Maya E. Shwayder ’10-’11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a psychology concentrator in Pforzheimer House.
I can claim no political expertise. I have no knowledge of the inner workings of Washington, the particulars of punditry, or the logistics of legislation. However, as a voter and as a woman with some experience in the professional world, I would like to say this; if Scott Brown had been female, he never would have been elected.
Had he run the exact same campaign, had he faced the exact same opponent, and had the exact same nude Cosmopolitan Magazine centerfold spread come to light, his (or rather, her, in this hypothetical) campaign would have died right then and there. She would have been forced out of her current job and lost whatever credibility she had left, along with any hopes of running for future office or holding a high-profile job. There would have been accusations of prostitution, name-calling, innuendos, claims of foul play, and conspiracy theories galore. Why? Because Scott Brown needed to pay for law school, and she posed nude for Cosmo in order to do so.
During the campaign, no one really discussed the spread or its implications. No one seemed to think it a problem that the Republican candidate to succeed the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-‘56 was a one-time playboy. The only person who came close to a criticism was Keith Olbermann, who, in his emphatic over-slur of Brown, declared him to be an "irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model." Everyone else who mentioned the episode would quickly qualify the phrase, "he posed nude," with the statement, "to pay for law school!"
The answer to why was it not discussed further is obvious: It didn’t matter, nor should it. Senator Brown’s ability to make nice for the camera bears little on his ability to make policy. However, when the story first came to light, I couldn’t help recall Lisa Edelstein’s character Laurie from the hit TV show The West Wing, who was also trying to pay her way through law school by working as an escort. The point Aaron Sorkin, the show’s creator and main writer, was making with this plotline was that Laurie’s chosen method of financing her education had little to do with her intelligence or abilities as a lawyer. But when a White House staffer was caught with her, it almost detonated both his career and fictional President Bartlet’s.
Many stories like Laurie’s are unfortunately not at all fictional. In 2003, The Guardian published a story about a mother who prostituted herself in order to pay for her daughter’s schooling, as well as several other women in similar situations. In 2006, the London Times reported that an estimated one in ten students attending a university knew someone who had at some point "stripped, lapdanced or worked at massage parlours and escort agencies to support themselves." In 2008, ABC reported a rise in the rates of prostitution and drug trafficking among school children in Papua New Guinea in order to "pay school fees." And last July, CBS’s Katie Couric told the stories of several college-attending American girls forced to turn to prostitution when economic circumstances ran their families into bankruptcy.
Seemingly, little is being done to help these women financially so that they can stop being prostitutes. In fact, many have simply ended up in jail. The usual response to these stories is to turn up one’s morally superior nose and say that "there must have been another way to find the money." But all that these women were trying to do, just like Senator Brown, was pay for school. They want to be productive members of society. Many of those trying to attend law school would probably love to run for public office some day. But if and when their past came to light, rest assured that these women would be laughed out of the statehouse, out of the courthouse, off the campaign trail, and off the Bar. However, if you are Scott Brown, posing nude to pay for law school is no impediment to being elected to succeed Senator Kennedy with no questions asked.
The Brown phenomenon has brought to light more than just the supposed Republican re-takeover of our national government. Brown’s ascension to the Senate in spite of his turn as a centerfold is an indication of our culture’s severe double standard in terms of the treatment of men and women. One can’t help but recall the ridicule former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin underwent for being, among other things, a former beauty queen. When a girl can pay for her education without having to prostitute herself, and when a woman can run for a prominent public office without facing the harsh criticism that Scott Brown didn’t face, that will be the day that we are finally on the track to true equality and justice for all people, no matter their gender.