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?
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>.