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The only fair reading of Scott Lennon’s statement that “[s]ome of that ad … has been taken out of context” is that he meant to say that critics have misunderstood his intent. “[T]hat ad,” of course, is an ad Scott placed in the TAB, which states, among other things, “I am the only candidate who has consistently held a full-time job for the last twenty years.” In response, Ruthanne Fuller — the only other candidate in the race — accused Scott of questioning “my capacity to be both a mother and a leader.” 

I think we can take Scott at his word that he didn’t intend to question the qualifications of a woman with a non-linear, non-traditional career. (I recognize that even “non-traditional” is infused with some sexism. Non-traditional from a male perspective.) In other words, he did not intend to make an issue of Ruthanne’s gender. He is not a sexist.

I believe him. But, good intentions (or, in this case, the absence of bad intentions) are not enough. In 2017, our next mayor needs to be sensitive to structural gender issues. Scott should have recognized that his comparison between his traditional breadwinner career path and Ruthanne’s mix of full-time, part-time, and volunteer work was inherently gendered. He made a comparison that imparts an advantage to men. Most middle-age folks with 20-years of consecutive employment are men, by virtue of social norms about family responsibilities. (Most, not all. In the Roche household, Mr. Roche has a more checkered work history than Ms. Klein Roche.) By Scott’s logic, on this issue, more men are qualified to be mayor than women.

Beyond the logic of opportunity, the employment comparison in Scott’s ad dismisses both the value of Ruthanne’s non-professional work and the relevance of the work as qualification to be mayor. The comparison could be interpreted as non-gendered. There are women who have careers similar to Scott’s and men who have experience similar to Ruthanne’s. But, the fact that the distribution of work is uneven across genders makes gender a legitimate lens through which to interpret the comparison. It’s fair to read it as suggesting that the kind of work that many women does not qualify them to be mayor.

It’s not just that Scott’s logic reflects a blindness to gender bias. He should have read the ad copy and been able to spot the issue. You don’t need a “Fight the Patriarchy” tattoo across your bicep to recognize that citing 20 years of continuous work experience against a woman candidate is inadvisable. Scott’s statement to Village 14 reinforces the perception that he’s not sensitive to the issue. He cites his work on behalf of equality, but defends the comparison as valid.

If you’re a man, the real test of a commitment to gender equality is being willing to forego the opportunities that historical, structural gender bias provides you. That Scott isn’t willing, when called on the implicit gender bias, to say, I get the message that my comparison makes and I withdraw it, says that Scott isn’t willing to give up male privilege in pursuit of his dream job. That’s troubling. Ruthanne is not exactly the poster child for limited opportunity. Just read her impressive list of work. But, she’s a woman. And, her work experience since she had her first child reflects choices that women, not men, traditionally make. This is bigger than Scott v. Ruthanne.

Because Ruthanne is a woman, the work experience line in Scott’s ad is particularly pointed. But, as some commenters have noted, Scott’s continual reference to his life-long Newton residency, including in the ad, is also troubling. The percentage of African-Americans in Newton is half that of the Commonwealth. And, Massachusetts’ rate is half of the country’s. Life-long residency is an advantage that is proportionally much more available to white people than people of color. Given that Ruthanne is white (and, compared to Scott, practically a carpet-bagger), it’s not a question of Scott foregoing or not foregoing an advantage not available to his opponent. But, it is fair to ask, as commenters have, if it reflects an insensitivity to structural racial bias.

There is no evidence that Scott is a sexist or racist, at least not in the sense that he is actively or overtly hostile to women or people of color. There’s not much to determine if Scott harbors any unconscious bias. The only available objective evidence of is his record appointing councilors to leadership positions. Small sample, but worth noting, though, that the current council is just over 1/3 women, but only 1 of 6 chairs of standing committees, who Scott appoints, are women. What we have in the ad, is a level below: a statement that brings into question whether or not Scott is sufficiently attuned to the obstacles women and people of color face to warrant a vote for him as Mayor.

As Scott says in his statement to Village 14, it’s fair to distinguish between candidates. On the one hand you have a candidate who has run an ad that is, at the very least, insensitive to gender issues. On the other hand you have, well, a woman.

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