Rick Perry, Mansplainer in Chief

The Texas governor has some pointed words for Wendy Davis.
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Oh Rick Perry, how we've missed you.

The Texas governor who drew national attention for his "oops" moment during the last GOP presidential primary has been thrust back into the national spotlight, thanks to the 11-hour filibuster of Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. And so has his awkward way with language.

"The fact is, who are we to say that children born into the worst of circumstances can't grow to live successful lives?" Perry asked Thursday in a speech before the 43rd annual National Right to Life Convention in Dallas. "In fact, even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances."

On Tuesday, Davis filibustered SB5, a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks in Texas and impose regulations that abortion providers say would shut down all but five clinics in the sprawling state, reducing the number from the current 42.

"She was the daughter of a single woman. She was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas senate," Perry continued. "It's just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters."

It was classic mansplaining -- as Elyse Fradkin pithily summarized it on Twitter, "when a man explains to a woman how she should view the meaning of her own life experience."

The term derives from Rebecca Solnit's article, "Men Explain Things to Me," which opens with a wealthy older man hosting an event in Aspen at which he lectures her on "a very important Muybridge book that came out this year" after she brings up the photographer in casual conversation. He goes on and on at great length until she finally realizes he is playing the expert and seeking to educate her about the book she herself wrote.

The idea of mansplaining has grown to be applied to any situation in which men believe they are the experts and drone on and on about something on which the women being lectured are the actual experts. It also refers to the social syndrome in which women cast themselves as listeners who doubt their own expertise in the face of such masculine certainty.

In Texas, the latter part of that seems extremely unlikely to happen. Davis spoke at length and other abortion-rights supporters screamed from the gallery, effectively upending the effort to pass SB5. Perry has said he will call another special session of the Texas legislature to take it up again Monday.

Perry could have more effectively made his point about women accommodating themselves to children they initially did not want if he'd left Davis out of it. The New York Times Magazine just published a big story on new research about women learning to love the children they have after being denied abortions, so it's not like there wasn't a highly visible and less pointed reference point than Davis, who had a child at age 19.

But Perry was interested in being pointed about his local opponents, not just making a broader point. "The louder they scream, the more we know we are getting something done," he said of the abortion-rights supporters.

Any time a man starts talking about how he enjoys making women scream with frustration and rage, it's a bad scene.

"Rick Perry's statement is without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds," Davis told a Texas ABC station in response. "They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view."

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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