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It's okay. Sen. Brown was just being a (naked) man.

Massachusetts voters elected Republican State Senator Scott Brown to fill the seat of longtime statesman Edward M. Kennedy, who died in August 2009.

"Men who are naughty are [viewed as] just dudes being dudes," says Eric Dezenhall, a crisis management specialist in Washington. "Women who are naughty are unstable and must be stopped."

But what about Sarah Palin? Wasn't she a little naughty, with her pageant background and her red high heels and librarian glasses? Maybe if old pictures of Palin, wearing nothing but a grin and a wrist, resurfaced, it wouldn't have been such a big --

"No. No. No. No. No," says Sue Tolleson-Rinehart, editor of the compendium "Gender and American Politics." "A female candidate for whom such photographs were uncovered would have a very difficult time living it down." With men, it's different. It's even, plausibly, laudable. "You might argue that he's projecting a kind of virility that we associate with strength and leadership."

When is the last time you heard someone look at a picture of a naked woman and comment on her leadership skills? Remember Hillary Clinton's cleavage, and what stir that inch of skin caused after one 2007 debate?

No one argued then that men -- aroused by some primordial mammary fixation -- might feel compelled to vote for Clinton, though such an argument might have been based on research. In 2008, researchers at Northwestern University found that male voters were swayed by sexuality, predominantly declaring that the more "competent" female candidates were the more attractive ones.

Still, the gender stereotype persists that women voters are either "led by their husbands or fathers, or they make decisions based on superficial qualities" such as physical appearance, says Tolleson-Rinehart, citing the 1960s commentators who assumed that women would swoon their way to the voting booths and, in a pheromone-induced coma, vote for John F. Kennedy.

For a response, let's turn to two voting women of Massachusetts.

"I don't think [the centerfold] is an issue at all," Celeste Wilson says stiffly. Wilson is the president of the Massachusetts Federation of Republican Women and supported Brown. "He's simply saying things that people are interested in."

Says Patty McGregor, a voice-over actress in Boston who voted for Coakley, "I'm not sure what I feel. I'm just horrified."

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