Why Do We Like Her (and Not Her)?!
Why are some famous women universally adored while others get the mean-girl treatment? And how important is it for women to be liked anyway? Emma Rosenblum investigates.
Recently, a friend mentioned she’d finally watched Les Misérables. “Anne Hathaway was actually pretty good,” she said. Actually? Hathaway won an Oscar for her performance, I pointed out. “I remember... ‘It came true!’” my friend replied with a dramatic heart-clutching motion, referring to Hathaway’s much-mocked acceptance speech. “I don’t want to hate her. It’s just so hard not to.”
Much has been written about the backlash against Anne Hathaway, who is, by all accounts, genuine and talented. An essay in The New Yorker, In Defense of the Happy Girl, theorised: “She’s polished, successful, and driven, and people still find this distasteful in a woman.” In other words, she’s not likeable, an amorphous trait that Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor: How To Boost Your L Factor, defines as “one’s ability to consistently produce positive emotions in people”. Sanders points four attributes highly likeable people have in common: friendliness, relevance (“they connect with us”), empathy, and realness. The realness factor especially matters in terms of which celebs we love or are put off by. Take this year’s other big Oscar winner, Jennifer Lawrence, whose candid interview style makes it feel like she’s gabbing with you over drinks. She jokes about her cheeseburger cravings and wearing Spanx. Vulture.com named her its Celebrity BFF of the Year. Same goes for self-deprecating charmers Emma Stone and Sonam Kapoor (who has been outspoken about weight and confidence issues). Says Sanders: “Celebrities with high L [likeability] factors all share one quality—we feel like we could ask them over and engage them in conversation.”
In her book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg cites research that found that for men, career success and likeability go hand and hand, but for women, being successful decreases our likeability. So what’s a girl to do? As kids, we’re taught not to seek praise for fear of seeming annoying. And it’s this striving quality that appears to be Anne Hathaway’s Achilles’ heel. As women seeking respect and success, maybe we should lay off Anne, who’s just doing the same. Instead, let’s take a cue from Elizabeth Taylor, whose many scandals made her sometimes likeable, sometimes not. Yet she remained beloved for one reason: “I, along with the critics, have never taken myself very seriously,” she famously said. Sounds pretty likeable to me.