By Cornelia Powell – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking about the “likeability of women.” Perhaps it was during the harsh backlash to Hillary Rodham Clinton when, as a “working woman” First Lady, made the “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas” comment during an interview in 1992. Americans weren’t ready for “uppity” women— particularly in their politics! Or maybe it was around the same time “when it started to look as if Hillary Clinton was becoming one half of a shared presidency,” wrote Andrew Samuels in “Her Body Politic” from When A Princess Dies. “There was implacable collective hostility to the idea because people could sense just how unstoppable such a pair would be.” (Yikes—an unstoppable woman! Heaven forbid—a marriage that was a bold partnership!)
But then trailblazers are seldom without criticism—especially whip-smart, forceful women. Yet how else were they, with the brutal resistance many of them faced, going to blaze the trail?
Hillary Clinton and her directness in those First Lady days were a bit unsettling for me as well; nonetheless, the backlash felt unfair—in a double-standard sort of way—and whether I “liked” her or not wasn’t the point. I defended a woman’s rightful place to be smart and determined and capable and a leader! And yes, she, and many other women making their way in business or politics would be called “pushy” and “hard to work with” or much worse—as we saw and heard years later during the run-up to the 2016 election. “Brace yourself,” Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s director of communications during her presidential run, wrote in Dear Madam President, “nothing draws fire like a woman moving forward.”
Although Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only woman to “draw fire” during the 2016 campaign—the nastiest, most vile comments, however, were aimed at her; aimed with all the hatred and fear coming off an angry crumbling patriarchy. My paternal grandmother would have called it “having no manners!” My other grandmother would have said people who used such language were “raised in a barn.” They both would have considered it “un-Christian.” Strong, wise Southern ladies, my grandmothers would have whole-heartedly agreed that “what we say about other people,” as Senator Cory Booker explained, “says more about who we are than who they are.”
“Is it a coincidence,” Palmieri asked, “that the first woman nominee of a major party lost a presidential election to a misogynist?” I don’t think there are “coincidences.”
Indeed, if all is in “divine order” as I believe (although I was doubting it on the ninth of November 2016 and for days afterwards until I finally caught my spiritual breath), then we are in the consciousness shift of the ages. Astrologically speaking, we are moving from the end of more than 2000 years of the Piscean Age (“dominated by hierarchy and power”) into the Aquarian Age (to be “dominated by networks and information…opening the world up to true equality”) and lasting, blessedly, another 2000-plus years (although the transition could be rocky and long!) We’re moving from centuries of a patriarchal stronghold of wars and separation into a matriarchal world of “real universal fraternity.” This kind of major cultural shift brings out the best and worst of humanity, so maybe it took/is taking this shock to the core of who we thought we were to wake us to this new world consciousness emerging—like a realignment of how to be human, a ‘call to arms’ for old souls, a reminder that standing up for fairness and kindness is why we’re here.
Did the women working on the 2016 Clinton campaign realize they were in the middle of such a great cosmic shift? Jennifer Palmieri shared: “There were times in the closing weeks when the campaign felt less like a presidential run and more like a primal battle for survival.” And I believe it was—and Hillary Rodham Clinton was the designated Joan of Arc, Queen Boudicca, Emily Plater and Mayan Warrior Queen K’abel—all rolled into one. Taking the hits and smears for all of us—no matter your politics—armoring herself against the onslaught to take “that woman” down. (“Thirty years of sexist attacks had turned her into that woman,” Amy Chozick wrote about Hillary Clinton, drawing a parallel to all working women. “Sooner or later, the higher we climb, the harder we work, we all become that woman.”) Giving her brilliance, leadership, strength, passion, tenacity, sense of purpose and destiny (as well as her hard edges and her don’t-suffer-fools-gladly impertinence) to a cause she believed in and felt was greater than herself—and said, “likeability be damned!” Like many women of history, surviving years of personal attacks, Hillary Clinton dusted herself off and went back to work.
Is this similar to what the American Suffragettes felt—slogging through seven decades demanding the vote for women with one betrayal and disappointment after another? These were brave, determined women also “drawing fire,” being slandered by the “Antis” (women opposed to their own enfranchisement) and mocked in contemptible ways by men and women afraid of change. It came down to “the bitterest fight” in 1920—sweltering Nashville, Tennessee in the middle of August—for the essential 36th state needed to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. “This was the suffrage Armageddon,” wrote Elaine Weiss in The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, “as both sides considered the impending clash as a defining battle between good and evil, a struggle for the soul of Tennessee and the heart of the nation.”
I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet; it still feels like a struggle of “hearts and souls.” But perhaps we’re growing away from, as Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor at The New York Times, told Amy Chozick, the young female reporter who wrote Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling: “’I always thought you’re either hated or you’re irrelevant.’” This response was when the reporter asked her mentor about “how to come to terms with the distinctly female instinct to always want to be liked, while also writing tough stories.”
Of course, we don’t have to be writing hard-hitting news stories to feel that tug of “wanting to be liked.” I had great life coaches when I opened my own business in the mid-1980s in Atlanta and the two declarations that stayed with me—and probably kept me sane as well as in business: “Hear no as an opportunity” and “Don’t take anything personally.” I fared well even though I had a famously demanding, and sometimes frenetic, clientele: thousands of brides-to-be of all ages and their mothers, sisters, friends, fathers and fiancés—all emotionally wrapped up in the tensions of wedding preparations! Years later, by the time I closed my shop, I had very few battle scars, a much deeper insight into what makes women tick (including the men who love them), and a transformative lesson in my personal sense of womanliness. (While running this very femme-femme business, I experienced my own “likeability of women” crisis. However, this defining moment of “how I stopped being annoyed by most women and simply began loving them” is a whole ‘nother story!)
What comes up as the most stinging during those “I love my business, I just don’t love running a business” years (something that could have been a lost memory, but maybe got jogged loose by the female angst of this article) is when a designer friend told me something like, “I couldn’t believe the awful things those girls said about you last night!” This would have been a group of women designers, perhaps gathered to make bridal headpieces for my shop, and perhaps doing what gives women a “bad name”—taking gossipy pleasure in criticizing a woman in a leadership role. (I was probably more stung, however, by the fact that the friend thought it supportive to tell me about the encounter!)
Was that the cruelest blow of the 2016 presidential election results? That women—and a majority of white women—voted for Donald Trump: a self-professed sexual predator; a whiny, name-calling, thin-skinned bully setting a spiteful example for their children and grandchildren; “a less qualified, bombastic man” as Amy Chozick reported. It wasn’t about being “disloyal” to another woman—there are lots of women politicians I wouldn’t vote for—but the rub was that women voted for (and say they supported) a man who denigrates women—and brags about it!
Perhaps that is the power of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s legacy—for all women, no matter how you feel about her! “Even when you lose, refuse to be defeated,” declared Jennifer Palmieri. Since the wake-up call of election day, women have marched, protested, united, spoken up and run for office in record numbers, rallied for causes that truly support (and don’t just give lip service to) “love thy neighbor,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them”—all to help counteract the hate-spewing unleashed around the world when people voted from their justifications and fears.
President Jimmy Carter said in the summer of 2016 that Donald Trump had “tapped into a waiting reservoir of inherent racism”—and I add, “a murky vat of misogyny” that turned into the open disparagement of women, especially women who are considered “ambitious.” Just ask Nancy Pelosi about the “fear and loathing” of powerful women. “A woman can serve in Congress without being perceived as overly ambitious,” wrote Peter Beinart in The Atlantic. “By climbing to the top of the greasy pole, however, Pelosi has made her ambition visible. She has gained the power to tell her male colleagues what to do.” Therefore, “the first female speaker of the House has become the most effective congressional leader of modern times—and, not coincidentally, the most vilified.”
Does it really come down to “love vs. fear”? I wonder how long it will take to move through this mischief-muddle of things as we shift into a new, more equalitarian era of cooperation, respect and love that ancient wisdom has long predicted. It’s time to leave the hierarchical structured way of living where humans define themselves by their religion, their politics, their work—something “out there”—and move into a new consciousness where humans instinctively look inside to find themselves, trusting their intuitive intelligence and inner power. A reality where men aren’t threatened by strong women, and women aren’t threatened by angry men, and you aren’t threatened by whatever I’m wearing or however I’m wearing my hair. Yes, it’s time. Time to lean in with love. Time to give “a little respect” to each other as Goddess Aretha sang—like a freedom anthem, freeing us from our past, holding “respect” as freedom’s authentic emotional truth.
I’d like to think that the 2016 presidential election had a ghostly, first-time participant at the polls—and she may be “haunting” us until we get it right! (We’re in the centennial years of American Suffrage, 1918 to 1920, so I particularly loved learning of this story.) The very wealthy Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt Belmont—born in 1853 on a cotton plantation in Mobile, Alabama—married into New York society, twice, and “was perhaps the American suffrage movement’s most flamboyant benefactor,” explained Elaine Weiss, vehemently supporting a woman’s right to vote. However, when the Nineteenth Amendment was finally passed in 1920—also called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment—”Alva Belmont refused to vote until she could cast a ballot for a woman president.” Let’s intend Alva’s “ghost” has many more opportunities to cast such a vote! And next time, let’s also intend that the “likeability of women” is not only a moot point, but its lack of relevance is a tipping point that moves us deep into the wisdom of this dawning Age of Aquarius where women are applauded for their leadership and men for their tenderness—and where “peace will guide the planets and love will,” indeed, “steer the stars.” Yes please, “let the sunshine in!” ~
[Author’s Note: This article was inspired after reading three new books that I recommend: The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss; Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling by Amy Chozick; and Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World by Jennifer Palmieri. Thank you to these courageous women and the trailblazing women they write about. www.CorneliaPowell.com]
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