Perhaps we should stop worrying about women's likeability and start worrying about the voters' ability to recognize the strengths of formidable women. - Patricia Torres Ray
By Patricia Torres Ray
When women run for office they often hear this advice, "Make it easy for people to like you." I really don't know what this means, and I'm pretty sure men don't receive the same advice.
Making it easy for people "to like us" has misogynistic implications. It requires a great deal of work and often is like trying to thread a moving needle - impossible. To be frank, men have simple standards that can be met in a multitude of ways; women face double standards that often can't be met, no matter how hard we try.
Women in politics live in a world of double standards. We are advised to be soft and friendly, but when we attempt to be soft and friendly, our authority is questioned. Try to act authoritative? We'll be told we are too aggressive, that we're acting like men and making people uncomfortable. Women with children are questioned about their ability to balance family life. Who's taking care of the children while we are working? Women who don't have children are not trusted to make decisions on behalf of voters' with children. Women are not allowed to cry - we will be accused of being soft and oversensitive. Men? When men cry, they are seen as authentic and understanding.
So how do women prepare to run for office under these paradigms? The more successful a man becomes, the more he is liked. The more successful a woman becomes, the less she is liked. It seems that some people continue to think women need to stay home and take care of children, not run for office or seek a spot at tables of power dominated by men.
The mayoral race in Minneapolis this year reflects this mentality. Nekima Levy-Pounds and Betsy Hodges are both qualified to be mayor of Minneapolis. Women of color, like Levy-Pounds, face further scrutiny and critique and are held again to this impossibly high standard. Both woman have their own strengths, but I wonder if people just want them to be likable.
People have no qualms about publicly announcing they like the men candidates because they are "handsome," "youthful" or "humble." These descriptions would never qualify the women for public office. A women's long careers in public service, their academic background and their professional success actually seem to be making the women less likable. I can't help but have déjà vu remembering the presidential election.
So how do we prepare women to run for office? Perhaps we should stop worrying about women's likeability and start worrying about the voters' ability to recognize the strengths of formidable women who are asking for our support. Perhaps we have been asking the wrong question from the start.
Patricia Torres Ray is a Minnesota Senator representing District 63, which includes portions of southeastern Minneapolis and eastern Richfield.