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Intro: "Massachusetts may revel in its liberal reputation, but it has struggled to elect women to statewide office. Linda Killian on whether Elizabeth Warren will smash the glass ceiling."

Elizabeth Warren campaigns in Framingham, Mass., in September. (photo: Josh Reynolds/AP)
Elizabeth Warren campaigns in Framingham, Mass., in September. (photo: Josh Reynolds/AP)

Is Massachusetts Anti-Woman?

By Linda Killian, The Daily Beast

16 October 11

assachusetts, home of the Kennedy dynasty, the first state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the only one to vote for George McGovern for president in 1972, revels in its über-liberal reputation. And while Democrats hold most of the elected offices that matter, the paradox is that voters here don't seem comfortable electing women to statewide office.

Massachusetts has never elected a woman to be a U.S. senator or governor, unlike North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas, Texas - and Arizona, which has elected women from both parties as governor. All are considered far more conservative than the Bay State. Closer to home, New Hampshire and Maine both have two women senators - only one of whom is a Democrat. Vermont and Connecticut have had female governors, too, including Ella Grasso, who in 1974 was elected governor of Connecticut and became the first woman in the country to serve as a governor who did not succeed her husband.

The expected 2012 showdown between Republican Sen. Scott Brown - who last year unexpectedly seized the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for nearly a half century - and consumer advocate and Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren will test anew the state's track record on women politicians.

Massachusetts has long considered politics its favorite pastime after the Red Sox. The three previous speakers of the state House, all men, have been indicted, with one pleading guilty to tax evasion and another convicted on seven federal corruption charges. This is the big league, and politics is a blood sport here, a tradition going back hundreds of years. First the Brahmins held on tightly to power, and then the Irish Catholics fought their way in.

The state has launched national leaders from President John F. Kennedy to U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill, and presidential candidates Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, and now Mitt Romney - who, if he is the GOP nominee, probably won't carry the state he governed only five years ago.

"Men want it bad in Massachusetts. They want to be in power. Getting elected to statewide office here is a big launching pad for national politics. The men don't want to give that up. Men see the opportunities and are damned if they're going to let women in," says Carol Hardy-Fanta, director of the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

In its entire history, only four women have represented Massachusetts in Congress. The first was Edith Nourse Rogers, a progressive Republican who succeeded her husband and served from 1925 to 1960, becoming the nation's longest-serving congresswoman, a record that still stands. Republican Margaret Heckler served in the U.S. House from 1967 to 1983, after which there was a gap of almost a quarter century until Niki Tsongas became the next woman elected in 2007. She represents the state's Fifth District, the same seat held by Rogers, and by Tsongas's late husband, Paul, before his election to the Senate, his run for the presidency in 1992, and his death from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1997.

"We can't win if we don't run," Tsongas says of women candidates. She points out that on the farm-team level the state is doing pretty well. Women have been elected to the state legislature from 27 of the 29 towns in her district in the past two legislative cycles, she says.

The current Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, did not carry the Fifth District, which includes the working-class former mill cities of Lawrence and Lowell. But Brown, who won a special election in 2010 to fill Kennedy's Senate seat, did. Tsongas has already endorsed Warren, Brown's likely Democratic challenger in 2012.

Over the past 50 years, the Democratic candidate for president has nearly always won Massachusetts, the only exceptions being when Ronald Reagan carried the state twice. The same people who voted for Reagan - white, working-class men labeled Reagan Democrats - also elected Brown. Hillary Clinton decisively defeated Barack Obama in the Democratic primary here in 2008, but she did it not only with the help of women but by being a more palatable candidate to Reagan Democrats.

You can't win statewide in Massachusetts without their votes, along with the support of independents, who represent 52 percent of all registered voters here, compared with 36 percent who are Democrats and a paltry 11 percent who are registered Republicans. Massachusetts election law allows independents to participate in primary elections, making them even more important. Brown, who defeated Democrat Martha Coakley, the state attorney general, depicted himself during the 2010 campaign as a guy's guy, wearing a canvas barn coat and driving his pickup truck around the state. According to a privately conducted exit poll, he won male votes in that election by a margin of 13 points, whereas Coakley won women's votes by only 3 points. If you ask five people here why Coakley lost, you'll get five different answers: she and the Democrats took the race for granted; she ran a bad and somewhat arrogant campaign; Brown ran a great one; she made some stupid remarks; and she came off as "chilly." But there is also no doubt that Brown played the guy card against her with a direct appeal to the Reagan Democrats, and it looks as if he plans to do the same thing this time around.

The Democratic primary, in which Warren must defeat four opponents before she can take on Brown in November 2012, isn't until next September. But she is presumed the likely challenger, and there has already been a dust-up between Brown and Warren that has raised issues of sexism, class, elitism, and humor.

Brown, when he was in law school at Boston College, posed nude in Cosmopolitan after being named "America's Sexiest Man" by the magazine. He used the money he earned from that photo shoot for school expenses and the exposure, pardon the pun, to launch a modeling career. Recently, at the first Democratic debate, a questioner made reference to this and asked Warren how she paid for college, to which she quipped, "I didn't take my clothes off."

Two days later, appearing on a local talk-radio show, Brown, responding to a question about Warren's comment, retorted, "Thank God" (pronounced "gawd" in Massachusetts speak), expressing apparent relief that Warren didn't strip for the camera. After a furor erupted over his comments, Brown said, "I was merely responding to a wisecrack she made," and added, "You have to have a sense of humor."

Warren didn't overreact. "I'll survive a few jabs from Scott Brown over my appearance," she responded. But the critique of Warren's physical appearance struck a nerve with some women supporters. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Brown "clueless" on national television and said his remark showed "a disrespect for women."

The tempest in a nude teapot would never have resonated if there weren't already so much sensitivity about the way women candidates are treated by the media and their opponents. Shannon O'Brien served in the state legislature before being elected state treasurer in 1998, the first woman to win statewide office here on her own. Four years later she defeated a field of primary contenders, including political economist and national pundit Robert Reich, to become the Democratic candidate for governor. She was defeated by Mitt Romney.

"It's very easy to make fun of women for their appearance ... Women are held to a different standard. I was shocked to find out that appearance really counts a lot more for women than it does for men," O'Brien says.

Being a woman candidate can be both a "disadvantage and a distinguishing factor," she says. "The bar is set higher, there are more opportunities for error, and when you do make a mistake it has a more significant impact on your fortunes as a candidate."

O'Brien was vastly outspent by Romney, who put millions of dollars of his own money into the race, and says it is much harder for women candidates to raise money.

So far, Warren is doing pretty well. Despite just announcing her candidacy a month ago, she has already raised $3 million, compared with Brown's $10.5 million in the bank.

Early polls portend a close race. In hypothetical matchups, a University of Massachusetts at Lowell/Boston Herald poll of registered voters showed Brown ahead of Warren 41 percent to 38 percent, while Warren led by 2 points in a Public Policy Polling survey.

O'Brien applauds Warren's low-key response to the Brown jab. As a woman candidate, "you can't look whiny," O'Brien says.

In this case, it seems there's been some gender-role reversal about appearance and who's doing the whining. It is Brown who has been celebrated for his good looks and tried to play the victim card.

"I didn't go to Harvard. You know, I went to the school of hard knocks. And I did whatever I had to do to pay for school," he said. But Warren didn't go to Harvard either. She may work there now, but she went to the University of Houston and Rutgers Law School, and took out loans to do it. Brown attended the arguably more elite private schools of Tufts and Boston College Law School.

Numerous studies have shown that voters do set a higher bar for women candidates and that there is a greater emphasis on their appearance and "likability." Women candidates and officeholders can also expect very personal comments and criticism that men usually never face, although New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has certainly withstood a barrage of comments, jokes, and even a Washington Post column about his weight.

Amy Markham is an independent voter from Norton, Mass., who thinks Brown's remark was "a low blow ... Some people might have thought it was cute, but I thought it was kind of inappropriate. It's like going back to Hillary and her pantsuits. Why do we have to have any conversations about that at all?"

Bob Nerz, an independent in North Attleborough, lives near the Rhode Island border in the district Brown represented when he was in the state legislature. Nerz says he voted for Brown for Senate and tends to vote more often for Republicans because "in Massachusetts there's no reason to get out of bed if you want the Democrats to win." He definitely thinks Brown appeals to swing, blue-collar voters.

"He projects the image of a guy you'd like to have a beer with," adds Joe Stanganelli, a Democratic lawyer from Cohasset.

Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School, says Massachusetts is not as liberal as many people think: "It's been very socially conservative when it comes to cultural norms." Budson says women who run for office continually talk about media and voter emphasis on "hair, hemlines, and husbands."

"A woman candidate needs to be ever mindful of her message and to get it out through the static of that coverage ... There is a much more narrow window of what is socially acceptable for women politicians," she says.

Elizabeth Feld is a moderate Republican who moved to Massachusetts from New York a few years ago and sees many differences between the two states. "They are culturally very conservative here," she says. "They're reluctant to embrace new ideas and new things. The way they dress is very old school. The traditions run deep."

But Feld, who worked on several campaigns back in New York, says it's more difficult for women to win office no matter where they live. "The kingmakers are still the men." your social media marketing partner


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+58 # Barbara K 2011-10-16 15:16
I hope people are smart enough to elect Elizabeth Warren. She is much needed in the Senate. She is savvy, smart, and has what it takes. Go Elizabeth !!


The alternative is devastating.
+57 # jlohman 2011-10-16 15:24
If Warren pushes the real issue, political corruption, she cannot lose. Good laws do not require money to change hands, only bad laws do. And they did. The rules were changed to make the rich richer, and they shared the booty with the politicians that made it all happen. The 99%ers are onto it, and the public masses are behind them.

Jack Lohman
+32 # Regina 2011-10-16 15:45
An election campaign is not a runway. Elizabeth Warren is not in the race to model. It's high time for Americans to ACCEPT women as equals, not just mouth the idea in the abstract.
+34 # historywriter 2011-10-16 16:47
Nothing makes this sexism clearer than Scott Brown's posing nude; imagine if Elizabeth Warren had done the same thing.
+3 # Jane Gilgun 2011-10-17 11:06
Yes, just imagine what terrible things Brown would say. He'd get away with it. A lot of people would agree with him because there is so sexism below the surface, beginning with Eve who fed a piece of fruit to faultless Adam. Besides, scoring points is more important to many voters than whether or not the point leads to job creation or something else good.
+46 # Byronator 2011-10-16 16:04
Oh yes, the gold standard for voting for a candidate is "the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with." How's that working for us, America?
+18 # Mohanraj 2011-10-16 16:31
Surprisingly, the entire media, print and electronic, are palpably misogynic. Their misognism was too obvious during the Democratic primaries and again during the presidential election in 2008. The media targeted women candidates, I would say, rather viciously. Now again it is evident in its reports on Michele Bachmann and Elizabeth Warren. I do not find fault with the media for criticising a candidate, irrespective of the sex. Criticism per se is always welcome and is a sign of vibrant democracy. But the tone of criticism is what I disapprove of. The media either play down a woman candidate or resort to subtly ridiculing the candidate. It is unbelievable that this primitive sexist prejudice prevails in this country even in the 21st century.
+4 # readerz 2011-10-16 16:41
Some universities in Massachusetts only accept a small percentage of "A" students who apply to them from other states. Many of these students settle in Massachusetts after college. So what kind of zombies have eaten their brains if they judge the contents of a Congressional voting record in beers? Or perhaps the top schools just don't give back to their community; only focusing on hobbies, not civics. I do not think it is a question of women versus men, but people who are too isolated from the general population.
+7 # angryspittle 2011-10-16 16:47
Liberal Massachusetts. Bull. GOP governors, Scott Brown? Why does Liberal Massachusetts keep electing GOPer's?
+14 # MainStreetMentor 2011-10-16 16:58
Americans, (that is to say middle-class Americans), are fully aware that to be a patriot, to be stalwart in your convictions, to be dedicated to a cause or worthwhile proposition that benefits ALL citizens does NOT require you to be of the male gender. Elizabeth Warren is a patriot by any definition one would care to mention. To my knowledge there is no other candidate for any office, in any state, which surpasses Dr. Warren’s outstanding characteristics and abilities to fully, fairly and without bias represent the citizens of her state. Individuals possessing such abilities and traits come along rarely into the public’s reach as their representative voice. I pray Dr. Warren is not subjected to the same underhanded tactics and twisted misrepresentati on to which the opposing party has subjected other candidates in other states. Elizabeth Warren is a decent, caring, competent, truthful person and the people of Massachusetts know they must place her in office.
+10 # colmo04 2011-10-16 17:05
"the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with." How's that working for us, America? THANK YOU, was thinking the same thing. Actually though, how it works is voters vote for guys they think they'd like to have a beer with, but who deal over golf and martinis, or maybe gin and tonics, not beers at the local pub. All is perception,
+12 # SheilaParks 2011-10-16 18:07
This election will be rigged by the electronic voting machines. Prob that is how Scott Brown won the first election. Unless we take this into consideration and get rid of ALL electronic voting machines, both DRE's/touchscre ens and op scams (not a typo), the elections are riggable and rigged. We must go to hand-counting the paper ballots, by opposing parties on the ballot. Hand-counting livestreamed and results posted at the precinct immediately after the counting. No ballots to leave precinct until results are posted.Watch the Emmy nominated documentary Hacking Democracy to see the machines rigged. You can find it on computer and watch at home - 81 minutes.
+3 # boudreaux 2011-10-17 08:13
I did watch something on this issue and I agree with you that we should go back to paper ballots, there are finger prints all over them...I'd have to say that to think that they aren't rigged is to keep your head in the sand...
+4 # Bill Clements 2011-10-17 11:16
The only real question is why hasn't the entire country gone back to paper ballots? Especially given the evidence of rigging?
+1 # bobby t. 2011-10-16 18:13
they have been drinking too many beers.
+8 # CL38 2011-10-16 19:20
"Men see the opportunities and are damned if they're going to let women in,"

And this is one of the many reasons why this country is in such trouble. Men
have made an unholy mess of our country. It's time for women to lead and for men to step the hell out of the way.
+1 # Rick Levy 2011-10-17 00:06
Quoting CL38:
have made an unholy mess of our country. It's time for women to lead and for men to step the hell out of the way.

That is the most sexist response that I've seen for this post. Are you saying that women endowed with some special virtue just because of their gender?

The Philippines where I reside is still reeling from the administration of the previous President, Gloria Arroyo. She is one of the most corrupt and authoritarian leaders this country has ever had.

In the U.S. we have that paragon of virtue and intelligence, Sarah Palin. Do you really want the likes of her or Michele Bachmann to lead the country. If not, why not? After all, they're WOMEN.
+1 # Regina 2011-10-17 14:26
But they're Republican women. The Republican Party has contrived to present the American public with the dimmest wits ever housed in female bodies -- Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Helen O'Donnell, Virginia Fox, etc., etc., etc. That's deliberate and as insulting to competent women as outright contempt -- which they also indulge in. They can't tolerate women who (e.g.) know more about American History than Bachmann. So if we're in an unholy mess, it's the big male majority that's produced it. They can retire to their beers.
0 # Bill Clements 2011-10-19 17:23
Generally agree with you, but being a woman doesn't necessarily translate into superior leadership. Look at the likes of women like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Liz Cheney, Ann Coulter, etc.
+12 # CL38 2011-10-16 19:23
Elizabeth Warren has shown more courage and determination than most male Democratic candidates, including Scott Brown. He's voted with the right most of the time and doesn't deserve to be re-elected.

Warren has fought for the 99% and deserves the nomination and to be elected.

I'm tired of the politicians whose only concern is their own re-election.
-12 # jsgammato 2011-10-16 19:24
I have nothing against Eliz. Warren. I am a MA independent voter. I did not vote for Shannon O'Brien because she was a nit-wit who was anded the nomination by a privileged establishment. I held my nose and voter for Martha Coakley even though she never campaigned (and mightily pissed off Red Sox Nation) but all for naught.
Maybe Warren can do it, but she is coming in as the anointed one over many decent candidates - she had etter show she can fight as hard as she can talk, else I have no use for her.
-5 # boudreaux 2011-10-17 08:20
My heart goes out to you with your bitterness in regard to the last election but we need to trust no matter what and no matter who.
I think CL38 did make a sexist remark that was not right on her part but this is a forum that we can come to to put our thoughts down, she has that right but just like you, I do not agree with that person, no matter whether it be a man or a woman, I just want it to be a person that will do what they say instead of just saying anything just to get elected...
0 # BradFromSalem 2011-10-17 14:53
O'Brien was a nitwit. The party establishment in MA sets up women they think they can control. Martha Coakley was a machine caidate and there were numerous columns by women writers in the Boston Globe telling us how wonderful it would be to have the first woman US Senator was sit in Kennedy's seat.
Now do not get me wrong, Sen. Brown is a huge nitwit, but at least he asked for the people to vote for him. Romney outsmarted O'Brien easily. (He was asked to rescue the Republican Party from their nitwit incumbent - female) That is why he won.

Should Elizabeth Warren get through the Democratic Primary, she will crush Brown. If she does not there is a woman and a male community organizer that will serve the state very well. This is a strong field and they will test her on the issues. MA is not necessarily against women. We are however against being played for fools.
+3 # lin96 2011-10-17 08:43
All this nonsense about who you'd like to have a beer with is trite! Growup! None of these guys are going to have a beer with you. Politely speaking, "You do not run in the same circles". Look at the facts. Men have predominantly run this country since it's first conception and it is the worst right now that it's ever been. It's only fair that women be given a chance because they're not going to screw it up anymore than men have. In almost every home in America,women are the hub of the wheel. Politicians praise their mothers and say "I couldn't have done it without my mother." Isn't anyone listening? Not every woman will be qualified just as not every man is qualified. The difference is that we have so many less women out there, so if you get a Michelle Bachmann who nobody wants, does that mean every woman is disqualifed? No. Elizabeth Warren is a great candidate and should be recognized for what she's done, what she's advocating, and what she will do. Things could be 100% better in Massachuettes and in the US if you give a woman a chance. Be honest. Everyone of you believe that your mother could be a good candidate for whatever office. Women held the home together while many dads were MIA.
+2 # GTrout 2011-10-17 09:00
Warren will never win a general election. The anti-intellectu al bias has never been higher in this country. Warren's trifecta of being an "uppity woman", intelligent and outspoken dooms her to certain defeat in the fair state of MA. The telling comment in the article was "someone I'd have a beer with" - the implication being "someone who doesn't make me feel inferior or who threatens my world view". Warren is NOT that person.

We need 10,000 more like her at every level of government. Too bad the country will never vote any of them into office.
+5 # ABen 2011-10-17 10:07
Having lived in MA for several years, I am very confident that the good voters of MA will send Ms. Warren to the Senate. Brown defeated a fairly weak Dem opponent to get the seat; however, no matter how much money Wall Street operatives dump into Brown's campaign, I seriously doubt he will be able to defeat a very wise and capable candidate such as Ms. Warren.
+2 # fredboy 2011-10-17 16:05
Strict "religious" obedience continues to subjugate women there.
+2 # Linda 2011-10-18 08:05
First let me start by saying Coakly lost for several reasons. She wasn't exactly a good candidate ,she didn't make herself visible outside of the Boston area which to me was a big mistake considering she was not well know in those areas and she didn't have a good message .
I do believe as SheilaParks said that the elections are rigged and in some part Brown won because of that .

I have lived here most of my life and I have heard people vote for someone for the craziest reasons.
I think Reagan won not because of the Republican voters but the voters who unrealisticly saw him as his on screen persona ,"specificly older voters ,"
and didn't even look at his politics.

I think Warren will win this election because I think those who voted for Brown because he seemed like the kind of guy they would like to have a beer with or those who thought he was cute have come to realise he is a shill for the Koch brothers.
He was caught on video asking for a donation again from David Koch . If we elect these people who are funded by the Koch brothers we are in effect handing our country over to these corrupt corporate giants to do with as they please.

Warren has my vote and I am a elderly woman who votes with her head .
I don't vote for woman just because they are woman either !

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