Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Handmaids Tale

Today the New York Times was awash with story after story about women and the reality behind what it is like to be one and there are many ways we are women, not just one way.

The reality is that we have no clue about how to perceive women be they old, young, straight, gay, married, single, with children, without them, with money, without money, working, not working, just being women is enough to confuse people to simply rely on the standard stereotypes and archetypes we have regarding women.

This weekend I went to the Tennessee Arts and Crafts fair that attracts artisans from across the South who make everything from wood products to jewelry to art and leather.  There is no shortage of artists and and craftspeople in which to peruse and to sample the goods ultimately the goal is to buy and support them in their vocation or avocation as many have day jobs.

I met a charming couple from France originally who live here now and work at Vanderbilt and I bought an amazing bag that they said was leather that the tanner had made by mistake and I knew instantly it was mine as I have felt that living in Nashville has been one mistake after another but this was not one of them.  Their side business is Your Choice Leather by Oliver and Nath and can find them on Etsy so please do.   So with that purchase I came home to watch the Kentucky Derby and relieve my day there during the last of the Triple Crown, the Belmont, and watch the races on the track that day and in turn via closed circuit watch Justify take the crown. That day at Churchill Downs was perhaps the most extraordinary day of my life and I wept and shared with the staff there how my family could only wish they too could share this place that in our home in Seattle was admired every Derby day and a party was thrown to celebrate a place that I never would believe I would come.  Well dreams some times do come true  They were amazing hosts and I did not do badly on the outcomes.  Did not win big but my father used to say if it pays for your day you came out ahead.

As always I picked my favorites and one longshot, clearly the wrong long shot but something told me not to bet and I refrained as the track was sloppy, it was raining and something did not sit right with me about any of the ponies or the Jockey's.   The trainers were also a mixed bag with the big winner Baffert being believed he had the winning tickets, which we realized no so even the favorite can be not.   But I loved the spectacle and I hauled out my hat I wore the day I visited and yelled at the top of my lungs as if I was there.  Kentucky is a beautiful state and it too is struggling to find its way with the reality of a crazy Governor and people who simply deserve better but this is the South and the fear of change is the phrase that rules that race.

I then went to bed early after again as many Bourbons as I could consume only to wake once again to find my front porch a site of devastation as someone decided to throw and smash many of my plants and once again I cleaned it and restored and left for the day.   The endless push to believe they are selling these units is of course bullshit as I can find no sales transactions recorded but that may be because the contracts are pending but here in Nashville the lies and the lies about money are their purse they carry.

So when I shared my story of the way I have been treated at Vanderbilt from Police coming to my door to being hauled in a room to ask why I was always alone at these appointments I realized I no longer could take this personal as it was nor is about me, this is about them and they are once again protecting themselves.  They have no interest in me or my well being but they do care about their liability and the reality is that here in Nashville the only liability is if the check fails to clear.

It is hard to not trust, to not believe and to not have faith but I have none.  I have tried and I admit I have high expectations and few can rise to meet them and perhaps I purposely put those walls there that no climber short of Jim Whittaker could ascend.

So when I read this article about how women are having problems finding parity and equity in their home aka domestic management with the men in their lives, my first thought was: Shocking! No, not really.

Then there is the issue of Domestic Violence, a state that Tennessee is number four in the country with that stat, that one doesn't make it on the top 10 lists they love here but again this the buckle of the belt.  Its handy to beat you with.  But in reality few women do want to prosecute this and we know time and time again all the restraining orders in the world don't stop a man from wanting to kill you if he wants to kill you.

But then again you need a man to do this and well swipe right and hope that you are pretty enough to pass the test.  That test is simple: Does a man want to fuck you?  But then there are actual women willing to sell you to other women! Wow in my day we went to bar got drunk enough and then anyone was good enough.  Can't write a coherent thought on text? Well let me then. So when you actually sit down to have conversation that thought you thought on text was more challenging, well surprise!   I loathe texting but at this point I will take it if I can just have words put in my direction.  Hell if Joe Biden wants to sniff my head or rub my shoulders, drop by and no I will not be writing a check to your campaign. Christ everything comes at a price!

After that failure you of course move on to finding things to do alone and then again it gets boring so you try to have or make fun which throws off the people who are with other people not having fun so expect them to resent/mock/insult you.   I live in Nashville that is a perpetuate state here even when just sitting reading a paper, the people here are threatened by that reading thing. It's intellectual.

Meanwhile women are acknowledged and appreciated for doing men's work and still being a woman!  Wow how did that happen?  Her spouse seems unique given the other article but okay then? Does he have a brother?

Then I read this about how women seem to be placed in the penalty box far more often then men who do by far more dastardly deeds.  #MeToo!

Well the reality is that unless you are likeable you are not fuckable. The Times neglected to mention that when it comes to women in Politics women are graded first by looks and all the rest falls to the wayside.  I have heard more about Pete Buttigeg and his spouse than any policy or issues that the women candidates have and they do have more than the men at this point, so much for that.

So no I am not likeable. I am told that when I ask people why they are so unkind to me but mostly its gibberish followed by a passive aggressive slam.  The reality is I speak the truth it makes people fuck all uncomfortable, my direct looking right in your eyes and calling you on your shit makes you afraid and you can't be afraid of a woman with just a thought in her head so you make sure you find as many ad hominem attacks to put her on the defense and in turn affect her psychologically if we cannot do it intellectually.  Okay, then. Well in Tennessee they just beat you about the head and neck if that won't work, we are not number four for nothing!

I am a Feminist, loud, proud and confident in myself. When asked recently by an utter douchebag sitting at an end of bar, and no it was nowhere near closing time and I had zero interest, "What do you do?" My response, "As much as I want and as little I want when I want." He was perplexed and when he left, he goes "Nice to meet you." I just waved him as in off and shook my head, "Don't bother please don't."  He just didn't get it.  And he was not getting any from anyone that much is clear.  The real issue is that unless men want to fuck you they don't like you. 


By Claire Bond Potter
Ms. Potter is a professor of history.

May 4, 2019 The New York Times Sunday Review

If the supposedly unlikable Hillary Clinton didn’t break the highest, hardest glass ceiling in 2016, she made enough cracks in it to encourage others to try again: Six women are competing for the Democratic nomination today. But guess what? We don’t seem to like them either.

As Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and others jumped into the race, each seemed to affirm the new power of women in 2019, a power that was born when President Trump was sworn into office, exploded during #MeToo and came into its own during the 2018 midterms.

But no female candidate has yet led the polls. The men keep joining — Michael Bennet this week, Joe Biden the last — and keep garnering glowing press coverage. Although Mr. Biden fumbled two previous presidential bids, we are told he has “crossover appeal”; Bernie Sanders has been admired by this newspaper as “immune to intimidation”; and Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay man nominated for president, is “very authentic.” By contrast Ms. Harris is “hard to define”; Ms. Klobuchar is “mean”; and Ms. Warren is a “wonky professor” who — you guessed it — is “not likable enough.” Seeing comments like this, Mrs. Clinton said wryly in January, “really takes me back.”

Likability: It is nebulous, arbitrary and meaningless, yet inescapable — and female politicians seem to be particularly burdened with it even when they win and especially when they run for president.

The idea that we should like our politicians predates women’s suffrage, let alone women in politics. Pushed by Madison Avenue and preached by self-help gurus, likability is a standard that history shows us was created and sold by men. The bad news is that means it’s a tricky fit for women. The good news is that what was invented once can be reinvented.

Likability seems to have emerged as an important personality trait in the late 19th century, when it became closely associated with male business success. Before this, people liked or disliked one another, of course, but it wasn’t until after the Civil War, when middle-class men began to see virtue and character as essential to personal advancement, that success in business required projecting likability.

Businessmen joined service associations like the Knights of Columbus (founded in 1882) and Rotary International (1905), and male friendship — men being liked, and liking other men — became a key element for attaining civic leadership. Popular authors like Horatio Alger promoted “likability” as a way of making one’s virtue visible, and thus paving the road to prosperity. The shoeshine boy Ragged Dick, the hero of one Alger novel, does good deeds that cause strangers to warm to him and give him a leg up. Describing Dick as “frank and straightforward, manly and self-reliant,” Alger hoped his readers would “like him as I do.”

By the 20th century, the advertising and public relations experts of Madison Avenue specialized in making products likable too, by associating them with figures — the actor Robert Montgomery or the aviator Amelia Earhart, for instance — they believed consumers already had an attachment to. The point was to generate a sense of connection that felt “real,” even if the consumer might suspect that the feeling of liking the product had been created by a well-orchestrated jingle, billboard or print ad.

Americans were also taught that being likable was a quality that could be cultivated as a means to get ahead. In 1936, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” warned that those who tried too hard to be liked would fail: Theodore Roosevelt’s naturally friendly greetings to everyone he passed, regardless of status, Carnegie noted, had made it impossible not to like him, but Henrietta G., now the “best liked” counselor at her office, had been isolated until she learned to stop bragging. (Though looking back, we have to wonder: Would Henry G. have needed to hide his accomplishments?)

As presidential candidates put advertising experts in charge of national campaigns, perhaps it was inevitable that likability would jump explicitly to politics. In 1952, some of the first televised election ads sought to highlight Dwight Eisenhower’s likability. The advertising executive Rosser Reeves put Eisenhower in controlled settings where his optimism, self-confidence, humor and nonpartisanship could be emphasized over his political inexperience and what Reeves viewed as his “inept” speaking style. The animator Roy Disney was commissioned to make a cartoon spot with a catchy jingle: “Ike for President,” the song repeated, cutting to Uncle Sam leading a parade down the streets. “You like Ike, I like Ike, everybody likes Ike,” the chorus sang as Eisenhower’s smiling cartoon face passed.

Television heightened the need to project likability, to sell candidates to voters, as the journalist Joe McGinniss wrote, “like toothpaste.” In “The Selling of the President 1968,” McGinniss chronicled how Richard Nixon, suffering from a likability deficit, hired a young media consultant named Roger Ailes, who created televised “conversations” with ordinary voters as visual proof that Nixon liked them and they liked him. In the next decades, as a compelling television presence became critical to likability, Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Franken parlayed successful entertainment careers into elected office.

By the time Hillary Clinton opened her 2008 campaign for president, Bill Clinton had answered questions about “boxers or briefs” while grinning on MTV; the “folksy Texas rogue” George W. Bush had defeated an “insincere brown-noser,” Al Gore; and the importance of being likable in politics seemed so entrenched that Mrs. Clinton kicked things off with a “likability tour.”

But as Dale Carnegie might have told her, if there is anything worse than being unlikable, it is wanting too badly to be liked. Even as her young Senate colleague and rival for the nomination, Barack Obama, was dazzling crowds, Mrs. Clinton struggled to shed a reputation as untrustworthy and remote, perhaps not coincidentally, and couldn’t stop herself from voicing her own ambivalence about likability as a qualification for office. “I think it’s good to have a likable president,” she said. “But if I remember right, many people said they wanted to have a beer with George W. Bush. Maybe they should’ve left it at that.”

By then, yet another wave of marketing authorities were preaching about the importance of likability to leadership — Tim Sanders’s “Likability Factor,” published in 2005, promised that by accentuating the best aspects of their personalities executives could learn to be effective leaders, while in 2012 Rohit Bhargava’s “Likeonomics” revealed that likability was critical to establishing an emotional connection to others. Whether voters went to the polls at all, he wrote, “has everything to do with how likable a candidate is.” The likability juggernaut, in politics and in the larger culture, seemed unstoppable.

That Mrs. Clinton lost the nomination in 2008, to a political virtuoso but still a virtual novice, seemed for some illustrative of the troubled relationship between gender and likability in politics. But then she lost in 2016. That voters could see Donald Trump’s rambling and bullying as authenticity seemed proof for many that the likability game was permanently rigged in favor of men.

Likability is associated with an emotional connection between candidate and voter that makes a politician worthy of trust. And yet because that connection is forged almost exclusively through the conduit of mass media, it can never be really about the candidate but only voters’ fantasies about how a politician they can never know ought to be. That women are disadvantaged by a dynamic that emphasizes fantasies over real achievements should perhaps come as no surprise: Popular fantasies about women, sadly, still don’t tend to feature intelligence, expertise and toughness at the negotiating table.

Yet if the history of likability in America tells us how important it has become, particularly to politics, it also teaches us there is nothing immutable about a concept that was created and refined by men from Horatio Alger to Dale Carnegie to Roger Ailes. Women haven’t benefited much from the likability standard as it stands. But to recognize that it’s an invention is to dream that they could.

What would it mean if we could reinvent what it is that makes a candidate “likable”? What if women no longer tried to fit a standard that was never meant for them and instead, we focused on redefining what likability might look like: not someone you want to get a beer with, but, say, someone you can trust to do the work?

The overwhelming success of female candidates in the 2018 midterms is a sign that this might already be happening. It was, for many people, a turn to a new kind of member of Congress — female, of color — who could be trusted in the face of a White House that can’t seem to get its facts straight and a president who had proclaimed Washington to be a swamp only to put his boots on and wade right in. If Americans can learn to like and trust women in Congress in record numbers, maybe they can learn to trust women as presidential candidates too — and maybe even like them.

No comments:

Post a Comment