This week Texas Democratic nominee for Governor, Wendy Davis came face to face with what I suspect is the gut-wrenching reason most women don’t run for political office.
Senior Political Writer, Wayne Slater, of the Dallas Morning News wrote in his article, As Wendy Davis Touts Life Story in Race for Governor, Key Facts Blurred, “the basic elements of the narrative are true, but the full story of Davis’ life is more complicated, as often happens when public figures aim to define themselves.” That became lightening in a bottle for national media outlets leading to this inflammatory headline by one of the nation’s most respected political outlets, Politico: Wendy Davis Has a Problem With the Truth.
Blurred facts surround her divorce and how she paid for college. She tells her story, and a I am paraphrasing, this way: Single teen mom at nineteen who, ultimately, worked her way through Harvard law school with scholarships and loans. But as Wayne Slater said “life is more complicated” than that for Wendy Davis, as it is for most of us. These stories prompted Wendy Davis to tell one reporter, “My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”
This story brought a flood of memories back to me from my experience on the campaign trail. It is a tale of parsing words, anticipating how voters will filter those words based on their experiences and boiling a lifetime down to digestible biography — even when life has been complicated or unique or winding.
Wendy was a teen mom but she was only separated until her divorce was final at the age of twenty-one so does that mean she lied when she said she was a teen, single mom? I suppose, if your definition of single mom is divorced.
I used the term “single mom” repeatedly in 2012 during my bid for the US House of Representatives while my husband was deployed to Afghanistan. He wasn’t there to help raise our daughters during that time. I wasn’t legally single but I was singularly parenting. Was I lying? I suppose, if you define single mom as divorced, unwed or widowed.
Wendy claims that she paid for college and law school with the help of loans and scholarships. She didn’t go into detail about the fact that her second husband provided a chunk of those scholarships and loans. Was she lying? Well, maybe if your definition of scholarships and loans is restricted to non familial relationships.
During my run, we struggled with this most significantly in talking about my time as a United States Sailor. I joined when the bombs began falling in Operation Desert Storm. By the time I entered bootcamp, Kuwait had been protected from Iraq. According to the Navy, I served during Operation Desert Storm. They even gave me a medal to prove it. Since I wasn’t on the ground, in Kuwait, during the bombing raids am I lying when I say that I am a veteran of Operation Desert Storm? As we have seen with countless Vietnam veterans, to the public “during” and “in” are two very different things. However, in the end, I believe that I was part a team of people who provided direct support to the people of Kuwait during a time of war and that makes me confident in the words I choose to describe my military service even if others declare them “too loose.”
Our lives filled with twists and turns. Don’t let that fact deter you from reaching to your highest aspirations. Board rooms, households, state capitols, classrooms, hospitals and the oval office itself are better off when they are filled with complicated, unique people who took the winding path to get there.
As for parsing your words and anticipating how others will interpret those words, live by the advice Lily Ledbetter once gave me, “It’s my story, no one else can tell it but me.”
Heather Beaven is the CEO of a school-to-work 501c3, a Navy Veteran, an Army wife and mother of two daughters. She can be found atheatherbeaven.policymic.com and you can follow her on twitter at @electbeaven