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  • Jan Flynn

How To Tell A Woman From A Cow

A handy guide for Idaho’s Republican legislators

(Hint: cow to left, woman to right) Photo by cottonbro studio:

January is a bleak month in Idaho. The holidays are over and most days are gloomy. Commuters, like vampires, emerge from their homes before sunrise and return after sunset. Schoolchildren stand shivering in the dark at their morning bus stops.

Thankfully, the January tedium is disrupted every year by the opening of the Idaho Legislature’s session. With a Republican supermajority in both houses — the ratio of Rs to Ds in the Senate is 28 to 7 and 59 to 11 in the House — one might expect few surprises from such an overwhelmingly crimson tide.

One would be wrong. Whatever else occurs in an Idaho legislative session, it’s guaranteed at some point to be entertaining, if not startling. This year is no exception: in fact, it may have set a new standard.

Of women and dairy animals

A former dairy farmer and freshman House representative from Idaho’s District 26, Jack Nelson (R, Jerome) was clearly enthusiastic about his appointment to the Agricultural Affairs Committee. Here’s the exact quote from his self-introduction at the first committee meeting:

“’I’m a lifelong dairy farmer, retired, still own part of the dairy, grew up on the farm. I’ve milked a few cows, spent most of my time walking behind lines of cows, so if you want some ideas on repro and the women’s health thing, I have some definite opinions.” Rep. Jack Nelson, R-Jerome, Idaho

The remark was followed by wan chuckles, after which Rep. Nelson went on to say that he was “tickled pink” to be serving on the committee.

The reaction in the press? Not tickled pink

The outcry was swift, from the Idaho State Journal to Newsweek, MSN, Huffpost, and the UK’s Daily Mail, among others. The Idaho Democratic Party, definitely not amused, tweeted “Let us be clear: politicians like Jack Nelsen have no business mandating our reproductive health care decisions. Period.”

Rep. Nelson, who seemed genuinely taken aback at the response — after all, who could have anticipated that women would object to being compared to livestock — issued an apology. To be fair, it was as comprehensive as such an apology could be, given the circumstances.

“The women in my life have taught me strength, resilience, integrity, hard work, joy, and love. I absolutely respect women, and the right to choose their own healthcare . . . The way I phrased my statement about women and reproductive rights yesterday completely missed the mark. I’m embarrassed, and I offended others in the process. I am deeply sorry. I recognize the mistake and commit to doing better in the future.” Rep. Jack Nelson

“Embarrassed?” I believe it

After all, who among us can claim never to have said something silly in an effort to ingratiate ourselves with people we’re anxious to impress?

However, there aren’t many among us who are in a position to influence policy governing women’s healthcare. Why that topic even surfaced in a meeting of the Agricultural Affairs Committee defies speculation.

This is why it’s impossible to dismiss the remark as a clumsy joke.

Even weirder, Rep. Nelson has presented himself as being as close to progressive on reproductive issues as an Idaho Republican legislator is likely to get. To his apology, he added, “I have always operated and will continue to operate under the standard that the government does not belong in the doctor’s office.”

That’s cold comfort, considering that Idaho has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. The state Supreme Court recently upheld three state laws that prohibit abortion at conception and after six weeks of pregnancy, along with a civil enforcement measure like Texas’s. The only exceptions are rape and incest — both of which require a police report to substantiate — or to save the life of the mother, a stipulation that is so vague as written that it has sparked outcry from OBGYNs in the state.

So, while the honorable representative may be sincere in his chagrin, the metadata from his remark about cows, “repro” and women’s health is troubling.

Sorry, Rep. Nelson, but I remain un-moo-ved

I appreciate the nice things you said about the women in your life, but the women in my life are deeply worried by your evident inability to distinguish us from farm animals. Having some experience with the Idaho legislature, I expect you are not alone in that regard.

True, women and cows share mammalian characteristics: we are warm-blooded, hair or fur-bearing, and we bear live young rather than laying eggs (that’s how you know we’re not chickens), and we have mammary glands that produce milk with which to nourish said young.

Therefore, as a concerned Idahoan who is also a woman, not a cow, I respectfully offer some tips for telling us apart.

Women stand on two legs. Cows do not

Honorable legislators, do not be misled by the many representations you can find in popular culture of cows standing upright or wearing high heels or lipstick or tutus. These are merely expressions of artistic whimsy and not an accurate depiction of bovine behavior.

I’m confident that Rep. Nelson, given his experience as a dairy farmer, would back me up on this.

Women have opposable thumbs

We share this in common with other primates, including even Idaho legislators. This is what gives us the ability to do things like read, write letters to the editor, and vote.

Rep. Nelson would be well advised to pay attention to that last item, especially since he won his House seat by a mere 83 votes after a contested election. Despite his apology, lots of us human females will be scrutinizing his voting record, especially when it comes to the “women’s health thing.”

Women lack horns

That doesn’t mean we can’t make noise. Especially when someone mistakes us for cows.

Women may produce milk, but not commercially

This is almost 100% the case. Efforts to bring human cheese to market have been met with severely limited success.

Women’s “repro” status cannot be determined by walking behind them

Although it is doubtless than many men have tried.

As for “repro”, women in Idaho have fewer rights than cows

Women, like cows, may be forcibly impregnated due to circumstances beyond their control. If a woman or a girl is unable to prove that her condition is a result of non-consensual sex, whether with a stranger or her creepy uncle, the state has decreed that she must bring the pregnancy to term.

This is where I sympathize with your confusion, Idaho legislators. Just like cows, women in this state are subject to forced birth.

However, dairy cows are highly valued in Idaho, and there is no law on the books that says they can’t be given an abortion if their pregnancy proves harmful to their health or productivity.

Women in Idaho enjoy no such consideration.

Legislators, I hope this clears things up a bit

Yours is not an easy job, what with your ongoing efforts to stamp out critical race theory and keep books you find offensive (but haven’t read) off of library shelves. As for the “repro” issue, many of you remain unsatisfied with the new abortion ban and wish to further purify it with proposals to eliminate emergency contraception, IUDs, and out-of-state travel by pregnant people in search of an abortion.

Not to mention your efforts to enable a woman’s rapist as well as any or all of his relatives to legally sue her if she tries to terminate her resultant pregnancy. Assuming, of course, she fails to recognize said pregnancy and file a police report within the six-week window following conception.

I mean, is it asking too much of a woman or girl to make her way through the labyrinth of the court system well before she’s likely to show any signs of the pregnancy she may be too traumatized to countenance?

After all, she’s a woman. Not a cow.

Alas, here’s another point of confusion. When it comes to our “repro” and health care, an Idaho woman, like Rep. Nelson, may have “some definite opinions.” But the Republicans in the Idaho legislature seem no more interested in them than if we were farm animals.

The legislative session is only one week old. I can hardly wait to see what those wacky lawmakers get up to next. For now, I think I’ve milked this topic for all it’s worth.

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