What do women want?

Poll after poll, campaign stop after campaign stop, we’re reminded that women are so important. But let’s not kid ourselves. We matter because candidates need our vote. We make up more than half the electorate in Massachusetts, and in the tight race for governor, we are the difference between victory and concession.

Candidates are just tripping over themselves to win us over. So much so that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his handling of domestic violence has become a campaign issue.

Really? Like it really matters that our next governor can make the right call on whether Goodell should resign.


Please, everyone, stop trying so hard.

What really matters — and I am speaking from experience as a lifelong member of the female gender — is that we get the same opportunities as men. That we can get a good education and a good job, not only for ourselves, but for our families.

Sadly, long after the women’s movement began, we’re still talking about this. But it matters more than ever because now women are the primary or sole breadwinners in 40 percent of US households with children. Equal pay is not just a collective whine for a raise, but like generations of men before us, we’re the ones putting food on the dinner table.

Men may still be from Mars, but female voters are largely aligned with guys on the big priorities — the economy, education, and the environment, according to Globe polls. We’re so much more than just pro-choice or antiabortion.

Deval Patrick, our two-term governor, never really had an overt strategy to pull in women, but he came away with ballot boxes full of female votes, capturing 57 percent compared to Republican opponent Charlie Baker’s 33 percent.

So is there a secret to getting the female vote, one that he cares to share with Baker?


“I don’t know that there is a secret exactly. Remember, I am an amateur. I have run for one office two times,” said Patrick in an interview this week as he was campaigning with Democratic candidate Martha Coakley at a Quincy preschool.

Patrick does offer one tip: “I don’t think voters like being put in a box.”

Now in this race, the candidates are drawing lines all around us. Baker, the former Harvard Pilgrim CEO, has his gaggle of gals — running mate Karyn Polito, his Women for Charlie network, and daughter Caroline and wife Lauren, who have been trotted out in a TV ad, an online video, and events.

Coakley, the attorney general, has Moms for Martha, a Women’s Leadership Council, and girlfriends in high places stumping for her — first lady Michelle Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren, US Representative Katherine Clark.

Even though she’s the only female gubernatorial candidate in the race, Coakley is not taking women for granted. She gets us, because she’s one of us, and she’s pushing all the right buttons hard — early education, earned sick time, buffer zones, taking on the old boy network. And since she’s down this road, she might as well insist that NFL Commissioner Goodell must resign for not punishing players accused of domestic violence.

For a candidate who has been criticized for lacking passion, Coakley may have finally found her comfort zone. When she has been asked about what women voters want, she’s prepared a tart response: “Why do men have to ask?”


Women, she told me, “want to make sure they’re going to be at the table. They’re going to have a say. And they’re going to have a governor who can see them, hear them, and speak them.”

This is a Martha who can be hard to beat, especially for Baker, a Republican guy in a Blue State already facing a big gender gap. Despite having a wall of women, Baker is fumbling the female vote as badly as a backup quarterback in the big game.

Over the summer, Baker stupidly said the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which restricts insurance coverage for contraception, “doesn’t matter” to Massachusetts women. Then he retracted it. The other day he called a Fox TV reporter “sweetheart.” He was joking, but no one was laughing. He had to apologize.

And at a Women for Charlie event last week, he squandered a chance to show that he understands women.

Instead of focusing on campaign issues, he pandered, playing to what he thought lunching ladies would want to see and hear — a softer side with an event emceed by his 17-year-old daughter. It was Baker’s binders full of women moment.

To woo women, this is what Baker needs to say: When he ran Harvard Pilgrim, women made up half his management team, seven of his 12 board members, and 75 percent of his employees.

Baker knows what we want. Like so many men, he just has trouble communicating it.


Martha Coakley says women “want to make sure they’re going to be at the table. They’re going to have a say.”
Martha Coakley says women “want to make sure they’re going to be at the table. They’re going to have a say.”Steven Senne/AP


Charlie Baker needs an intervention on women

Shirley Leung can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com.