This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 3/24/02
Page B1/Perspective (State/Region); Copyright 2002 by Beth David

Women have 'tougher ride'
By BETH DAVID, Standard-Times correspondent

Is being a woman Jane Swift's biggest problem?

In a tearful scene at the Statehouse last week, the mother of three announced that she was abandoning her quest to be lected governor, opening the door for Mitt Romney, champion of the Salt Lake City Olympics, to win the Republican nomination for the office.

Was there more at work than just the series of personal and political controversies that Gov. Swift's administration has endured since she took over the job from A. Paul Cellucci last April?

"Politics is tough," said state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien, a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and the mother of a 3-year-old. "Is it harder for a woman to prove herself? Yes, it is."

Ms. O'Brien insisted that there is more to doing the job than being able to do the job.

"Women have to work harder to prove that they have the toughness, that they have the managerial skills to serve in executive positions," Ms. O'Brien said.

Women in politics and other positions of authority echoed those sentiments.

Yvonne Drayton, executive director of the YWCA of Southeastern Massachusetts, said, "The whole decision smacks greatly of a double standard being applied. I cannot begin to imagine that a man of 36 with children would be asked to step aside. I can't imagine that kind of pressure would be put on a man in that position."

Ms. Drayton, who votes across party lines and does not identify as Democrat or Republican, said she questions if Mitt Romney would have decided to run if Gov. Swift were a man.

"I am really offended at the way she was treated," said Ms. Drayton. "I am somewhat distressed that someone who has achieved high visibility can come in and take over."

Jane Gonsalves, the only woman on the New Bedford City Council, agreed that Swift's actions, such as using the state helicopter and asking aides to babysit, were judged differently.

"I'm sure that governors in the past had their secretaries get their dry cleaning ... We never heard about it," said Ms. Gonsalves.

Dr. Jeanne McCormack, Chancellor of UMassDartmouth said Gov. Swift earned the right to be in the corner office but "she's had a tougher ride" because she's a woman.

Dr. McCormack said it was obvious to her that the party supported someone with no previous political victories simply because he's a man.

"Women exercise power differently than men do," said Dr. McCormack. "It was a wise decision (to quit the race). She's young, she can return, having been a team player."

State Representative Ruth W. Provost, D-Sandwich, said she believes Gov. Swift's decision had more to do with the poll numbers than being a woman. But were the poll numbers down because she's a woman?

"I think her poll numbers were down because she made some serious mistakes in judgment," said Rep. Provost. "I frankly thought she was facing someone who was personally wealthy. Had it been I, I would've stayed in and made him earn it."

Ms. O'Brien, who was juggling three separate fund-raising events in one evening, said that Romney's multimillionaire status is an enormous hurdle for anyone to overcome.

Gov. Swift "is not a wealthy woman," Ms. O'Brien said, "If she had debated him early on I think she would have proven her greater knowledge of state policy. She's smart, she's an able debater, she understands state policy."

State Sen. Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said that being a woman "obviously" affected Swift's decision. "She's a woman," stated Sen. Murray matter-of-factly.

But Sen. Murray also said that because Gov. Swift took office upon Mr. Cellucci's mid-term departure, she inherited a team that was not her own.

"We watched them cut her and undermine her all the time," said Sen. Murray. "It's very difficult to govern in that manner."

"I do believe that people were tougher on her," said Sen. Murray. "Previous governors had used the state helicopter. That was never any big deal, that was part of the office. And the fact that she went home ... We don't have a place for governors in our capital to stay. So if they stay in town, they pay out of pocket."

She said men in executive office usually have wives or nannies. "She's just in a different kind of place than the men who preceded her," said Sen. Murray.

Linda Johnson, Executive Director of the Women's Statewide Legislative Network, has been working with women legislators of both parties for five years.

"I was a little shocked," said Ms. Johnson of Swift's decision not to run.

But as someone who is working on social justice issues that mostly affect women, Ms. Johnson said being a women isn't enough. She feels Gov. Swift missed many opportunities to use her many "firsts" to make her mark on Massachusetts.

"I was really impressed she gave birth while in office and on the other hand she was happy to use her position and her privilege to get her needs met, but she wasn't in tune with what it was like for other women with children," said Ms. Johnson. "She was in a position to really make a difference for other working women and I don't believe she showed real leadership."

Ms. Johnson said she feels Swift had "no chance" against someone like Mitt Romney, but not because of gender.

"No. I think she made a lot of serious missteps," said Ms. Johnson. "I would agree that maybe people were more harsh with her because she's a woman."

Does all this mean that women are under more scrutiny and that it's just plain harder to be a woman in politics?

Absolutely, according to Ms. Drayton. "I don't know that I necessarily agree with Jane Swift and her policies," she said. "But if a man had done the same things, there would be no question.

"When was the last time you saw how a man fathers his children be an issue?" asked Ms. Drayton.

Several of the women interviewed cited a Barbara Lee Family Foundation study showing that media coverage of women candidates focuses more on personal aspects than issues.

Chancellor McCormack said she was speaking from experience, "When I came here and was on the radio they asked me, 'Do you think you'll have a hard time being in charge?' Do you think they would've asked that of a man?"

State Rep. Patricia A. Haddad, a Somerset Democrat, said "There's a male state rep who has four children under 5 years old and it's not part of the conversation," said Rep. Haddad. "But it came up constantly for her. The fact that she's a mother, the fact that she has twins, the fact that the kids are under a certain age, it was always part of the equation for her."

"I know I hold myself to a higher standard," said Rep. Haddad. "It's part of my female makeup to try harder. We are, as women, under a microscope."

Rep. Haddad said men with the same responsibilities do not have the same pressures.

So, should young mothers in Massachusetts just stay home with the kids?

Gubernatorial candidate O'Brien wouldn't hear of it.

"I have a young daughter," said Ms. O'Brien. "I want to send a clear message to girls. I balance many things. I balance my job as treasurer, I balance my responsibilities as a mother, I balance my campaign. But I don't have a six-hour commute," as Gov. Swift does. "There are only so many hours in the day."

Many of the women interviewed said the political culture is decidedly male and that takes time to change.

"When a man can get Viagra, but post menopausal women can't get Hormone Replacement Therapy, there's a problem," said Rep. Provost.

She pointed out that only 25 percent of the legislature is women, even though women make up better than 50 percent of the population.

"I was fairly confident that people assumed I was an aide," Rep. Provost said about her first weeks on Beacon Hill. "When they see a male in a suit, there's an assumption that he's a legislator. It's an interesting culture. We're changing that slowly."

Candidate O'Brien agreed. "We haven't had a lot of role models as governors. Clearly both men and women have a hard time picturing a woman in this position, so women have to do the job better. We have to be smart enough, we have to be tough enough, we have to be capable enough."

"You may be accepted, but you don't have the same access," said Sen. Murray. "So you try harder and you try to carve a niche, and then you are called names."

And finally, was it unfair for the media to splatter that huge picture of Jane Swift crying, and describing her speech as "tearful?"

"Regardless, she showed a lot of class," said Rep. Haddad. "She put what she felt were the needs of the party against her own personal ego. I've seen men crumble in the face of that. She showed she's a human being, regardless of what I think of her policies."

"We're emotional creatures," said Sen. Murray. "What Jane did showed a lot of courage, showed a lot of guts, showed a lot of class. She saved her party so they can have a shot at the office. She saved herself to run another day. ... I'm sure she'll be back."

"How much stronger can you be than to stand with Romney by her side and look relaxed," added Sen. Murray. "That's someone who knows what she's doing."