Likeability is a uniquely female problem

“You’re likable enough, Hillary.”

  • (then) Senator Barack H. Obama

The time was circa 2008, during the Democratic Primary. There was a hullabaloo (or a brouhaha, if you will) about how Hillary Clinton wasn’t as likable as her charismatic husband. Barely setting aside the fact that Hillary was married to a libertine who has faced a myriad of sexual assault allegations, ranging from abusing his office, to violent rape, she was the unlikable one? In 2008, HRC was already a two-term Senator from the state of New York, having led NYC through the aftermath of 9/11, as well as the Great Recession. Alas, it was all for naught – she wasn’t likable enough.

 

Hillary Rodham was voted most admired woman over 20 times – from the time she was First Lady, to her tenure as Secretary of State. She was suddenly likable enough again, after being appointed as the most powerful diplomat who isn’t POTUS. Why is that?

“It was a job I was asked to do by a man.”

  • Hillary Clinton, 2017

Women can be great AND likable, if and only if we are subordinates to greater and more powerful men. We can aspire to graze the ceiling, but not truly break it, because being “the first woman” to do something means dealing with a deluge of disdain. It means having to coddle men’s egos.

Likability is a problem that burdens leaders who are encumbered with a uterus. Men are unfettered to questions about the way they talk, their tone, their facial expressions… The work speaks for itself.

 

Women are vilified where their male counterparts skate free. “Let them eat cake” is a phrase misattributed to Marie Antoinette, but it is very telling that she has been levied with a plethora of scorn, that skated over her husband, the true villain, Louis XVI.

Smile more. Be a little less aggressive. More timid. Why are these prescribed to women? Why are women, even in positions of leadership or authority expected to defer to men? Why is initiative-taking and aggression a compliment for men, but detrimental to women? Why must we dumb ourselves down so people don’t feel discomfited?

“You’re likable enough.”

What if I don’t want to be likable? What if all I want is to do the best job possible? Why are women’s capabilities in tandem with their “palatability”?

 

“You’re likable enough.”

 

Yeah, I like me. That’s enough.

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