Hillary Clinton has blamed her historic defeat in 2016 on misogyny, at least in part.
Speaking at Tina Brown’s Women in the World conference in April, Clinton observed of America’s failure to break the glass ceiling and make her its first woman president, “It is fair to say that certainly misogyny played a role. That just has to be admitted.” Clinton cited research that purports to show differences in attitudes toward ambition in men and women. “With men, success and ambition are correlated with likeability,” Clinton said, “so the more successful a man is, the more likeable he becomes. With a woman, guess what. It’s the exact opposite.”
Clinton is writing a book that will examine the part misogyny played in the election. “We need to pull it out and put it in the bright light,” she has said.
But are negative attitudes as revealed in such research necessarily due to misogyny? Might there be other factors that enter into people’s views of ambitious women?
Affirmative action, for example. That is, after decades of affirmative action, people may believe that many women have been placed and promoted due to preferential treatment rather than their own merit, and thus they don’t find ambitious women as admirable or as likable as ambitious men. This view of the circumstances may not be fair in every individual instance, but it could be one of the unintended consequences of affirmative action.
After all, Hillary’s own bid for political power began with a kind of affirmative action, piggybacking on her husband’s career, when she ran for the U.S. Senate from New York while still first lady of the United States in 2000, never having even lived in the state previously. And in that race, by the way, she soundly beat Rick Lazio, a four-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York’s 2nd District. Why wasn’t misogyny operating then? Or, for that matter, when she won the seat a second time even more resoundingly against another man, John Spencer, a former mayor of Yonkers?
The research Clinton cited found that people responded well to women as leaders when they used “communal” skills, but didn’t like it when women in leadership positions were authoritative and competitive.
Here, too, this response may not necessarily be the result of misogyny in the traditional sense but, again, may be prompted by feminism. Feminist thought swings between two poles: women are equal and the same as men; women are different and superior to men, that is, women are more loving and nurturing, and thus ideally suited to today’s market and its demand for interpersonal feminine skills. In fact, this idea has been part of the propaganda designed to make men feel not only less important but even less necessary. People may have come to expect in women leaders something like what they see in the low key yet shrewdly successful Dr. Elizabeth McCord of “Madam Secretary.”
The straightforward competitiveness and authoritativeness and assertiveness they like in men—and found appealing in Trump—may seem questionable for members of what has become a protected group that bases its claims on centuries of oppression at the hands of those very authoritative men and the superior humanity deriving from that oppression. What is the point of a revolution if simply to replicate the previous order, especially one that has kept half the human race in strangled, suffocating bondage for centuries, as the feminists see it.
But for Hillary herself, there might be an answer closer at hand. She may have sacrificed a good deal of her likability when she put half of Trump’s supporters in her “basket of deplorables,” something likely to alienate both halves of his supporters, and thus something close to half of the American electorate.
A final reason that people might mistrust or dislike ambitious women is that ambition in women nowadays can take the form of demanding equality, then expecting preferential treatment, and then blaming misogyny if they don’t get it.
At any rate, there is no reason, half a decade into the second wave of feminism, to assume that every undesirable response to ambitious women is the result of old attitudes, when they may be the result of new. Why not put “the bright light” on feminism and its double messages?