Double Standard Much? The Issue Of Likability In Hillary Clinton’s Campaign For President

October 20, 2015  |  

Remember the “Ban Bossy” campaign? The Sheryl Sandberg-led, Beyoncé-backed campaign aimed at encouraging girls to “raise their hands, sit at the table and lean in?”  It received a tepid response by some but raised an important issue about how girls and women seeking or holding positions of power and leadership are negatively portrayed and affected by such language.  “Bossy” is one of many words that women like Hillary Clinton, the sole woman in the Democratic party running for President, has to contend with. This despite her lead in the polls (along with the only GOP woman running for President, Carly Fiorina, who believes Clinton is playing the “gender card”).  It is synonymous with one issue in particular that evades Clinton’s male counterparts: that of likability.

After the first Democratic debate, a news station began their commentary on Clinton’s performance by stating that she was trying hard to be likable.  This came hot on the heels of famed rapper turned pseudo-political expert T.I.’s sexist comments that he couldn’t vote for Clinton because women make rash, emotional decisions and are therefore unfit for the presidency.  Comments like these don’t suggest that Clinton is not likable because of her politics, which should be the issue at hand.  Instead, they unknowingly (and deliberately at times) suggest she’s not likable because she’s a woman.

I find the attention paid to Hillary Clinton’s likability hard to stomach considering two candidates in particular who seem to go out of their way to not be likable, yet receive acclaim and growing popularity in the polls.  As you might have guessed, I’m talking about Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the so called un-PC duo favored by conservatives.  Any chance he gets, Trump seems to go out of his way to degrade and belittle women.  That’s if he’s not defending his racist beliefs and penchant for degrading and belittling Mexican immigrants, or any other group of minorities.  Trump tweeted the following about his fellow candidate: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”  If Clinton were to engage in the same unruly and sexist behavior, she would be deemed petty and lambasted for hitting below the belt.  People would suggest she drop out of the race.  Oh, and she’d instantly be labeled unlikable. There that is again. Yet Trump’s consistent misogynistic comments are spun as brash.  Some deem him as a man who tells it like it is.  His sexist antics have even received snickers among audiences during recent Republican debates.  Wherein lies Trump’s likability in light of the campaign he has run so far?

Carson, who I believe suffers from foot-in-mouth disease, has not attacked Clinton’s sex but has tested the waters of likability time and again.  I wrote about it here, so I won’t rehash.  But like Trump, Carson has a growing following partly because he’s not a politician.  A lot of Americans are fed up with politicians, and some of them believe that voting a non-politician with zero experience into office, even an office as hefty as President of the United States, will somehow shake up the nation’s capital and effect positive, get sh-t done change.  I don’t particularly subscribe to that logic.  To me, what’s more important than what office a potential candidate has or had not held is what they have done.  Their track record.  And while I’m not suggesting that you should vote for Hillary Clinton or any other candidate, in particular, I am noting her level of experience and how, regardless of her record, it is often undercut because of the gender-specific issue of likability.

Clinton served eight years in the White House as First Lady and then was a New York Senator before holding the position of Secretary of State.  But Clinton’s experience and qualifications are undercut because of likability, which according to this Washington Post article and information collected by the Pew Research Center, remains a hurdle for women in both high political offices and top executive business positions.  No matter their experience, women, unlike men, need to be “likeable [sic] to be viewed as qualified.”

This whole notion of likability calls to mind a quote by Pauline Frederick, the late broadcast journalist and the first woman to moderate a presidential debate (in 1976, between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter): “When a man gets up to speak, people listen, then look.  When a woman gets up, people look; then, if they like what they see, they listen.”  Physical appearance, (gender specific) likability – these should be non-issues and have nothing to do with what women can bring to the political table.  And yet, these so-called issues are often and unfairly brought to the forefront as a means to attack women.  I understand wanting to like the person you’re voting into the Oval office.  This makes sense considering the tremendous power and influence that the POTUS yields on all of our lives as American citizens and residents, and on the world at large.  But likability should portend to a candidate’s policies and agenda, which is what we should all be focused on.  What will Hillary Clinton do for this country?  What is her stance on hot-button issues like gun control, health care, police brutality, unemployment, insurance and paid family leave, criminal justice reform, income inequality and immigration? These questions should be asked of every candidate.

It’s hard not to see the double standard at play in the current political landscape, and I hope that moving forward, we’ll all pay more attention to the issues that really matter.


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