility causing offense, intentional or not. Judging by his defiance the day after the firestorm, that’s a lesson that they guy who started this mess has yet to learn.
Follow Advocate political columnist Stephanie Grace is on Twitter, @stephgracela.