WOMEN
04/06/2017 10:08 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2017

Hillary Clinton Broke Down How Impossible It Is For Ambitious Women To Be 'Likable'

"By the time they were finished with me I was Typhoid Mary."

NEW YORK ― Hillary Clinton is a walking case study for the way America regards ambitious women. 

When Clinton left the state department in 2013, her approval rating was so high, she was touted as the most popular politician in the country. Flash forward to her presidential run in 2016, and it seemed almost taboo to admit genuinely liking Hillary Clinton. Apparently, we’re fine with powerful women as long they’re not asking for that power.

It’s a phenomenon that’s often been tied to Clinton’s story. Back in 2012, Ann Friedman articulated “the Hillary Clinton catch-22:” “To succeed, she needs to be liked, but to be liked, she needs to temper her success.” Four years later, not much had changed. “We beg Clinton to run, and then accuse her of feeling ‘entitled’ to win,” Sady Doyle wrote for Quartz last February.

During the former presidential candidate’s first post-election interview at Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit, Nick Kristof of the New York Times asked her to address that double-edged sword.

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) speaks with journalist Nicholas Kristof on stage at the 8th Annua
Monica Schipper via Getty Images
Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) speaks with journalist Nicholas Kristof on stage at the 8th Annual Women In The World Summit at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on April 6, 2017 in New York City.

“I think [young women who might want to run for office] are concerned about the research that some social scientists have pointed to that women can be perceived as either as likable or as competent leaders, but not as both,” Kristof said.

Clinton noted that concern was valid, only after qualifying that she hopes it doesn’t dissuade young women from running for office. “We really need you, and we need more young people and we particularly need more young women,” she said.

“However, having said that, probably one of the first things I would say to them: Yeah, be ready. It is a not a new phenomenon but it feels new and painful every time it happens to you.”

Clinton then expanded on the research Kristof referred to:

Many academics have written about it. It’s a pretty simple but unfortunate phenomenon. With men, success and ambition are correlated with likability, so the more successful a man is, the more likable he becomes! With a woman, guess what? It’s the exact opposite. So the more successful and therefore ambitious a woman is, the less likable she becomes. That’s the inverse correlation that lies at the heart of a lot of the attacks and the misogyny. 

Clinton used her own history as proof, noting the massive disconnect between her approval rating as Secretary of State vs the skepticism around her in 2016.

“What happened?! Oh my gosh, by the time they were finished with me I was Typhoid Mary. And poor Mary. I mean, she didn’t deserve it either, when you go back and look at the history,” she said. “It really did verify that research.”  

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