This position is encapsulated by an ad that ran on local TV, which shows a man following a young girl into the stall of a creepy bathroom, complete with flickering fluorescent lights. The narrator says:”Protect women’s privacy. Prevent danger. Vote no on the Proposition 1 bathroom ordinance.” (Notably, no one seemed to be worried about privacy in the case of transgender men using men’s public restrooms, despite the greater lack of privacy in those spaces.) 

Dan Patrick, Texas’s far-right lieutenant governor, celebrated the bill’s defeat with a laundry list of “victims” anti-HERO campaigners were working to protect. “It was about protecting our grandmoms, and our mothers and our wives and our sisters and our daughters and our granddaughters,” he told supporters at an election night event. 

In fact, as Dan Patrick very well knows, it was about barring many people in Houston from receiving legal protection for their rights. HERO was much broader than the “Bathroom Ordinance” the opposition made it out to be. In fact, the so-called “bathroom bill” included no mention of bathrooms at all. The ordinance, which was put into effect by City Council in May before being repealed on Tuesday, prohibited discrimination in matters of housing, employment, and private and public services—such as public bathrooms—for a total of 15 protected classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

That opponents were able to rally enough votes to oppose the ordinance based on a misconstrued technicality speaks to how blindly people will follow the code of chivalry. This is by no means the first time the protection of women has been used to mask bigotry. In the first half of the 20th century, the word of a white woman (or a white man) trumped the legal system, which led to the lynchings of black men in the South and the rest of the United States.

Much more recently, before shooting nine black church members in South Carolina in June, Dylann Roof used the safety of women as justification for his violence. According to a witness of the shooting, Roof said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you are taking over our country. And you have to go.”

In the week following Roof’s attack, white female writers responded to his statement with written manifestos commanding men to stop committing violence on their behalf. Unfortunately, it will take more than the actions of a few to stop such an ingrained cultural tradition.

Until they are fully revealed to be tools of manipulation, arguments that infantilize women will continue to shape the political issues dividing the South. The reasoning used by Roof and in the campaign against the “Bathroom Ordinance” is the same as that of the “War on Women.” The underlying message: women are in need of protection. Conservative activists in the South (and how active they are) campaign against Planned Parenthood with the misleading rallying cry, “Abortion hurts women.” This statement, which seemingly puts the woman first, actually undercuts her by presupposing she can’t make the decision of whether or not to get an abortion herself. It hurts her behind the guise of its help.

So do not mistake these political overtures of chivalry for respect. Respect is something different. It is letting a woman choose whether to get an abortion herself. It is treating people of all ethnicities and sexual identities equally. And it is passing a proposition that legally ensures their right to the same services enjoyed by people of majority identities.

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