Hillary Clinton and the Paradox of Female Success

If you are successful, people like you. Right?

Not always.

“The more successful and ambitious a woman is, the less likable she becomes,” said Hillary Clinton on Thursday the Women in the World Summit in New York.

Clinton is, of course, no stranger to this paradox of female success. She was one of the most qualified individuals who has ever run for the president of the United States. And yet, every step of the campaign, from the primaries to the debates, she was dogged by uneven standards. These standards allowed Donald Trump to do things like brag about sexually assaulting women, and still become the president of the United States.

Certainly, there are some key reasons why Clinton lost: failing to campaign in certain states, FBI Director James Comey releasing information about the investigation into Clinton’s emails just days before the election, and the controversies over her involvement in Benghazi, her private email server, and her husband’s affair.

Still, “a candidate guilty of Trump’s many transgressions should have been decimated by a competent opponent” such as Clinton, Lauren Heuser wrote in The National Post after the election. Again, there are several factors which caused Trump to succeed. Disenfranchised voters, fear mongering, and fake news all played roles of varying importance in Trump’s win. But there was something else at play in Trump’s win, and in Clinton’s loss: sexism.

Clinton was (and remains) undoubtedly ambitious. Before becoming the Democratic nominee, she had already achieved a high level of success in the political arena. And this, as she said on Thursday in New York, made her less likable. But as Heuser points out in her op-ed, Clinton was not just disliked by men. Heuser quotes Hadiya Roderique, a student who studies gender, who says that “Women buy into the patriarchy as much as men.” In fact, a 2010 study by two Yale professors found that women and men were equally likely to “have negative reactions to power-seeking female politicians.”

Many women still have problems with other women’s success, even if they do not explicitly admit it. Misogyny is something that affects women, but it is also something that some women contribute to, even if it is internalized. Women did not have to support Clinton, simply because she was also a woman. However, the fact that some woman had problems simply because she was a woman is indicative of the larger issue here.

You shouldn’t admire someone (or vote for them) just because they are successful. But ambitious and successful women being continually held back by what should be perceived as positive traits demonstrates that something needs to change. As devastating a loss as she endured, Hillary Clinton remains an inspirational symbol in the fight for female politicians and leaders to be viewed as equals to their male counterparts.

Clinton was poised to break the glass ceiling. Instead, misogyny prevailed. What happens next is up to us. 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! | Follow me on Twitter | Bloglovin’ | Header image Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons

11 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton and the Paradox of Female Success

  1. This was a great read and I think she is not president so lost, but overall had more votes so really a majority of people thought she would be the better president.
    I think misogyny played a part but not sure if that was the reason. From what I can see she became the poster child for corrupt Washington and wall St., and people revolted against that. Also the Clinton campaign was a poorly run one, leaving out states she lost because they were considered won.
    To be clear I think she got an unfair go because she was a women. That cannot be denied but I think by boiling it down to misogyny misses the totality of the issue.
    And that she did poorly with women I don’t know how you get around that. It seems to be a communication problem. Its something I think thought leaders need to focus on.

    1. Thanks, Byron! I agree with you that misogyny was not the sole reason Clinton lost–there were certainly many other factors. However, the fact that it did play such a large role (in making both women and men dislike her) was something I found interesting and something I wanted to write about!

      1. She won the popular role by a landslide majority. The “large role” doesn’t account for the 2million+ popular votes she won. In numbers, her loss boiled down to the electoral college system where states shifted right in major ways. The electoral voting weight allocated to each state was the nail on the coffin; the coffin was Trump’s rhetoric. Trump was and continues to be misogynistic. It’s sad that Hillary lost the presidency, but that wasn’t unexpected. If the large role you refer to was played by male and female republicans, then you’re spot on.

  2. Clinton was a great candidate and personally I think that she should’ve won, but I hope that doesn’t spark up anything.
    Even though she was a women figure, I don’t think that that should be an overpowering reason as to why she should’ve been president.

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