When Will Well Behaved Women Make History?

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For women, it does not take much to be unlikeable. While I stand strongly with Chimamanda Adichie’s push for young girls to ‘forget about likeability’ because it is ‘bullshit.’ Addressing the topic of unlikeable women, aids in breaking down the key reasons why women fold and bend to reach standards that do not belong to them or fit their personality. The fall from grace isn’t really a fall, but a woman’s inability to meet unreachable standards set by society. Unfortunately, likeability can cost a woman her job especially those in the public eye. What is it about Rita Ora that people do not like so much? Why was Alexandra Burke vilified on social media for doing her best? Why have so many years gone by since her sex tape leaked, but Kim Kardashian still finds herself on the end of verbal ambush? Why did Janet Jackson receive so much heat when Justin Timberlake unravelled Jackson’s nipple to viewers? Why has Diane Abbott received so much hate throughout her political career? What is it about a woman occupying a high position in a company that agitates people so much to call her aggressive? Have you ever heard a woman in a high position who is the ultimate boss of life put on a high pitched voice to come across feminine?

Likeability is important. Almost every interaction we have with each other, we ask ourselves “do I like this person?” We tend to like people who we easily relate to or deem to be of the same human group as us (i.e gender, race, class). From this, we tend to forgive people we like for their transgressions more easily than those who do not like. In an ethical world, likeability should be the assessment of how kind or trustworthy someone is. But depending on one’s gender and the gender stereotypes we hold, likeability becomes more about how well a man or woman fits into their gender assigned roles. But as we aim to smash the patriarchy, and allow women to grow outside of gender roles, any form of deviance (no matter how small) can lead to the branding of “unlikeable.”

Many men have been reported for sexual and domestic violence and have been awarded more jobs. One, in particular, is still cast for a J.K. Rowling film and has been plastered all over Dior ads. Male artists who are known rapists still have our raging support because they have been granted a well of unlimited forgiveness. We aim to understand the men who commit vile transgressions. We acknowledge that they are human first before anything else. So why do we find it hard to grant humanness to women when they stand up for themselves? What is it about a sexually liberated woman that flares our nerves? What is it about a woman who is sure of herself that makes her unlikable?

Take Azealia Banks who has been shunned and alienated for her inability to control her happy fingers via social media, which is now impacting her career. Though people’s lack of forgiveness is justified, the length of lack of forgiveness is questionable. Her male counterparts known for rape, homophobia and everything under the moon have got away with their transgressions because of talent. When male artists commit offences we ask fans to separate the art from the artist. When a female artist commits a so-called “offence” (remember breathing is an offence), talent means nothing and that’s if their talent is recognised/acknowledged. This is a distasteful example of the insidious sexism women have to fight. Women are not looked on for their talent but for how much they can squeeze and mould themselves flat to become a doormat to unreachable standards. Unfortunately, women are still seen as objects that need to be gazed at: pretty, “feminine,” pink, gentle, motherly, slim, white but tanned, soft-voiced. Never a body with a brain that can contribute to this crumbling world (caused by men).

So what happens if a woman is not likeable?

Research has shown people prefer to have a male manager than a female manager. Why does this matter? Likeability serves as a ceiling that creates a lot of pushback for women especially in the workplace. Due to unconscious bias, women who violate gender stereotypes will receive the most pushback. Pushback could mean she is not able to lead her team effectively, which could mean that they are not reaching targets = failing leader. Though gendered likeability should be the last thing women aim for, for women likeability and success are negatively correlated. When performance reviews take place, a driven woman will often be described as “aggressive” (something Black women know too well). Take the same characteristics found in a driven woman and put them in a driven man, and he would be described as someone who can take the company on to the next step.

I like to leave readers with solutions. Unfortunately, anything to do with fighting the patriarchy is never easy. But my solution is to be unlikable. If being courageous, outspoken, witty, loud and most importantly, being you are traits of unlikability, continue. Our society is oversaturated with women trying to be likeable, and research has shown that “likeable women” are not better off than ‘unlikeable women.” “Nice” women earn less than their more assertive counterparts. So if we can’t win, we might as well flourish by being ourselves. We need a variety of women. We need to see different personas, different expressions of femininity (if you believe in that), we need women to speak up and most importantly, make mistakes. We need humans. We will see no changes if we neatly follow the rules made by sexist men.

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenandI
(Artwork via @thepoopculture)