How do we put the ‘likeability’ issue in its place?
Making it the most important metric for judging a woman candidate is pure sexism
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.