The unlikeable woman

By Amy Gray







There is one sure-fire way to keep the QVWC’s Facebook page busy: posting an article about Hillary Clinton.

Suddenly, long silent posters come out of the woodwork pointing out she’s untrustworthy, a criminal or any number of epithets requiring moderation.

Even as the US primaries drag on to their uncertain conclusion, there was chatter amongst the Bernie camp – that if they couldn’t vote for their old school socialist-happy democrat, they’d send their votes to Trump. Anyone was a better choice – even Trump – than voting for Hillary.

Disliking Hillary Clinton isn’t necessarily a sexist act, just as any American vote for Clinton isn’t a feminist act. But it’s crucial to examine how that dislike manifests in popular culture.

A quick check of her twitter mentions shows the hatred – she “yells and screams”, is a “liar”, “crooked” and portrayed in political cartoons as torturing women while proclaiming herself a feminist. If she calls people out on it or even mentions the fact she has a gender, she’s criticised for playing the gender card.

But it’s not the cynical ploy her critics would assume. Recent research published on the Guardian (created by Max Kelson) showed that women attract more abuse – much of it demeaning, violent and gendered – than men.

Throughout the US primaries, Clinton has attracted more abuse than Bernie Sanders and much of it has been gendered and violent. In the UK, a similar pattern is on display – Labour MP Jess Phillips received over 600 rape threats in one night and fellow Labour MP Jo Cox’s murder was preceded by many violent threats.

Locally, Julia Gillard received more abuse than Kevin Rudd, despite the fact his professional reputation plummeted lower than hers ever did. The Guardian characterises abuse Gillard received as “was more personal, vitriolic and often sexual” than Rudd ever received, plus she seemed to have more repeat abusers. One man mentioned Gillard over 300 times in under 2 years, often tweeting abusive, violent and sexual content. They’re so bad that the news report can’t actually repeat them.

And yet – still we’re told that any attempt by Clinton to reference her gender or even the abuse she receives (often from other candidates) is a cynical maneuver as though statistics and facts were some sort of slick campaign technique. It’s as though her detractors truly believe she uses her gender as a disguise to hide from what they perceive as a mountain of crimes (none of which ever seem to be proven or result in criminal conviction).

But this isn’t about the abuse women receive online – it’s about the fact they are resented for taking up public space as thinking, contributing women.

This is the important part: in a world where men are considered the norm through suffocating power sold as individual merit, a woman drawing attention to herself (i.e. existing) in traditionally male spaces is considered a hostile act. The response? More hostility.

That hostility amplifies when women work without attempting to placate men. Normally placating men is a sign the woman is not a threat, which is where the standard is set for women – be sexy, be silent, be sweet. These are standards created by men to try and neuter women from advancing on their turf.

Suddenly the greatest political threat isn’t complex geopolitics, policies or promises made on the campaign trail, economies or stock markets – it’s a woman in a pants suit unafraid to call men out who doesn’t give a damn about their standards.

Politics is crowded with unlikeable and incompetent men, men whose likability has never been considered essential to their success and, we’re told, are successful based on merit. Women are held to a higher standard.

The reason we expect women to be likeable in public?

Because we only let them on stage one at a time.

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