A word of advice to men who decide to ruthlessly investigate women’s healthcare and reproductive rights: When you finally invite the head of Planned Parenthood to testify before Congress, don’t wink at her as you mansplain that “It’s not always what you say, it’s sometimes just what you mean.”
Alas, that is exactly what Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) did when questioning Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards on Tuesday during a hearing led by House Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee—known amongst some on the Hill as the Ogre committee, and apparently for good reason.
Dubbed by Rachel Maddow as a “mink”—a mean wink! a man wink! a mean-man wink!—Gowdy’s mink emerged as a perfect symbol for everything that is sexist and, frankly, gross about The Summer of Men Telling Women About Their Bodies.
The mink came about four hours into the hearing, as Gowdy sparred with Richards over her previous testimony. "I appreciate the way you try to frame these issues," Gowdy said from his Committee-ordained bench, his voice dripping with condescension. "That you're the reasonable one, and those of us who have a contrary position aren't reasonable."
Richards responded that she never said Gowdy was unreasonable. But the congressman wasn't having it. That's when the mink—and indeed, some question whether it was an intentional mink—took place, as Gowdy informed Richards that she may not mean what she says.
Triggered by the release of a series of undercover “sting” tapes made by the antiabortion activist group the Center for Medical Progress, lately, Congress can't stop talking about how much women don’t know about their own bodies. Yes, the spirit of former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin and his claims of "legitimate rape" live on in the recent attacks on women’s health—and now, the mink—particularly when it comes to abortion.
As the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement released Thursday, “[f]acts are very important, especially when discussing the health of women and the American public. The fact is, abortion is an essential component of women’s health care.”
Which is really what the mink belies—that facts don’t matter. That what a woman says should be universally understood to not be what she means, especially when it comes to her own health. That women should be grateful for men who not only understand women’s bodies better than women themselves, but understand that women can’t be expected to know what they’re talking about.
How lucky we are, then, that the mink exists to let women everywhere know that it’s okay—men get it. Rest easy, women of America, the young rising stars of the conservative movement know you’re incapable of saying what you mean. They’re on it. They're here to help.
Unfortunately, that help is taking the form of trying to eliminate Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider, implement a federal 20-week abortion ban, and strip women of any decision-making at all, when it comes to their health. It's taking the form of trying to usher in a era in which choice is eliminated, least of all the choice to select your own healthcare provider and work with that physician to make the best decisions for yourself and your body.
The mink on display Tuesday is emblematic of a much larger sociological problem: A political culture that doesn’t mind inviting a woman to come speak regarding her own area of expertise, as long as everyone accepts that on the rare occasion when she is allowed to speak, her words are discounted—but gently, of course. She is a lady, after all. It would be rude to offend her.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.