Why Do We Need Female Politicians to Be ‘Likeable’?

The field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates is quickly filling up — and in a continuation of the 2018 midterms trend, it includes more female representation than ever before. Everyone from early favorite Elizabeth Warren to rising stars like Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand has announced candidacy.

In fact, as of this writing, there are more declared female presidential candidates than male — surely a first.

Of course, 2016 was widely expected to be a first as well — with Hillary Clinton favored to win the Oval Office over the most oafish, unqualified, criminal and morally repugnant candidate in Republican history. And this easy win turned out to be an uphill struggle — ultimately, an unsuccessful one.

If you’re a left-leaning voter who hesitated to support Clinton, you may have a list of reasons for doing so. While some may have been legitimate, you may have also voted with sexism — because in no universe was she not far and away the best candidate when it came to Election Day.

And I’m focusing on you, swing voters and apathetic non-voting liberals. After all, dedicated GOP voters have made their pro-sexism stance fairly clear.

Yes, there were other factors — any one of which could have turned the tide, including strategic missteps and foreign interference all working in concert to make Trump’s election possible. But that stark result reveals the clear difference in the way our society differently treats and judges women versus men.

Discrimination against women is worse in some fields than others, but in virtually all fields, women are underrepresented in senior leadership roles. Women have a hard time being promoted. Why?

Often it’s because of an impossible expectation that requires women to tightrope meeting outmoded expectations of femininity while also clearly demonstrating a type of competence that is associated with masculinity. Men are more likely to be judged on just their effectiveness, while women are required to be at least as effective but also charming.

A female presidential candidate needs to be decisive and tough, but she risks losing points for “likeability” because a lot of voters and media pundits — unconsciously or consciously — find a direct and firm attitude in a woman to be a turn-off. Even female voters and media personalities often propagate these double standards.

headline analysis by journalist Ashton Pittman on Twitter shows just how much the likeability question dogged Clinton. And he’s followed it up with an article about how the whole cycle seems to be beginning again in 2019.

Yes, Trump is a sex offender, fraudster and, we now know, a traitor to his country. But Hillary Clinton is a bit wooden. And we’re set to make all the same mistakes again with the current crop of candidates, unless we strive to do better.

We have to hold women to a different standard than we have in the past: an equal standard. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we need to get the right person for the job of running the most powerful country in the world. And getting the right person for the job means letting go of prejudices and being consistent and objective in applying the standards of judgement that really matter to all candidates — regardless of race, personal background, gender or sexual orientation.

Now, perhaps more than ever, the United States needs the best person for the job.

Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr


Karen H
Karen H24 days ago

When a woman isn't "likeable", she's called "bitch". When a man isn't "likeable", they call him, "Mr. President."

Freya H
Freya H25 days ago

I'd rather elect a competent candidate than a "likable" one!

Emma L
Emma L25 days ago


Leo C
Leo Custer27 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

pam w
pam w28 days ago

(I wish Sheila and "Brian" would just get a room and scream at one another there.)

Joan E
Joan E29 days ago

Sheila M, the hit job article you posted about Bernie Sanders is from 2016 before Bernie vowed (and stuck to his promise) to run as a Democrat and not be a spoiler. He was not a spoiler. He had the most people flocking to his rallies, the most enthusiasm and respect, the best ideas to help the public get a fair shake, the most love from young people, the most small dollar donors who knew their donations would make the world better and their lives better if he won. Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi, Debbie Wasserman -Shultz and the Wall Street Dems did not treat Bernie and his donors fairly. They actually cheated his campaign and as a result gave that last election to Trump and Putin. Bernie is running as a Dem again, not as a spoiler. There are other progressives running too, but in the last couple of days since Bernie announced his run, he received more millions of dollars than any of the other candidates, and the average donation was $27. This time, Pelosi has said she is not doing what she did last time, giving all the superdelegates to Clinton, her preferred candidate, and screwing the progressives who should have been treated equally.

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill29 days ago


Brian F
Brian Fabout a month ago

Rhoberta E Of course Bernie Sanders will not be the Democrat's choice because he is honest and would try to end their corruption, their refusal to support Medicare for all, free colleges, a $15.00 minimum wage, a Green New Deal, marijuana legalization, and stop them from taking millions from their corporate donors. The Democrats are so corrupt, they would rather lose to this crook Trump, than win with an honest progressive like Bernie Sanders. Germany and other countries have free colleges. Amy Klobachar is a Democratic establishment sellout, so who cares what she says. She has no chance to win because most people don't like her. Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the country and has the best chance to beat this crook Trump, so I'll listen to Bernie Sanders, who supports Medicare for all and free colleges.

Mia B
Mia Babout a month ago

thank you

Brian F
Brian Fabout a month ago

Rhoberta E I had to vote for Hillary because I had no choice after the Democrats cheated Bernie Sanders out of his primary. I hope that Bernie Sanders wins in 2020. Bernie Sanders is honest, takes no money from corporations, supports Medicare for all, free colleges, a $15.00 minimum wage, marijuana legalization, the Green New Deal, and an end to our regime change wars. Bernie Sanders has the best chance to beat this crook Trump in 2020. I will be voting for Bernie Sanders in 2020. Unfortunately the corrupt Democrats with their unfair super delegate rule, will do everything they can to cheat him again in 2020, so they can continue their corruption, and take millions from their corporate donors.