How do we put the ‘like­abil­ity’ is­sue in its place?

Mak­ing it the most im­por­tant met­ric for judg­ing a woman can­di­date is pure sex­ism

StarMetro Toronto - - DAILY LIFE - Judith Tim­son

How does a pow­er­ful woman politi­cian get to be like­able? Don’t bother an­swer­ing. It’s a trick ques­tion.

But I’ll give you a short an­swer any­way: fugged­abou­dit.

Any time the pub­lic fo­cus lands on fe­male politi­cians and their “like­abil­ity” the re­sult is eine kleine shit­storm, as Ger­man chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, one of the most ad­mired and ar­guably still the most pow­er­ful fe­male leader in the world might well put it.

Take a re­cent ex­am­ple, when a politico. com story posed the fol­low­ing loaded ques­tion about newly an­nounced 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion con­tender Mas­sachusetts sen­a­tor El­iz­a­beth War­ren: “How does War­ren avoid a Clin­ton re­dux — writ­ten off as too un­like­able be­fore her cam­paign gets off the ground?”

Oh man, that’s so … pre­dictable. The story it­self was more nu­anced but that line, which quickly made its way to­ward a so­cial me­dia thrash­ing of its un­der­ly­ing as­sump­tions, ran­kled many women.

Re­ac­tions in­cluded Demo­cratic strate­gist and fem­i­nist com­men­ta­tor Jess Mcin­tosh tweet­ing: “Don’t fall into the sex­ist trap of treat­ing women run­ning for pres­i­dent like they’re run­ning for prom queen.” She summed it up with “lose like­abil­ity as a met­ric.”

How any­one could pos­si­bly waste time won­der­ing about any fe­male can­di­date’s “like­abilty” when ar­guably the most de­testable and un­fit pres­i­dent in his­tory oc­cu­pies the White House is be­yond com­pre­hen­sion. Yet when it comes to pol­i­tics, we’re never go­ing to get rid of the like­abil­ity ques­tion. We just need to put it in its place.

The truth is there is noth­ing in­her­ently sex­ist in dis­cussing whether you like a cer­tain po­lit­i­cal leader, male or fe­male. Ask me how much I liked for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper. He once joked even his friends didn’t much like him.

But there is ev­ery­thing sex­ist in mak­ing it the most im­por­tant met­ric about a woman can­di­date, es­pe­cially be­cause there’s ev­i­dence to sug- gest the more power a woman seeks or achieves, the less like­able she be­comes.

Ask Hil­lary Clin­ton, who won the pres­i­den­tial pop­u­lar vote by a huge mar­gin in 2016, but never got away from that cen­tral misog­y­nis­tic ques­tion: “Yes, but why don’t peo­ple like you?”

Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, D-mass., greets at­ten­dees dur­ing an or­ga­niz­ing event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Satur­day, Jan. 5, 2019. She is stump­ing in Iowa as part of her run for pres­i­dent. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker.

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