Thursday, January 03, 2019

Likable Enough? On The Hillarization of Elizabeth Warren.

Did you know that likability is a tremendously important characteristic in American politics?  Politicians shouldn't run if they are not likable.  It's not possible to win, say, the presidency if a politician is not deeply likable:

In one of his first tweets of the new year, President Donald Trump attacked retired four-star Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal after he criticized the President on Sunday.
"'General' McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. "Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!"

Oops.  I forgot to specify that likability is a tremendously important characteristic in American politics, but mostly for female politicians.  Hillary Clinton struggled with her likability rating.   Sure, she had experience and brains.  But she lacked that something — je ne sais quoi — that all charismatic politicians must have.  Trump has it in shitloads! 

It's being likable.

Drat.  I veered off the script again and forgot that male politicians don't have to be terribly likable.  Their likability rating is measured differently, because it's base value (zero point) is set far lower than the equivalent base value for female politicians. 

A guy is likable enough if he doesn't decapitate babies on television with his bare teeth, pretty much. 

But from a gal so much more is demanded!  She must not remind any man of his nasty female ex, she must not remind anyone of their angry mother, she must not remind anyone of the cold bitch at the bank who refused their mortgage applications. 

She should be warm, empathetic, sympathetic, but not emotional or weepy.  As an aside, she should also be attractive, but not blatantly sexy, strong, but without a grating voice or any shrillness or hectoring, and she should always place other people's needs ahead of her needs.  If she fails in that then she is overly ambitious and unlikable.

Sigh.  All this is because of the sex roles almost all of us have grown up with.  Women, as a class, are expected to demonstrate certain characteristics.  Leaders, as a class, are expected to demonstrate a different set of characteristics. 

These two sets don't quite coincide.  Powerful women must walk a tightrope strung between two end-points, one having to do with traditional female characteristics which make a woman likable but certainly not a public leader, and the other having to do with traditional leadership characteristics which make a woman powerful, but not necessarily likable:

It is widely accepted that women should be nurturing, deferent, kind and warm. Men, in contrast, are valued for being confident, in control and outspoken. The problem for women is that the qualities essential to being a successful leader, such as assertiveness and directness, are contrary to predominant norms of femininity. Because of this, women leaders are often penalized. They may be disliked by their colleagues, or their communication style critiqued, which can result in their being fired or missing out on important promotions or assignments.
Walking that tightrope can be pretty tricky*.

Why this outburst from me?  Because Elizabeth Warren has thrown her hat in the ring concerning the 2020 presidential races, and the almost-instant response has questioned her likability:

The anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative was written before the Massachusetts senator even announced she was exploring a presidential run.
She’s too divisive and too liberal, Washington Democrats have complained privately. Her DNA rollout was a disaster — and quite possibly a White House deal-breaker. She’s already falling in the polls, and — perhaps most stinging — shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton.

In the year of the woman, it adds up to one unwelcome mat for the most prominent woman likely to be part of the 2020 field. But it also presents an unmistakable challenge: How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?
Bolds are mine.

The whole linked article is fun to read!  Korecki suggests that Warren shares too many attributes which sank Hillary Clinton, without noticing the most obvious of those shared attributes, their female sex.  She then gives a quick nod to the possibility that worrying about Warren's likability might be a sign of sexism, but then decides that "fair or not," Warren must overcome the wariness her candidacy is met with. 

I found all that hilarious, probably because the alternative reading of Korecki's work here would have left me despondent**.


*  And the trickiness might differ, in complicated ways, between, say, white and African-American women.

** Both because she herself is adding bricks to the structure of Warren's supposed unlikability and because she appears unaware of the literature telling us that powerful women tend to suffer an unlikability penalty.