Am I the only one who heard about state Rep. Kenny Havard’s supposed “joke” of an amendment to regulate strip clubs and thought, “Is this what it would be like to live in Donald Trump’s America?”
The presumed GOP presidential nominee had nothing to do with Havard’s measure to mandate that dancers who work at such establishments be no older than 28 years old and weigh, at most, 160 pounds. The amendment was submitted, then quickly withdrawn, during Wednesday’s House debate over state Sen. Ronnie Johns’ Senate Bill 468. That legislation is an entirely serious proposal to raise the minimum age to 21 in an effort to crack down on human trafficking and reported abuse of homeless youths and foster children who have aged out of the system.
But Havard’s tone echoed way too much of the demeaning language we’re hearing on the national political stage these days, in an era in which a possible president thinks it’s OK to casually rank womens’ appearances on a scale of one to 10, to liken those who criticize him to fat pigs or speculate out loud about their menstrual cycles, and to pronounce the idea of 68-year-old Hillary Clinton using the restroom “disgusting.” Are we to believe that whenever the 69-year-old Trump assumes the position at a urinal, the angels sing?
After months of hearing all this, you’ve got to wonder whether there are any limits to how boorishly sexist a politician can be.
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Thankfully, there are. And just as thankfully, a handful of Louisiana lawmakers rose to the occasion Wednesday and said so.
Let me add here that, Trump’s takeover of the national Republican Party aside, this is not a partisan matter.
Havard, who presented his idea as a way of “trimming the fat,” is a Jackson Republican, but some House Democrats participated in the merriment as well. They include Sam Jones of Franklin, who earned a round of laughs from his mostly male colleagues when he invoked the idea of an upper-age limit in a question on the floor. Other lawmakers started a pile of dollar bills, as if they were tipping strippers.
The group of female lawmakers who called them on it spanned party lines as well.
Republican State Rep. Nancy Landry of Lafayette called Havard on his “fat” quip, asking whether he was saying that “people over 28 or over a certain weight aren’t fit to be dancers or strippers?” She said later that she found the amendment and the light-hearted turn the debate took shocking and disappointing, and that Havard was “clearly insinuating that women over a certain age and over a certain weight are not attractive.”
State Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner, another Republican, not only excoriated her colleagues for allowing this particular debate to devolve, but also argued that it’s part of a pattern of misogynistic behavior.
“Looking out over this body, I’ve never been so repulsed to be a part of it,” Stokes said. “It has got to stop. That was utterly disrespectful and disgusting.”
Let me also add that raising their voices was not a risk-free proposition, despite the stature these women hold in the Legislature.
Stokes is a CPA who’s emerged as a thoughtful, open-minded thinker on how to tackle Louisiana’s budget situation. Landry is earning strong reviews for her stewardship of the Education Committee, which oversees its share of contentious legislation. Yet both clearly get how easy it is for boys being boys to cut women down to size.
And both also must understand that in an environment like this, those who speak up risk being tagged with a different gender stereotype: the schoolmarm. That’s a tough role to take on in any situation, but particularly in the clubby world of politics, where relationships so often determine success or failure.
Still, if the female lawmakers who criticized their male colleagues made them uncomfortable, imagine how uncomfortable they must have felt to have been moved to say something.
Havard insisted his aim wasn’t to demean anyone, but to comment on the culture of overregulation — something that must not bother him too much, since he joined in on the bill’s unanimous approval. He declined to apologize, though.
Trump also routinely sidesteps blame, and argues that he’s got nothing but respect for women. Yet his comments, and those from others in the same vein, create an ugly, demeaning atmosphere for far too many Americans.
As a country, it seems, we’ve got an awful lot of speaking up to do. And the state Capitol is as good a place as any to start.