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In 1982, Scott Brown, a 22-year-old law student from Boston College, posed nude in a Cosmopolitan Magazine centerfold. He described himself as “a bit of a patriot,” but with a well-placed arm, he kept any bits of his patriot shielded from the camera.

Nearly 30 years later, the same Scott Brown ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts and won. When asked about his modeling past by the Boston Globe, he explained away any outcry with the following quote: “You don’t see anything.”

What’s really on display are the different standards set for men and women today in public office. A woman would never been able to do what he did and still make it to Washington.

In 1982, Martha Coakley was an associate at a law firm in Boston.

Imagine if, to pay off her law school student loans (the main reason, Brown said, that he appeared in Cosmo), she had worked as an exotic dancer.

What if in a moment of fun or silliness — or even in all sincerity — she had posed for a pictorial in some Boston University short-shorts for a Girls of the Eastern College Athletic Conference photo spread?

Females in positions of power are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Their hair and clothes can be deemed too sexy, too dowdy, too expensive, too masculine or too feminine.

We’re told as women that we can do anything if we put our brilliant minds to it, but it seems that a little winking and flirting will get you a hell of a lot further in terms of popularity. (I’m looking at you, Ms. Palin.)

And although I’m sure some people chose their vote after seeing Brown and his Cosmo-approved “stimulus package,” men running for office are generally assessed by their ideas and values first — even if they are overweight, pale or sporting an impressive set of jowls. Although it’s not impossible to succeed, women have a trickier tightrope to walk regarding their appearance and actions.

But Brown did have a line he wouldn’t cross: “It’s Cosmo, not Playgirl,” he said. (Once again, imagine a female candidate saying, “It’s Maxim, not Playboy,” and not getting raked over the coals.) We’ve stripped beauty queens of titles, however, and chastised actresses because of nude pictures.

And with some more boyish charm, Scott Brown joked during his acceptance speech that his daughters were “available.” Yet during the 2008 presidential primaries, MSNBC correspondent David Shuster said Chelsea Clinton was being “pimped out” for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Why the difference?

In many ways, Brown’s decision as a young adult not having to define his career choices is a welcome one. Thank God we’re not all held to the choices we made when we were 22. But when we’re holding some people to certain standards and others not, it’s important to speak up and ask questions.

Many might say Brown’s words and actions fall under the excuse of “boys being boys,” a catch-all phrase intended to explain away any behavior that disrupts without explicitly causing harm.

But women don’t get as wide a net; their actions are either good or bad. And according to society, no “good girl” worthy of running for senator would ever do such a “bad” thing as pose nude.

 

Jessica Fuller is a second-year journalism graduate student. Contact Jessica at jvfuller@email.unc.edu.

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