Sex, politics, and double standards

How may I serve you, master?

James Carroll says that the political culture of Massachusetts is “misogynist,” and his account is pretty convincing.  He offers a brief rundown of the past 24 years of prominent statewide women candidates and places Martha Coakley’s loss last night in the special election firmly in the Bay State’s tradition of snubbing and/or drubbing women pols.  He’s right:  by comparison, most of the white men who have held the job in over the past 20 years have been either flaky (Paul Celucci), or opportunistic (Mitt Romney), or both (Bill Weld).  And yet, it’s never held against them, or (perhaps more importantly) against the next man to run for office.  This all sounds terribly familiar to me.  Women have been the last two Lieutenant Governors here in Colorado, but neither of them was ever mentioned as a possible successor to the men they served.  U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette is Colorado’s longest serving and highest-profile politician nationally, but none of the political gossips here ever mentioned her running for Governor in 2006, or for the open Senate seat in 2008, or for Governor in 2010, nor was her name seriously mentioned as a worthy replacement for Senator Ken Salazar when he stepped down last year to become Secretary of the Interior.

Aside from the failure of political parties (and in Massachusetss, voters) to advance women pols, there is plenty of depressing evidence of the double-standards by which women are judged.  (Surprise!)  As Echidne pointed out the day before the special election in Massachusetts, “Scott Brown can have naked pictures from his past and it doesn’t cause much of a stir at all but a woman politician? Probably the end of her career.”  Doubtless–recall all of the hay that has been made of some women pols for their youthful “beauty pageant” appearances (Sarah Palin and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, for example, and they never went for the full monty.)

Try this on for flaky and unserious:  here in Colorado, our current governor, Bill Ritter, made some news a few weeks ago when he announced that he was ending his re-election campaign because he had decided that he wants to spend more time with his family.  (Three of his four children are adults, and the fourth one is 16.)  Even his political opponents appear to believe that he’s on the level–there have been no sly implications of scandal, anyway–and the local media have spun the narrative that he’s not a career politician, just a super nice guy.  Awwwww!  Isn’t it cute?  He’s such a devoted family man!  I’m sure you too have seen a man pushing a stroller, and how he gets compliments and cookies from complete strangers because he’s spending time with a baby–almost assuredly his own–whereas women pushing strollers are just doing the work God made them for, and are never complimented or acknowledged to be doing anything special.

A friend of mine in Political Science and I were talking over lunch last week about Ritter, and she asked, “can you imagine if a woman governor announced that she wasn’t going to run for re-election because her kids were unhappy and she wanted to spend more time with her family?”  I agreed that there was no way that she’d get credit for it the way Ritter has, and that in fact she’d be singed by the press and by public opinion as unserious, flaky, stupid, irresponsible, and I’m sure the rest of you can fill in the blanks.  My friend commented that “duh–of course public service is hard on family life.  What did he think he was getting into when he ran for the job?”  Her parting shot was, “I’d never vote for him again anyway.  There were two safe Democratic seats–[Ken Salazar’s seat in] the U.S. Senate and the Governorship.  Now Ritter has put them both in jeopardy,” first by appointing Senator Lockjaw, a man who’s never won a single vote in his life, and secondly then by squandering his own incumbency and making the Governor’s office an open seat.

Just imagine if an incumbent woman governor pulled something like that!

0 thoughts on “Sex, politics, and double standards

  1. So, just to review… the day begins with news of Sen. Elect Brown auctioning his daughters from the victory platform, and ends with the news that Ritter is going to kick back for some quality time with the sixteen year old? Now I can just click on the prompt about “Jon Gosselin’s new girlfriend,” and call it a day.

    Too true about the stroller part, although I can’t say I ever got a cookie from a complete stranger.


  2. THANK you, Historiann. Rather than resort to the shift key again, let me try a little HTML sans preview:

    Anyone else on this board had a male colleague who didn’t get his scholarly writing done because his children needed his attention (Awwwww!) alongside a female colleague who didn’t get her scholarly writing done because her children needed her attention (Told you so! See what happens when you hire mothers, or women who might become mothers?)?


  3. Um, Miss Historiann:

    Mud was being flung — not a lot, but consistently — throughout his campaign to now, and heated up during the whole Villafuerte mishegas.

    The whole “spending time with his family” excuse is ass, since he’s been on a leave of absence with his *high-powered law firm lobby shop*, and one can presume he’ll have to go back to clocking dollars to keep his family fed…. check the latest 5280 Power List, and let’s see whether he retires from the life all together.

    Why the fuck could have he decided this after twisting enough arms to get card-check union legislation passed? To show any political courage at all, as a stealth lame-duck governor? Why don’t they time these hissy fits to benefit *us* for once?


  4. cgeye–I’ve seen those stories, but it’s interesting to me that no one in politics here seems to credit them. The establishment media and political establishment have taken his claims of needing more time with his family at face value–whatever the truth.

    I agree with you: if he was going to be a one-term Governor, why didn’t he swing for the fences instead of putting his finger in the eye of the unions (while of course also pissing off the Chamber of Commerce crowd and pleasing no one?) That move back in 2007 seemed like such a calculation for re-election, now all for naught.


  5. This post is awesome, Historiann. It’s a good to see someone writing about Coakley without flagellating her for running a weak or unenthusiastic campaign — although I think she did run a weak campaign, I also don’t think that was the only factor in her loss. Brown’s supporters got away with some terribly sexist behavior — the curling iron remark? Writing that they hoped Brown would rape Coakley on her facebook page? — without ever being called out by him. Did you see this piece in the Boston Globe?


  6. Thanks, Bookbag. I hadn’t heard about the ugliness deployed against Coakley, but it’s sadly unsurprising. (Shades of the first half of 2008, anyone?) I forgot to note that commenter life_of_a_fool yesterday in another thread mentioned Brown’s announcement during his victory speech that his beautiful daughters were “available.” (This is what Indyanna’s comment alluded to.) Women’s bodies are just there to be abused or enjoyed as men see fit! Awesome!


  7. I too was shocked by the all the double standards and misogyny that characterized that race-and went largely unnoticed. What I’m wondering is when is this all going to change? Not only did Brown’s “regular white guy” persona go unchecked by the media (he’s a rich lawyer and his wife’s a journalist, they aren’t “regular”), but it went over huge with the electorate in MA. He even had the gall to claim he ran a clean campaign. Maybe he didn’t say the sexist stuff, but he certainly never denounced his supporters who did, and his treatment of his daughters was appalling. Though maybe he wouldn’t consider deploying sexism in various ways to be a problem. I’m beginning to despair that women will always hit that glass ceiling in politics, and as has been noted, if women aren’t there to represent other women, men will continue to make decisions for us.


  8. It’s not THAT the standards and misogyny were in play, it’s that it’s so unusual to see them called out.

    I’d say that none of this is truly surprising, but still, very disappointing and discouraging.


  9. Well, now we know, boys can pose for seductive photo spreads and still get elected to the Senate. But then the Senate continues to be a boys’ club — and a filibuster-proof majority of them have that same clean-cut-aging-white-guy-in-a-suit look. Brown, a misnomer, should fit right in.


  10. Pingback: Who ever would have predicted? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  11. Pingback: More bad news for “Senator” Bennet; Ritter’s incompetence apparently not newsworthy : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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