Editor, The Messenger,
We should be incensed by the demeaning sexist comments recently made online by State Representative Jay Edwards. It happened Sunday, when Edwards attended one of the clashing “Defend the Police” and “Defend Our Community” protests in Athens. Democrat Michael Fletcher criticized Edwards on social media for not wearing a mask. (Fletcher is running for a state senate seat, not against Edwards.) Edwards responded with a vitriolic post accusing Michael Fletcher of not having a backbone and that he “...tucks his tail and hides at home.” Importantly – and this is both puzzling and unsettling – Mr. Edwards accused Mr. Fletcher of being a woman, referring to him repeatedly as “Michelle Fletcher.”
Mr. Edwards’ comments were a juvenile schoolyard taunt. The message could be paraphrased, “I’m going to insult your manhood by saying you’re weak and afraid like a woman.”
Like a woman? I’m working hard to raise my 11-year-old daughter to respect herself and be strong. I want her to know that she can be as courageous and capable as any man. But when people with backward and sexist ideas occupy positions of power and influence, women and girls continue to be shunted aside. Our children are listening. Our girls will learn to be either bold or timid. Our boys will learn to respect women, or to disrespect them. They follow our example.
A few of Mr. Edwards’ defenders have insisted it must have been a typo. But he’s had ample opportunity to explain after being challenged about it. His silence is a testament to the fact that he meant every bit of it. He got Mr. Fletcher’s name right in every other post. Pretending it was an accident would be giving Mr. Edwards a free pass he doesn’t deserve.
This is especially important now because his opponent in November is a woman, Democrat Katie O’Neill. If he feels he can win on the merits, based on his policy ideas, that’s fine. But if he wants to denigrate women, he’s not winning any friends. The time for leaders who act like that is over.