Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lets keep dated and 'unbecoming' language out of Beacon Hill

Yesterday marked the 94th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. Ninety-one years ago Democrat Susan Fitzgerald of Jamaica Plain and Republican Sylvia Donaldson of Brockton were the first women in history to be elected to the Massachusetts legislature. We’ve made some progress. Since 2008, Massachusetts has tripled the number of women we send to Congress (from zero to three!) and women serve around 24-percent of the seats in the Massachusetts Legislature. But still, we lag behind most of our neighboring states in New England at electing women to public office. We have to continue to look at the unique obstacles women encounter when they run for office. One of those unique obstacles? Weighted language and rhetoric that is used in the media, in debates, and out on the field that sets us back years. It is dividing statements that change the tone of debate and lead to the pervasiveness of sexism on Beacon Hill.

Just last night in a debate held by The Boston Globe we heard former State Senator and candidate for Attorney General Warren Tolman described his opponent, civil rights attorney and former leader in the Attorney General’s Office Maura Healey as “unbecoming.” Voting history, advertisements, and endorsements aside, the use of the word “unbecoming” has weighted meaning that dates back to before the elections of Susan Fitzgerald and Sylvia Donaldson. Just 12 years ago former Gov. Mitt Romney described his Democratic gubernatorial opponent and former state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien’s behavior as “unbecoming”. Yes, there are times when the word “unbecoming” is used to describe a man’s behavior, but overwhelmingly, it is a way to describe “aggressive” or “bossy” women. Maura Healey is a respected civil rights attorney, a former leader in the Attorney General’s office where she oversaw 250 lawyers and staff members, an advocate for reproductive health rights and consumer protection, a Harvard graduate, and a first-time political candidate who has enlivened voters across the Commonwealth. What she isn’t? Unbecoming.