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This Time, the White Knight Is a Woman

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ELIZABETH WARREN
AP

The allegedly bluest of blue states is like the Gobi Desert for female statewide candidates.

No woman has ever been elected governor of Massachusetts. Jane Swift held the post as acting governor in 2001, but only after Paul Cellucci resigned. She was quickly dumped by the Mass. GOP when Mitt Romney said he wanted the job; Swift was put out on the doorstep with the trash.

When Lt. Governor Evelyn Murphy ran for governor in 1990, pictures were published of her jogging, and much discussion ensued about her thighs. She had a fine record and wonderful policy papers. Do quads really matter in politics? Apparently, if they belong to a woman.

No woman has ever been elected senator from the Bay State. Martha Coakley was supposed to be a shoo-in for Ted Kennedy's seat, but Scott Brown showed up with his pickup truck, great looks and friendly demeanor. Coakley, a sharp prosecutor and the state's attorney general, ran a lackluster campaign. The voters apparently thought she'd rather slap cuffs on their hands then shake them.

But many Democratic women have taken heart from Elizabeth Warren's campaign. (Remember, Massachusetts was the state that hung with Hillary in the Democratic primaries when everybody else was totally smitten with Barack.)

This time, maybe it's a woman, not a guy, who comes riding in on the white charger, and for a lot of women that's a nice change. So many times, just when it seems a woman is about to reach the finish line, out of nowhere comes the white knight who scoops up the prize.

Warren is the real deal. She's riding in with top notch -- credentials. Nobody can say people are backing her just because they want a woman, and so they'll just overlook her résumé.

Come to think of it, this was what the women's movement was all about: no special pleading, no chivalry; just the chance to stand toe-to toe with the big (male) dogs to slug it out. For so long, women couldn't get to that point, because they couldn't get the degrees, the mentoring, the good first jobs, or the promotions that would move them up the line.

Elizabeth Warren didn't emerge, like Athena, fully formed and armed to the teeth, from the head of Zeus. If she wins the senate seat, Mass Dems may indeed think of her as a goddess, but she did it the hard way.

Her father was a janitor, and when he had a heart attack, she got a job as a waitress to help keep the family going. It's the kind of Horatio Alger story Americans love, but this time, Horatio (sometimes) wears high heels.

The noted scholar of mythology, Joseph Campbell, who writes about the hero's journey, once commented that women couldn't have a quest -- they were simply meant to be the object of the male quest, "In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she's the place that people are trying to get to. When a woman realizes what her wonderful character is, she's not going to get messed up with the notion of being pseudo-male."

In that line, women hear echoes of "penis envy," "ballbreaker," "bitch," and a whole vocabulary list of words that tell women to stay in their place. And that place certainly isn't politics.

But Warren's journey does indeed fit the Campbell model. She traveled from what she calls the "ragged edge" of the middle class to the ivied walls of Harvard. One good thing about her, from a political observer's point of view, is that she brings as much Oklahoma as Harvard Square to her persona. As the New York Times rhapsodized:

"Ms. Warren talks about the nation's growing income inequality in a way that channels the force of the Occupy Wall Street movement but makes it palatable and understandable to a far wider swath of voters. She is provocative and assertive in her critique of corporate power and the well-paid lobbyists who protect it in Washington, and eloquent in her defense of an eroding middle class."

On her Website, Warren says, in a no-nonsense style:

"Middle class families have been chipped at, at hacked at, squeezed at, hammered for a generation, and I didn't think Washington gets it. I'm going to do this. I'm going to run for the United States senate and the reason is straight forward...I grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class and I know it's hard out there. I fought all my life for working families and I've stood up to some pretty powerful interests."

That may sound like the political spin of the moment, but she's got the deeds to back up the words.

Here's another Campbellian touch. Like Athena, she's a warrior. But while the Greek goddess hurled a war cry at the heavens, Warren spoke to Congress in measured terms. She was effective as the point woman in arguing the case for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. So effective, in fact, that Barack Obama thought he couldn't appoint her to head the agency she basically created because she'd been so tough. (I wish he'd just have said, "Screw it, she's my choice, and if you don't like it, you can shove your opinions up your keester!" But that's another conversation.)

Warren will have a tough opponent in Scott Brown, who is handsome, likeable, and moderate (for a Republican.) He's no dummy. He romanced the Tea Party for a while but scratched them from his dance card once he got elected. Right wing lunacy doesn't fly in Massachusetts.

But this time, it's the woman, not the guy, who has the experience and the résumé, and, by the way, is no slouch in the cojones department.

It's been a long dry spell, but at long last, Massachusetts Democratic women think they have a winner.

Boston University professor Caryl Rivers is the co-author, with Dr. Rosalind Barnett, of The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children (Columbia University Press)

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