Likability as a fig leaf for misogyny
November 21, 2019 3:09 PM   Subscribe

For voters and pundits, worrying about women’s likability is a nice way to express a nasty bias. Since voters aren’t working from any single accepted definition of likability—or coldness, or aloofness, or anger—it seems foolish to try to accommodate them. There is no accommodating them, because their judgments aren’t based on rational metrics. Sexist voters turned off by presidential candidates who just so happen to be women aren’t going to be won over by a pleasant lady who smiles and makes bland pronouncements of unity when faced with a climate apocalypse and a rapacious health care system....The waning of sexism in politics won’t be marked by people starting to like women in leadership but by the decline of likability as a political criterion—by people not liking female candidates, the same way they don’t like male candidates, and voting for them anyway.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (12 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I caught part of a radio interview about this, the woman being interviewed said something along the lines of; Female candidates have to be likable AND competent while male candidates can get away with being likable OR competent.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 4:08 PM on November 21, 2019 [11 favorites]


Female candidates have to be likable AND competent while male candidates can get away with being likable OR competent.

Our current president is getting away with being unlikable AND incompetent, yet still the prevailing question continues to be, "Can a woman defeat him?"

Our politics are stupid, one must expect that is because the electorate is largely reflective of the politics.
posted by Chuffy at 4:56 PM on November 21, 2019 [15 favorites]


As evidenced by the current president, male candidates don't actually have to be either likable or competent.

I absolutely want to be Elizabeth Warren's best friend and can't fathom how anyone finds her anything other than off-the-charts likable. But I felt that way about Hillary too. Clearly the opinion of people like me isn't what's being probed in these sorts of polls, but I think they've got the "bookish female leftish old-millennials" demo pretty well sewed up.
posted by potrzebie at 4:56 PM on November 21, 2019 [33 favorites]


Also let us not forget that perfectly likeable and/or competent women are regularly underestimated in their gifts, which society says are meant to be baseline for women. And also that a lot of mostly male people see the two categories as mutually exclusive.

That radio interview was probably with Alicia Menendez, who is likeable and competent. She was on The Daily Show this week, and has a new book out called "The Likeability Trap."
posted by lauranesson at 4:57 PM on November 21, 2019 [6 favorites]


I appreciate this piece for multiple reasons. For one thing, the author does not waste time with the common lies journalists like to partake in. Like calling out George Bush for being an entitled rich boy: George W. Bush, who was widely hailed as an impeccably beer-ready politician—despite his renouncing alcohol after years of drunken misbehavior—did not come across as a likable candidate to voters who were disinclined to warm to homophobes or otherwise put off by upper-crust entitlement. Fucking finally!

She's not my top candidate but for me easily the most likable candidate in this primary is Kamala Harris. She is so good at connecting with people emotionally. She is always on the right wavelength with people - when she laughs it's a full, mouth open laugh, when someone tells her a sad story you can see her nodding in empathy and understanding and sometimes putting her hand over her heart (maybe I connect with that because it's what I do), when someone tells her about a policy issue and how that shows up in their life she listens hard and asks smart questions.

Some pundit (maybe it was the Talking Points Memo guy?) described Kamala Harris as laughing "maniacally" in response to Joe Biden talking about the "only African American woman elected Senator". It was like, huh? You mean she's laughing hard? Like a person with a well developed sense of humor about the racial and gendered bullshit she's been fighting her whole life? For gods sake.
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:14 PM on November 21, 2019 [19 favorites]


As evidenced by the current president, male candidates don't actually have to be either likable or competent.

Right, but all of his supporters would tell you he's actually extremely competent and at least a little likable, or admirable. We live in different realities. To the people who will vote for him again, it matters a great deal that he is (perceived as being) competent.

I'm not saying that that's a group that could or should be swayed to vote for Elizabeth Warren (for example), but we kid ourselves if we think of the old standards as gone forever. Likability and competence are still hugely, massively important.
posted by witchen at 7:32 PM on November 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


These things matter, they mattered when the field was all male, but I don’t think they’re weighted equally. For instance it seems clear that Sanders and Buttigieg have likeability problems but it’s not interpreted in that way or treated as a large problem. Buttigieg even gets compared to Obama!
posted by Selena777 at 8:57 PM on November 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


Remember how Paul Ryan was lauded as a "wonk" despite being nothing more than an Ayn Rand acolyte? Meanwhile Elizabeth Warren is an actual wonk, but per David Gergen, comes off "hectoring".

Rinse, repeat x forever, sadly.
posted by ssmug at 5:59 AM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


When I hear someone use the word "likeability" in regards to a woman, I assume they are expressing misogynist views. Has been accurate so far.
posted by agregoli at 7:17 AM on November 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


Trump is very likeable to people who share his politics. Don't be blind to his charisma. It doesn't work on us, but it's there. Don't be fooled.

The question isn't whether Warren is likeable. The question is whether "unlikeable" is a code word for "woman." It's not for me -- I genuinely found Hillary Clinton quite unlikeable, and I like Elizabeth Warren -- but is it generally? And what we really mean is, Will men who vote Democratic vote for Warren? And what we mean by that is, Will men who vote Democratic not vote for Warren, because she is a woman?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:18 AM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


It is particularly galling that the pundits complaining about "unlikeability" tend to be the most virulent pustules ever to burst forth from a pulsating sac.
posted by kyrademon at 9:40 AM on November 22, 2019


And what we really mean is, Will men who vote Democratic vote for Warren? And what we mean by that is, Will men who vote Democratic not vote for Warren, because she is a woman?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:18 AM on November 22


And also, will people not vote for Warren because they think that men who vote Democratic won't vote for Warren?
posted by joannemerriam at 1:15 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


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