Hillary Clinton wants you to like her.
I mean, she’s not staying up at night thinking about you, per se, but in general she wants to be liked. And that, she admits, has been a problem.
I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Secretary Clinton this week in Chicago as she toured in support of her book, What Happened. She said that just after her tenure as Secretary of State, her approval ratings were around 69%. People seemed to really like her when she was in a supporting role: As First Lady, as a Senator from New York, as Secretary of State. But when she stepped up and wanted to lead the nation as President, and indeed when she was a candidate, her approval ratings went down substantially.
She admitted that when people openly express that they don’t like her it is painful, even though she knew that it’s very common especially for those who run for public office and as an experienced public persona, she also knew what she was getting into as she stepped into the spotlight on her own. But it still hurts, she said.
Who can blame her? We all want to be liked, even powerful, strong people have that basic human need for approval at some level. But not everyone has public polling numbers following them around to remind them of their ‘failure’ in this regard.
Secretary Clinton noted when women are ‘behind the scenes’ for others in power – publicly or privately – they are seen as (and I’m paraphrasing here) warm, sincere and honest, but when they want to lead, suddenly they are cold, conniving and selfish climbers who have abandoned all of their previous morals to attain personal glory. But when men move from the background into a more prominent role, they are seen as successful, strong, intelligent and bold, and it is completely understandable that they would want more for themselves and strive to achieve those goals. Women who do the same are less liked than their male counterparts as a whole. And sadly, this shift in opinion, which has been measured in scientific polls, comes from both men and women.
Once upon a time, I was asked to take a ‘behind the scenes’ role by a partner in the advertising agency where I worked because the client on the account that I led “didn’t like my style.” To me that was insulting on so many levels. I felt that ‘my style’ was being honest, direct, hard-working and smart, all things I had been raised to believe were positive traits. But when I was being asked to support a junior person on the team, I realized this client wanted to be the smartest woman in the room. Perhaps I was a threat, even though I felt that my job was to help her succeed? After all, she was my client and her success was the agency’s success, if not my own.
I guess she didn’t see it that way.
As angry as I was, a tiny part of me was also hurt. I didn’t want to be best friends with this person, but why didn’t she like me? Wasn’t I really more similar to her than not? Why not support a fellow smart woman in a leadership role who was just doing her job, and actually doing it well? Was I supposed to sublimate myself or bring her coffee to reassure her that I was clearly her underling? I will never understand this phenomenon, no matter how many times it happened to me and to others through the years.
Needless to say I didn’t take that news very well. I stacked a pile of folders for this client on the floor by a partner’s office door and left the agency for the day. I told them I’d be so far behind the scenes that I actually would not be working on this particular account at all and good day. I may have also punched the wall by my cubicle on the way out. I have a tiny scar on the knuckle of my right hand and when it rains sometimes that joint aches just a little bit.
It’s my modern-day war wound.
Roxane Gay writes about likability and her struggle with it in the essay, “Not Here to Make Friends,” in her collection, Bad Feminist. Gay writes, “I had no idea what it meant to be likable, though I was surrounded by generally likeable people – or, I suppose, I was surrounded by people who were very invested in projecting a likable façade, people who were willing to play by the rules.”
Further on she poses, “Why is likability even a question?” and discusses how one common criticism of popular fiction is the ‘likability’ of female characters.
“Some might suggest that this likability question is a by-product of an online culture in which we reflexively click ‘Like’ or ‘Favorite’ on every status update and bit of personal trivia shared on social networks. … it would be shortsighted to believe that this desire to be liked… begins or ends with the Internet.”
It’s so addictive to be Liked.
I enjoy – I almost wrote ‘like’ – Facebook. A lot. Being a SAHM is often a lonely enterprise in terms of adult companionship and I find that reaching out online throughout the day makes me feel more connected to the Grown Up world that I might otherwise participate in IRL if I were a person with a Real Job Outside the Home. (I dislike the term Working Mother, but that’s another topic.)
Facebook is the modern day Slam Book, and it’s so easy to cast a quick and thoughtless judgment upon the masses. Like. Angry. Sad. Quick snarky comment. Eye roll emoji. I try to stay away from political commentary - even those with opinions with which I vehemently agree - simply because I can’t sit idly by and watch comments go by without adding my own thumbs up or down, and impulsively watching if others do the same. If so, they must be smart like me. If not, well… poop emoji for them.
As I’ve been writing more frequently and spending time to promote myself in the past few months, I have found more and more drawn to the Like. Writers tend to be terrible self-critics and the online world is the perfect venue for rampant self-doubt to find fertile ground to grow and fester. Compulsively, I check to see who read my latest piece. Did they Like it? Love it? Haha at it? Sad face rate it? Share it – ah, bingo, more chances for more Likes, more Love. More more more.
It worries me because these instant, Pavlovian ratings can pummel my self-esteem. Nobody put a heart on my stunning Instagram photograph? My kitschy homemade Halloween decorations? My self-deprecating and witty observation about parenthood? My heartfelt personal essay? Conversely, I get an adrenaline rush from seeing that Like count rise and other comments supporting my efforts. Where are you, my digital friends? Come and share a moment of your time and a few electrons to validate me. Like like like me. If you do, I must be OK. I must be doing OK as a writer, as a mom, as a human being. It’s my own Approval Rating Meter: 44 Likes today = Likable? Acceptable? Smart?
As of today, November 1, 2017, I deleted Facebook from my phone. It’s just been a few hours now but it’s kind of painful, honestly. I literally forgot that I deleted it moments after - That’s done, now I’ll just go check on, oh wait a minute… It may be impossible to completely go dark (I do use it for volunteer work and events) but my goal is to stay away from it for most of the day. I wonder if I will feel like a relief or a terrible sacrifice? Will I feel less liked or will I just care less about being liked?
Either way, it will be interesting. Poop emoji, smiley face, wink, donut.