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Yvonne Abraham

On Steve Murphy, privilege, and ‘pie holes’

Suffolk Register of Deeds Steve Murphy purportedly wrote in a social media post: “You’re part of a group of strident bullies who all need to shut their pie holes!”
Suffolk Register of Deeds Steve Murphy purportedly wrote in a social media post: “You’re part of a group of strident bullies who all need to shut their pie holes!”(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/file)

Some tips on how to be around women rightly enraged that 25 white, male state senators just voted for a near-total abortion ban in Alabama: Don’t make this catastrophe all about you. Now is not the time to question whether there really is a need for more women legislators, or whether white male privilege exists. And it is definitely not the time to tell them to “shut their pie holes.”

In other words, don’t be like Suffolk County Register of Deeds Steve Murphy, who did all of those things on Wednesday.

Murphy is the longtime Boston politician who, thanks to name recognition and not much else, was elected to a job with few responsibilities and a whopping $138,521 salary. Before that, he was a Boston city councilor best known for putting his friends on the public payroll.

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Last week’s mess began with a Facebook post by women’s activist Judy Pineda Neufeld decrying the abortion ban as “unforgivable. This is why we need more women in office,” she wrote.

This is an uncontroversial view in these parts: Obviously, a legislature that includes more women will better reflect their interests, and enact more enlightened policies for everyone.

But Murphy was offended. Though he is pro-choice, he called Neufeld’s post “emblematic of what’s wrong today,” going on to say, “This practice of voting for someone because of their sex is misguided!”

Several women then tried to calmly explain the importance of more equal representation, urging Murphy not to take it personally, but to use his privileged position to be a good ally. But he wasn’t having it. “I don’t have any privilege!” he shot back. “There are extremists on both sides.”

Treating as equivalents the men who took away abortion rights, even for victims of rape and incest, with those arguing for more women in office is the kind of false parallel that makes sane people bats. Yet veteran lobbyist Judy Meredith maintained her composure in a reply. Rather than telling Murphy his career was the very quintessence of white male privilege, which would have been entirely accurate, she told him only that she was “disappointed” in his response, attempting yet again to explain that, even with his public housing upbringing, he enjoys advantages women and people of color do not.

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“Stop it, Judy!” Murphy wrote. “This progressive pablum is as toxic to our society as Trump.”

Another poster told Murphy his statements could turn off voters, at which he accused her of threatening him. They went back and forth once more, and then Murphy unloaded on her.

“Stop your [expletive]!” he wrote. “You’re part of the reason this country is [worse expletive-d] right now. You’re part of a group of strident bullies who all need to shut their pie holes!”

A Massachusetts official instructing women to shut their pie holes, in 2019, is a remarkable thing. So, within hours, screenshots of Murphy’s tone-deaf tirade spread hither and yon. Several appalled women sent them my way.

“He was disrespectful,” Neufeld said in an interview. “He cursed at friends of mine and constituents of his, and called me an extremist. . . . It was really a shock.”

On Thursday night, Murphy’s Facebook posts were gone. He appears to have unfriended Neufeld and others who’d disagreed with him. On Friday, shortly after I called for comment, he posted an apology of sorts on Facebook.

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“The back and forth got out of hand for all involved,” he claimed, even though it was Murphy alone who initiated hostilities, after which the women demonstrated saintly patience. He also reiterated his view of “identity politics” as a destructive force. But, he said, “If I had to do [it] over again, I would not have engaged.”

That would have been sensible, but it isn’t good sense that got him where he is today.

Does it matter if someone in Murphy’s position holds his views? After all, it’s not like he holds sway over much. But it might matter to the women and people of color who work for the Registry that their boss refuses to see the plain fact that they lack his considerable advantages.

Not that Murphy’s retrograde views threaten his reelection. Voter apathy is his superpower.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com and on Twitter @GlobeAbraham