I first walked into the Capitol in January, where I was asked within 30 minutes if I was lost by an older man who called me a “girl.” It was a brief, seemingly harmless interaction that wound up foreshadowing many of my experiences with the Missouri legislature thus far. I know he meant to be helpful, but as an almost 30 year old woman, I cannot help wondering with exasperation when I will be seen as a grown up. Walking into that marbled building is like teleporting to the 1960’s, complete with cigar smoking and concealed weapons in offices.
I have testified at three hearings, and I have been present at many more hearings in both chambers this legislative session, which has seen an unprecedented attack on women’s health. From what I have experienced personally and witnessed first hand, Republicans, especially in the House, have made it very clear they are not interested in women’s opinions- despite the fact that they cannot stop talking about controlling women’s bodies and actions. This ranges from the Speaker of the House, Rep. Tim Jones, dismissing Rep. Genise Montecillo as confused when she disagreed with him during a floor debate, to Rep. Keith Frederick “exerting his power as chairman” of a committee to attempt to strike a woman’s words from the record when she pointed out the obvious political motives behind this barrage of bills. It begins with the seemingly innocuous labeling of women as “girls,” which establishes their position of power. It becomes offensive and unacceptable, however, when they begin attacking another person’s first amendment rights during a public hearing.
I understand after only a few months how much some men want to put me in my place. Trust me, I can feel your displeasure and read your body language as you lean in, looking down with menacing glares while I testify. Your job would be so much easier if we women weren’t speaking our minds and fighting to preserve our rights. Well, despite what you may think, it is not your job to demolish women’s right to safe and legal access to health care, nor is it your job to blatantly try to silence us. We’re not in a courtroom and you are not a lawyer, Rep. Frederick. It is time for Republicans to review their job descriptions and focus on important issues, like providing healthcare to over 260,000 hardworking Missourians by expanding Medicaid. Let’s save lives rather than waste any more time belittling women.
—Dina van der Zalm,