It has long been said that Hillary Clinton has a likability problem. In a campaign between a verifiably racist business-tycoon-turned-reality-TV-star with rape allegations and a steely career politician, the poll results have shown American voters care very little about political experience, and much more about charisma.
When the final race to the Oval Office began, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton entered at the highest and second-highest disapproval ratings, respectively, that any candidate of any party has EVER received in a presidential race.
Clinton is not unlikable on a personal level, but America holds women to impossible standards. The same things that are completely acceptable, even celebrated, in men are forbidden traits within women. As BoingBoing points out, throughout history we have been given complex male heroes that lie, cheat and kill — yet somehow remain loved and cherished. But when America was asked to look beyond an error involving emails, voters showed they would rather elect a man with a verifiable history of tax evasion, denying BIPOC people housing and a long history of mistreating — and allegedly assaulting — women.
A deeply private person, Clinton has long held her cards close to her chest. The opposition took this for untrustworthy behavior — rather than as a hugely necessary survival mechanism among professional women. Trump’s unfiltered reactionary behaviors have been spun as a strength and a mark of genuine character, rather than as a tremendous handicap when it comes to delicate international relationships.
Unlike her opponent, Clinton’s life has revolved around politics. When her husband was first elected governor of Arkansas in 1980, people criticized her for remaining an independent Ms. Rodham rather than becoming a quietly doting Mrs. Clinton. America has been all right with her as a Gal Friday or in a similar supporting role, but very resistant to seeing her as a leader.
“When her role as head of the health care initiative under Bill Clinton was a disaster, Americans judged her harshly. When she took a more traditional First Lady role, and stood by her husband in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky debacle, only then did Americans begin to look at her more favorably,” Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women & Politics Institute, tells Time. “Her approval ratings went up after her turn as Secretary of State, again, where she once again gladly took on a supporting role, serving as a dutiful sidekick.”
In a Pew report from 2015, results showed that female leaders are perceived to be the same as their male peers when it comes to intelligence and innovation. The study found them to outrank men in qualities like fairness, compassion and willingness to compromise. So what’s up?
“Americans have always been conflicted about women who are too ambitious, and who is Hillary Clinton if not the most politically ambitious woman in America?” says Melissa Deckman, chair of the political science department at Washington College and author of “Tea Party Women.”
Quartz likens compares women leaders’ challenges to a complex version of the Madonna-whore complex. As a woman in politics, Clinton has had to fight long and hard to get to the top. A bizarre criticism lodged at her is that she has “wanted it too badly.” As if anyone who is running for president shouldn’t want it badly enough to fight long and hard for the role, proving themselves over and over again. Because she has had to fight so hard, she has received criticism for not being warm, friendly, or funny enough — that’s she just not “likable.”
“This formal, career-oriented persona puts her in direct contrast with the mores of the social media age, which is intimate, personalist, revealing, trusting and vulnerable. It puts her in conflict with most people’s lived experience. Most Americans feel more vivid and alive outside the work experience than within. So of course to many she seems Machiavellian, crafty, power-oriented, untrustworthy,” David Brooks of the New York Times explains.
When a humanized First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was going through the heartache of the Lewinsky scandal, the majority of America was at her side. However, in this presidential race, her husband’s mistakes and political choices have been seen as her fault. Why? Because women have been — and always will be — expected to fix the messes that their male partners create.
While America has debated whether they would like to sit down for drinks with Clinton or Trump, they have shown significantly less concern about whether they want that candidate to sit down with other international leaders over said drinks.
Maybe four years of Trump will put into perspective who the truly likable person is — and what we really need to look for in our next candidate.
Hillary Clinton deserved better than this. So did America.