Hillary Clinton Knows Why You Don’t Think She’s ‘Likable

by Olivia Loperfido

In 2012, Ann Friedman wrote for New York Magazine that Hillary Clinton was ‘trapped in the catch-22 of female ambition: To succeed, she needs to be liked, but to be liked, she needs to temper her success.’ In 2017, Friedman’s analysis holds truer than ever. The 2016 election is evidence of the paradox which entraps working women like Clinton. It’s also evidence of misogynistic social structures, which posit likability as a prerequisite for female success. 

During her first post-election interview at the eighth annual Women in the World Summit, the New York Times‘ Nick Kristof asked Clinton to address ‘the research that some social scientists have pointed to that women can be perceived as either likable or as competent leaders, but not as both,’ and how that research might impact young women who want to run for office.

Clinton advised young women considering political careers to ‘be ready.’ Although the likability paradox surrounding female leaders ‘is not a new phenomenon… it feels new and painful every time it happens to you.’

On the social science research evidencing attitudes about likability, Clinton said, ‘Many academics have written about it. It’s a pretty simple but unfortunate phenomenon. With men, success and ambition are correlated with likability, so the more successful a man is, the more likable he becomes! With a woman, guess what? It’s the exact opposite. So the more successful and therefore ambitious a woman is, the less likable she becomes. That’s the inverse correlation that lies at the heart of a lot of the attacks and the misogyny.’

And Clinton’s own political career is evidence of this catch-22, or ‘inverse correlation,’ between likability and female ambition. In 2013, the Washington Post considered her the most popular politician in the country. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll from that year, ‘Fully 67 percent of all Americans… [expressed] favorable views of the outgoing secretary of state, a record high in the survey for Clinton…’ But by the time of her presidential campaign in 2016, the conservative public was calling for Clinton’s arrest. 

Still, Clinton doesn’t care about likability, and neither do we. Instead, she implores young women to pursue political careers: ‘We really need you, and we need more young people and we particularly need more young women.’

Top photo: Vintage

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