Today was a big day in the world of Vanessa Pamela Friedman because today I decided to post things on Facebook about Hillary Clinton! And, to be fair, no one in my personal Facebook friend circle (which includes 1000+ humans I have known over the course of my life, from the girls I went to Jewish Day School with in Toronto to the kids I got embarrassingly blackout drunk with in my freshman dorm at college to my friends who I currently hang out with every weekend to my mom) responded in a way that was horrifying at all. So that was good. (Full disclosure: I don’t know who I’m voting for yet. I want to want to vote for Hillary. I don’t know if I do. I don’t really want to vote for Bernie. I don’t know if I will.)
The articles I posted are: On Hillary and Bernie, A Hot Mess for Hillary (by the fucking brilliant Rebecca Traister, who got me interested in political writing for the first time when she wrote this article about Hillary supporters in 2008!), and Likable (by the equally brilliant Sady Doyle). They are all thought provoking and well written, and they are all worth your time. I strongly suggest reading all of them and engaging with them, whether you plan to vote for Hillary or Bernie. (I’m a queer woman with ovaries and a desire to see things improve in this country – I’m not entertaining the idea that anyone who reads my blog is gonna vote for anyone else, unless you’re abstaining from voting, which is a conversation I guess we can have another time except I don’t really wanna yell at you so maybe we should just skip it. Jesus fucking Christ, I hate what election season does to me.) Anyway, like I said, all of these articles are really worth reading, but the one I’m focusing on today is the last one, by Doyle. Because she hits it out of the park, because it amplifies the amount of sexism I see casually thrown Hillary’s way every step of this goddamn campaign, just like what happened in 2008 (sweet to see how far we’ve come in eight years…oh, jk), and perhaps most of all, because it forced me to reckon with my own deep, intense, bizarre, questionable, distressing desire to be likable.
This is a thing I’ve been thinking about so much lately: my strong desire to be liked. It’s so embarrassing to articulate! We are not supposed to care if everyone likes us. We are supposed to know that it’s impossible. And also, since most of us do not like everyone else, it’s totally logical that not everyone would like us! Duh. What makes me think I should be so special?! And also, if we wish to be a part of the REVOLUTION which of course we do, we should know that mouthy girls with opinions are never well liked, and that is RAD. That is the point! That is the whole deal with Hillary, and the brogressives who just won’t quit with their casual sexism and vehement distaste. Fuck ’em! Who gives a fuck who likes me?!
AND YET. It bums me out when I think about being disliked. I feel anxious if I think I’ve offended someone, I obsess about tiny interactions with acquaintances, I add a lot of exclamation points to my emails so I don’t come across as a bitch. I say please and thank you and sorry, sorry, sorry, all the time in a nice cheerful high pitched tone.
I think some of these things are okay. It’s not cool to be an asshole, and we should worry about each other’s feelings more, in my opinion. I feel guilty when I cancel plans with a friend at the last minute, and that’s appropriate. I feel worried about hurting someone’s feelings by not inviting them to a social gathering, and while ultimately you can’t always invite 60+ people to come drink tea in your living room, I do think being aware of social dynamics and such is a good skill and I don’t like to needlessly hurt people’s feelings. But! There’s something different at play here. My efforts to not be a jerk are sincere, for sure, and I think they are well worth it. But my fear of being disliked is a separate beast, one that I cater to in ways that are not really related to being a good person versus being an asshole.
Once upon a time I worked for a well known queer women’s website and I built a brand on being cute and nice and friends with everyone. The weirdness of a personal brand is something to be deconstructed in another post (that is currently in the works!) but the fact of the matter is while working at that site I did have a “personal brand” and it was all about being likable. Not just likable, actually, but lovable. And the thing is, when you make that your brand, you trap yourself into an unrealistic version of existence.
I’ve spent the past two years learning how to unlearn that inclination, that knee-jerk response that the only version of myself anyone could possibly love or like or want to be around is the perfectly kind, perfectly good, perfectly friendly, endlessly cheerful version of me. Cara used to tease me for being a “secret bitch,” because she was dating me at the time I worked for the website so she would read my sweet kind cutesy posts along with the rest of the readers and then I would show up at her house and complain about a variety of things and gossip about random people and generally be, you know, a human being who is sometimes imperfect, and it made her laugh to see these opposing sides of my personality, my public self and my private self, as it were.
Much more recently I was confessing to Jenny that I am actually not at all as nice and sweet as people often perceive me to be, because again, I am, you know, a person. And she told me not to worry, that it was okay to be a “golden hearted secret bitch,” that so many of us are that way and it’s normal and reasonable and not horrible. In short, I think, she was telling me it’s okay to not always be likable. She was encouraging a marriage between my public self and my private self, suggesting that it does not have to be either/or. Committing to being likable all the time suggests that if one fails at that single task, one has lost the currency they use to maintain relationships. Committing to being a human being who strives to be kind and compassionate, but not necessarily likable, opens the door to the possibility that one can be liked even when one is fucking up, or presenting an imperfect version of oneself, or simply being kind of a bitch.
You’ll notice I hardly mentioned being a woman in this post. But that’s mostly what it’s all about, right? We would never call a man a “secret bitch” so it’s impossible to flip the script and open the conversation to a space that isn’t rooted in sexism and internalized misogyny and disappointing/frustrating/impossible cultural expectations of girls and women. My desire to be well liked by every single person is a personal issue, sure, but it speaks to a larger issue, and that is one of what we value in women, and which women we believe deserve to take up space. It’s a trick, though, because the only women dominant culture wants taking up space is the nice meek likable woman who would never dream of taking up space, especially not if that space was supposed to belong to a man. So we aim to be likable because we’re told we should aim to please, but the only times we succeed are when we literally disappear. Why exactly are we aiming for any of this at all?
Back to Hillary: as Doyle notes in the last paragraph of her piece, Clinton is a fucking inspiration because she has taken this world to task for their inability to like her not by any of her direct words or actions, but by simply existing and continuing. Doyle writes:
…honestly, ask yourself: How long would you make it, if people treated you the way you treat Hillary Clinton? Would you not just be furious, by now? Would you not have reached levels of blood-vessel popping, shit-losing rage, or despair? Because the fact that she’s dealt with it at all, and kept her shit together, is admirable. The fact that she’s been dealing with it for decades, and keeps voluntarily subjecting herself to it, and, knowing exactly how bad it will get, and exactly what we’ll do to her, is running for President again, and (here’s the part I love, the part that I find hard to even wrap my head around) actually winning? To me, that is awe-inspiring.
I don’t have a tidy conclusion. I’m still pondering the fact that I really really really want everyone to like me, even though it would be far more practical and realistic to admit that I am not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s just fine because I’m fantastic and if you don’t like me it’s your loss. I’m still so fucking distressed about the way the media and the general public responds to Hillary, and I have no idea when the sexism that pervades our dialogue and our thoughts will be taken firmly off the table. I still don’t know who to vote for in the primary!
But this I know: I think my Saturn Return – the beginning of which coincides almost perfectly with the 2016 election, so help me goddess – is going to force me to focus on getting to the root of my desire to be likable and then to cut that root until it can’t grow a thing. I still value being kind, being a good friend, being generous. I will always value those things. But none of those things necessarily correlate with being well-liked, and damn if I’m not ready to get the fuck over caring if I’m likable. If it doesn’t matter to Hillary, it really should not matter to me.