In a classic lesson of how you need to watch what you say on Facebook (or, that sarcasm doesn’t translate, depending on if you believe the Senator in question), a Virginia State Senator has found himself in hot water for referring to pregnant women as “hosts” in a Facebook post.
Senator Stephen Martin (R-11) is a strongly anti-choice State Senator. He has supported numerous anti-voice measures, including requiring ultrasounds before abortions and tougher regulations on abortion clinics. In response to his stances, the Virginia Pro-Choice coalition sent Senator Martin a Valentine’s Day card, asking Martin to not “break our hearts.” Martin responded with this:
The key line is in the last sentence of the first paragraph: “However, once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.”
The reaction was swift. NARAL Virginia and Planned Parenthood both took to Twitter to attack Martin:
Four Virginia Senators, all female and all Democrats, attacked Martin:
- State Senator Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington): “This statement demonstrates a total lack of respect for women and a lack of respect for their bodies.”
- State Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax): “I’ve been called by a lot of titles in my life, but I’ve never been called a host.”
State Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton): “Charitably, I can say that this kind of comment is snide and doesn’t get us anywhere. Frankly, it’s misogynistic or demeaning.”
State Senator L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth): “His remarks may have been a joke . . . but it underscores the point: He simply has no idea what he’s talking about.”
At the same time, Planned Parenthood and NARAL sent women to the Senate gallery wearing t-shirts that said “Not a host.” Virginia State Democrats also seized on the remarks, with Virginia Democratic Party spokeswoman Ashley Bauman saying, “From ‘Personhood’ to the controversial ‘Ultrasound’ bill, Virginia Republicans have a long history of attacking women’s health and it’s time we send a clear message.”
After the condemnatory speeches and attacks from women’s and abortion-rights groups, Martin edited the post to remove the “host” line, instead referring to the “bearers of the child.” He did not apologize, however, saying:
Since they took that out of context, I said alright, I’ve already made it pretty clear since I said calling them mothers, I changed it to bearer of the children. But I’d be happy to change it back. I think that the way in which they turned that and somehow used this as both a Valentine’s card issue and then to turn around say that I’m calling mothers and children who bear children hosts I think is a bit of twisting of the facts.
Two points here. First, watch what you say, though that should be obvious. Don’t expect to make a comment as controversial as the one that Senator Martin made and not get serious blowback. Second, let’s say, for a moment, that Senator Martin really was using the word “hosts” sarcastically and didn’t say what he did in an effort to be derogatory towards women. This incident proves a great point: for sarcasm to work online, has to be blindingly obvious. For it to work in person, vocal tone is key – and clearly, you don’t get tone over the internet. In other words, if you are going to be sarcastic in an online post, be very, very careful, because sarcasm just doesn’t translate well online.