Where was gender in the Brown/Coakley race?

The Jewish Women's Archive offices are located in Masachusetts, and as you might imagine, morale was pretty low in the office yesterday.  On Tuesday, we witnessed one of the greatest defeats for the Democratic party as Republican Scott Brown was elected to represent our traditionally "blue" state.  Gender was never really a part of Martha Coakley's campaign, nor the rhetoric surrounding the race in the weeks and months leading up to the election. Only now, after the upset has garnered national attention, are we starting to see gender as a part of the "what went wrong" conversation.

Looking back, gender is present, though unacknowledged, in the trope of Brown and Coakley's respective campaigns. Gender was present in Scott Brown's folksy, faux-populist, "this is my truck" ads. The truck and barn coat are strategically chosen symbols that are, inherently, male. Is there an equivalent look for women?

It was also present for Coakley's infamous baseball gaff, in which she mistakenly called Curt Schilling a Yankees fan. In order to be considered a "cool chick" in MA, you not only have to  be "one of the guys" when it comes to knowing and loving baseball, you also have to look "cute" in a Red Sox cap. Placing herself squarely outside this quirky piece of mainstream Mass culture, Coakley alienated both men and women who have internalized and embraced these expectations.

The most obvious example, however, is Scott Brown's nude centerfold in Cosmo. Below are a few perspectives on that.

Gender and the Mass. Election [The Sisterhood]

Imagine if a competent but somewhat uncharismatic man were running against a small-time female politico relying largely on her folksy charm, and imagine if said politico had once posed in her birthday suit in Maxim with pictures freely available online. There would certainly be more outrage and controversy, if not a direct effect at the polls.

Scott Brown's Centerfold: The Double Standard of Beefcake-Gate [Jezebel]

In the wake of Scott Brown's senatorial win, pundits are asking whether racy pics like those of him in a 1982 Cosmo would have torpedoed the campaign of a female candidate.

It's okay. Sen. Brown was just being a (naked) man [Washington Post]

The morning after the election, a student of gender politics might ask: How different would the story have looked if the shoe -- Lack of shoes? Lack of clothes? -- actually had been on the female body?

As we play the blame game, many are asking if Coakley would have had a better chance if she had acknowledged the gender issue in her campaign. I am not sure how I feel about this, and I would love to hear your opinion in the comments. While the Coakley campaign certainly deserves blame, it was not the only failure in this debaucle. The Cosmo centerfold, the baseball gaff, Massachusetts' dismal record in electing women -- all of this is old news.

Why weren't we having this discussion three weeks ago?  And, would it have made a difference?

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Has anyone found statistical breakdown on Brown/Coakley results by gender, religion, ethnic background?

Comments in blogs above are persuasive; but I'd like to see details on such a significant and surprising election.

Did Coakley fail in relating to non-white male voters?

Grateful for any particulars!


Have you not seen the hot pictures of the folksy charmer Sarah Palin in the swimsuit competition for Ms. Alaska, back in the day? What a great butt! There was no Maxim magazine back then but if there was she would have been great. It makes no difference today. Get over it, Brown won because Obama is a weak President and he taped into that via "Obamacare." Obama is weak on jobs and weak on national security; that's the whole banana. No matter what, our health care system will be trash with no jobs and Islamic fanatics running freeing in our country. You live in past, get a grip, it's the 21st century.

I do not think this was a gender issue - not in true blue Massachusetts.

Running for a state wide office means having to market yourself, appearing to be the person the voters want and identify with. She didn't need to be "one of the boys". She needed to be "one of us" - whoever that "us" is. It certainly wasn't the cold, distant, aloof, and complacent person she came across as.

Too bad.

Beth - I think you hit the nail on the head. There is definitely something unique about social expectations for women in Massachusetts - they must simultaneously be feminine and "one of the boys," which usually manifests in sports, especially in and around Boston.

Acknowledging gender may have made her seem more real. The problem was, she wasn't a very good or inspiring candidate.

Now, I couldn't crack it at a Boston law firm because I wasn't enough of a guy for them. They seemed to want women both feminine and able to talk Sox and Pats. (Even writing that I feel like a poser--I'm just not from here, I just don't get it.) I wouldn't want to go out in the cold and shake hands at Fenway either.

The thing is, Martha Coakley was running for Senator!! She should have cared more, and done what people wanted of her here. Or, not have run! Was it because she's a woman who couldn't put on that act? A reserved person? A shy person? Who knows. I don't know too many women who can fit into this old boy network, which is Massachusetts. But, I do know that Martha Coakley has never been interesting or impressive (and I'm not thrilled with her legal record either).

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Where was gender in the Brown/Coakley race?." 20 January 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 24, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/where-was-gender>.

Subscribe to Jewish Women, Amplified and get blog updates in your inbox.