Monday, September 19, 2016

Hillary Clinton, Complexity, and Likability

A college professor shared this great article that I want to pass on: To find Hillary Clinton likable, we must learn to view women as complex beings. The author begins by talking about many of the great characters in pop culture and literature, characters who weren't always likable and sometimes were complete villains. But we were interested in them, because they were complex. And by the way, they are predominantly white men. The author says we've been "trained to emphasize with white men," whether we realize it or not.

It reminded me of a recent complex, and not always likable character, Jessica Jones (title character of the Netflix series). Jessica is a private investigator with super powers. But she's also a sexual assault victim, someone who was continuously victimized by her ex-boyfriend, who was able to make her stay and do horrible things with his own super powers (mind control). We meet her after she has gotten away from him, when she has become an alcoholic, violent, and tactless. I loved the show, and Jessica, right away. Finally, I thought, a victim who doesn't care about being likeable. Who doesn't have to be so sweet and wonderful that of course we all sympathize with her, that we all ask how something so terrible could happen to her.

No, Jessica would say, f*** that. I don't care if you like me. I don't care if you think I deserved or didn't deserve what happened to me. Because at the end of the day, regardless of what I'm like as a human being, I didn't deserve to have my free will taken from me.

But I spoke to many people who couldn't get into Jessica Jones, or found themselves preferring other characters, because Jessica was so unlikable. And it's true, sometimes I would watch Jessica react to a situation and think she should have reacted differently - if she wanted things to go a certain way, that is. But I loved the character, perhaps because she wasn't always likable, and contradicted the stereotypical victim I have seen far too often. She was not a stereotype. She was a real person, with flaws. She was complex.

So I already knew a little of what to expect in the article about Hillary Clinton. Complex female characters are unusual, and hard to accept, so of course, that would extend to our relations with others, especially people we only view through media. But I think this paragraph really sums up the insanity of this election:
I try to wrap my head around the fact that Hillary Clinton is on one hand the most qualified human being to ever run for president of the United States, and, on the other, one of the most disliked presidential candidates of all time. In fact, Donald Trump is the only candidate who is more disliked than Clinton. And he’s not only overtly racist, sexist, and Islamophobic, but also unfit and unprepared for office. How can these two fundamentally dissimilar politicians possibly be considered bedfellows when it comes to popular opinion?
We lack archetypes for people like Clinton, and often demand perfection - even contradictory traits - from women in general. Even Clinton recognizes this; the article quotes an interview with Clinton, in which she says:
It’s hard work to present yourself in the best possible way. You have to communicate in a way that people say: ‘OK, I get her.’ And that can be more difficult for a woman. Because who are your models? If you want to run for the Senate, or run for the Presidency, most of your role models are going to be men. And what works for them won’t work for you. Women are seen through a different lens.

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