Dick Armey's misogynist history

The former congressman's attack on Joan Walsh wasn't the only time he's been disrespectful of women in his life.

Published January 29, 2009 8:55PM (EST)

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has attracted quite a bit of attention around the Internet for his recent attack on Salon Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh. During Wednesday's episode of "Hardball," Armey told Walsh, "I am so damn glad that you could never be my wife, 'cause I surely wouldn't have to listen to that prattle from you every day." (You can read her response here.)

Now, Armey has never been known for civility and manners. He's famous for referring to fellow Rep. Barney Frank as "Barney Fag," and he made some nasty comments about then-First Lady Hillary Clinton as well. But, as Miriam Rozen reported in the Dallas Observer in 1995, Armey's problems with women go deeper than that. Three excerpts from the article follow; the first one is about his time teaching economics, and one student who almost left school because of his behavior:

Susan Aileen White, who earned her master's in economics from North Texas in 1976, says she took offense at what she regarded as Armey's inappropriate behavior with female students. Armey often flirted with undergraduate women before and after class, she says. Two other economics graduate students at the time, Anna Weniger, now an economist for the New Mexico legislature, and Anne Marie Best, now an economics professor at Lamar University, echo those complaints.

Weniger is now the mother of two. But at the time she studied at North Texas, she was an attractive single woman in her early 20s. She had contact with Armey as a graduate student in the economics department. She recalls that Armey's behavior toward her was "inappropriate." She says she does not remember the details of what Armey said or did. But she left the university for several months beginning in the spring of 1976, partly because of Armey's behavior. (She also says she was distraught because her father was ill and her parents were going through a divorce.) Her mother confirms that her daughter left school abruptly, citing problems she had with a "Professor Armey," and considered not going back. Weniger recalls she complained to a fellow student about Armey. The colleague conferred with a professor in the economics department, Bullock Hyder, now deceased. Weniger recalls speaking to Hyder on her telephone from her mother's home in New Jersey and that when she told him about what had happened, he said, "Oh, is that Dick Armey bird-dogging again?" ...

Through his press secretary, Armey said he recalls Weniger, but has no recollection of any such conflict between them.

One other section of Rozen's article is especially notable considering Armey's comment to Walsh about being his wife. This seems to provide some insight as to his attitudes about marriage:

Dick and Jeanine Gael Armey had met in college in North Dakota, and married the day he earned his bachelors degree. (She declined to talk about her ex-husband for this story.) She filed first for divorce, citing "discord and conflict of personalities..."

Armey's brother Charley, who has stayed close with his first wife, says Jeanine Gale, who had a master's in education and taught school, was "a women's libber" who didn't put Armey's needs first. Armey's second wife, Susan, his brother says, is nearly the opposite.

And finally, even one of Armey's economic theories touches on his feelings about the relationship between a husband and wife:

[E]conomists, including the well-known liberal Harvard professor John Kenneth Galbraith, had referred to housewives as "crypto-slaves," whose work was undervalued in American society.

In a paper entitled "A Realistic View of the Relative Income Shares of Male and Female Homemakers," Armey offered a contrarian point of view: that a housewife was overpaid.

The notion that housewives are slave labor is "a complete misrepresentation," Armey wrote. Because a housewife, in theory, receives half her husband's income, she makes out like a bandit, he concluded. After all, half the median income of married couples amounted to more than the "market value" of the hours a homemaker logged as a nursemaid, cook, dishwasher, and laundress, he concluded. Because the theoretical housewife's husband probably chipped in and performed 25 percent of the household chores, Armey wrote, there was even more reason to believe the woman was overpaid by the measures of the outside world.

Armey conceded his theory ran into a problem when a couple divorced, and the husband-'employer' abruptly left the housewife in the lurch. "Unfortunately this is the chance she takes when she elects marriage and non-pecuniary employment," he wrote.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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