scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Let Maura Healey govern without sexist scrutiny

Healey and Driscoll deserve that from news media and the public.

Governor-elect Maura Healey toured the MBTA’s Main Repair Facility on Dec. 21 in Everett.Nancy Lane/Pool/BH

There is an old saying that we study history so it doesn’t repeat itself. As the state prepares to celebrate the historic inauguration of our first elected woman governor, the media and the public should keep that old adage in mind.

As part of our Commonwealth’s history of women serving in statewide office — one of us was the first woman elected to a statewide office, as lieutenant governor, and the other was the first woman to serve as governor and the first in the nation to give birth while in office — we hope that the progress made last year at the ballot box is reflected in the media coverage and public treatment of the administration of Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll.


History and research tell us to be wary, and early signals suggest we revisit those lessons. One valuable source for research on women in political leadership is a comprehensive analysis of how gender impacts media coverage and public sentiment, compiled by the Rutgers University Center for Women in Politics and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation after the 2016 presidential race.

This report should be mandatory reading for the media. Perhaps it will prevent any wardrobe stories — or other coverage you would not see on a newly elected male in the traditional blue suit — from creeping into coverage.

One important element in the 2016 report is the belief by many that gender bias no longer exists in media coverage or society. Early warning signs in the Commonwealth reinforce what the study uncovered in 2016. The overblown coverage of Healey’s residential move to Cambridge falls into this pattern. The placement of the story, its length, and conjecture struck many as disproportionate.

The news media will contend that all governors accept some coverage of their personal life outside the office. However, it is also documented that women serving in elected office, whether married or single, get asked different questions about their life away from the office, and more of them, than men do.


As elected officials, we were often asked questions never posed to men. Most voters may not have even known how many children previous governors were blessed with, and they certainly were not concerned about their care. Yet publicly and privately, these questions were posed to Governor Swift and her family. As we have seen during the pandemic, child care is a complicated and deeply personal choice for families that often has implications for women’s participation in the labor force. It is a critical policy issue that does not hinge on what our governor’s personal choices might be.

The traditional warning given to female candidates is to be prepared for the enhanced scrutiny of the “Triple H” — hair, hemlines, and husbands. While the third “h” needs updating for today’s diversity of family formation, the concept holds. As candidates, we faced questions about style that no male opponent was asked. When running for lieutenant governor, Murphy often heard “Oh, you’re smart enough, (or experienced enough), but are you tough enough?” As if physical strength and a loud voice would translate into accomplishment.

Ultimately, voters should judge Healey and Driscoll on their records. But everyone should understand that bias still exists — some of it blatant and some not discerning to the eye.


We grew up with knowing nods to the old saw, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backward and in high heels.” That quote dates us, as should the concept. Leading the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in a post-pandemic COVID era is not ballroom dancing. Let’s not ask our leaders to lead backward and in high heels.

Evelyn Murphy, who served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1987 to 1991, is cochair of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council and the GK Fund. Jane Swift, who served as governor from 2001 to 2003, is an education adviser.