How Women Can Escape the Likability Trap

Powerful women know how to flip feminine stereotypes to their advantage.

There has been a lot of talk recently in the political arena about the likability trap for women: Women who behave in authoritative ways risk being disliked as insufferable prima donnas, pedantic schoolmarms or witchy women.

What you haven’t heard about much is the way successful women overcome this form of gender bias. I have interviewed about 200 women over the years in my research on gender and the workplace, and they all employ a similar set of strategies for escaping the likability trap. One former chief executive described hers this way: “I’m warm Ms. Mother 95 percent of the time, so that the 5 percent of the time when I need to be tough, I can be.” She embraced a stereotype that typically holds women back — the office mom — but flipped it around, using its momentum to propel herself forward. I call it gender judo.

Why do women need to do this? Even as women have moved into traditionally male domains, feminine mandates remain. More than 40 years of research by social scientists have shown that Americans define the good woman as helpful, modest and nice. In other words, as focused on her family and community, rather than working in her own self-interest. Meanwhile, the ideal man is defined as direct, assertive, competitive and ambitious.

This version of masculinity maps perfectly onto what we expect from leaders, in business and politics. Women in leadership need to display these “masculine” qualities, but when they do they risk being seen as bad women, and also as bad people. So savvy women learn that they must often do a masculine thing (which establishes their competence) in a feminine way (to defuse backlash).

Other research finds that women make a similar finesse while negotiating. Women who negotiate as hard as men do tend to be disliked as overly demanding. So they use “softeners” in conversation. (“It wasn’t clear to me whether this salary offer represents the top of the pay range.”) When Sheryl Sandberg negotiated for what no doubt was an outlandishly high compensation package at Facebook, she told Mark Zuckerberg: “Of course you realize that you’re hiring me to run your deal teams, so you want me to be a good negotiator. This is the only time you and I will ever be on opposite sides of the table.” She turned a salary negotiation (competitive and ambitious) into a touching testimony of team loyalty.

Isn’t this all a bit revolting? Here’s what works for men negotiating for a higher salary: I have another offer, and I need you to match it. Why should women have to do something different?

They shouldn’t.

When women embrace feminine stereotypes like the office mom, they reinforce both the descriptive stereotype that women are naturally nurturing and communal, and the prescriptive stereotype that they should be. But sometimes what women need to do to survive and thrive in the world is exactly the opposite of what they need to do to change it.

For women who want to master this strategy, the first step is to behave as assertively as comes naturally and see what happens. If you find your effectiveness jeopardized because you being yourself triggers dislike, then you need to decide whether overcoming the backlash is worth the sacrifice.

If it is, try doing something masculine in a feminine way. Think of femininity as a tool kit, and choose something that feels authentic to you. But don’t choose deference. One study found that women who used a submissive conversational style, apologizing and hedging, just undercut themselves.

The most common anti-backlash strategy I found in the women I interviewed was to mix authoritativeness and warmth. “I got feedback I was intimidating, so I would make sure that I got to know people, and before a meeting I would share something personal to make myself more approachable,” one woman, who is now a chief executive, told me.

Some women use metaphors to recode behavior that is coded as masculine. A woman responsible for winning new clients at a major consulting firm, where rainmakers were called “hunters,” told me she rejected that label. “I always said: ‘No, no, no, I’m a gardener. I grow things,’” she told me. Just another dame who loves to nurture.

Another tried-and-true move is what anthropologists call gender display. “For me, it’s pink lipstick,” one woman told me. She is the lone female member of the board of a public company.

In the most sophisticated form of this strategy, powerful women create an entirely new narrative, softening their hard-driving personas by highlighting that they are also communal, selfless mothers. A brilliant recent example is M.J. Hegar’s 2018 congressional campaign video. In it, a battered door — all that’s left of the helicopter she was shot down in while on an Air Force rescue mission — is tucked behind her dining table, where she sits contentedly with her family.

This is all a lot of hard work, and it’s work that men don’t have to do. Men, to be successful, just need to master and display masculine-coded traits; women, to be successful, need to master both those and some version of feminine-coded traits that do not undercut their perceived competence or authenticity. That’s a lot trickier.

What’s the solution? Organizations have to be vigilant about challenging the biases that force women to do this in the first place. The workplace is often structured in ways that reward behavior that’s considered socially appropriate in white men but socially inappropriate in women and people of color. This provides an invisible escalator for white men.

The goal is not to empower women to be as emotionally tone deaf and grabby as men are sometimes encouraged to be. Instead, we should work to make sure that both men and women are rewarded for displaying empathy or a willingness to put the common good above self-interest. These qualities have long been undervalued in work and in political life because they have been coded as feminine, and the world needs much more of them.

Why Women Don’t Get to Be Angry

When men get angry, their power grows. When women do, it shrinks.

.. While parents talk to girls about emotions more than they do to boys, anger is excluded. Reflect with me for a moment: How did you first learn to think about emotions, and anger in particular?

.. My mother may have been livid, but she gave every appearance of being cheerful and happy. By staying silent and choosing this particular outlet for her feelings, she communicated a trove of information: for example, that anger was experienced in isolation and was not worth sharing verbally with others. That furious feelings are best kept to oneself. That when they do inevitably come out, the results can be scary, shocking, and destructive.

.. My mother was acting in a way that remains typical for many women: She was getting her anger “out,” but in a way that explicitly separated it from her relationships. Most women report feeling the angriest in private and interpersonal settings.

.. While we experience anger internally, it is mediated culturally and externally by other people’s expectations and social prohibitions.

.. in some cultures anger is a way to vent frustration, but in others it is more for exerting authority.

.. In the United States, anger in white men is often portrayed as justifiable and patriotic, but in black men as criminality, and in black women as threat. In the Western world, anger in women has been widely associated with “madness.”

.. At home, children still learn quickly that for boys and men, anger reinforces traditional gender expectations, but that for girls and women, anger confounds them.

.. It’s as children that most of us learn to regard anger as unfeminine, unattractive, and selfish.

.. Many of us are taught that our anger will be an imposition on others, making us irksome and unlikeable. That it will alienate our loved ones or put off people we want to attract. That it will twist our faces, make us ugly. This is true even for those of us who have to use anger to defend ourselves in charged and dangerous situations. As girls, we are not taught to acknowledge or manage our anger so much as fear, ignore, hide, and transform it.

.. There is not a woman alive who does not understand that women’s anger is openly reviled.

.. They want to know how to stand up for themselves “without sounding angry or bitter,”

.. told we are “crazy,” “irrational,” even “demonic.”

.. Our society is infinitely creative in finding ways to dismiss and pathologize women’s rage.

.. When a woman shows anger in institutional, political, and professional settings, she automatically violates gender norms. She is met with aversion, perceived as more hostile, irritable, less competent, and unlikable

.. The same people who might opt to work for an angry-sounding, aggressive man are likely to be less tolerant of the same behavior if the boss were a woman.

.. When a man becomes angry in an argument or debate, people are more likely to abandon their own positions and defer to his. But when a woman acts the same way, she’s likely to elicit the opposite response.

.. Black girls and women, for example, routinely silenced by “angry black woman” stereotypes, have to contend with abiding dangers of institutionalized violence that might result from their expressing justifiable rage.

.. men, as studies find, consider anger to be power enhancing in a way that women don’t. For men, anger is far more likely to be power enhancing.

.. Anger has a bad rap, but it is actually one of the most hopeful and forward thinking of all our emotions. It begets transformation, manifesting our passion and keeping us invested in the world. It is a rational and emotional response to trespass, violation, and moral disorder..

.. It bridges the divide between what is and what ought to be

.. By effectively severing anger from “good womanhood,” we choose to sever girls and women from the emotion that best protects us against danger and injustice.

.. I am still constantly being reminded that it’s “better” if women didn’t “seem so angry.” What does “better” mean, exactly? And why does it fall so disproportionately on the shoulders of women to be “better” by putting aside anger in order to “understand” and to forgive and forget? Does it make us “good” people? Is it healthy? Does it enable us to protect our interests, bring change to struggling communities, or upend failing systems?

.. Mainly, it props up a profoundly corrupt status quo.

.. It took me too long to realize that the people most inclined to say “You sound angry” are the same people who uniformly don’t care to ask “Why?”

.. They’re interested in silence, not dialogue.

.. A society that does not respect women’s anger is one that does not respect women, not as human beings, thinkers, knowers, active participants, or citizens. Women around the world are clearly angry and acting on that emotion. That means, inevitably, that a backlash is in full swing, most typically among “moderates” who are fond of disparaging angry women as dangerous and unhinged.

.. It is easier to criticize the angry women than to ask the questions “What is making you so angry?” and “What can we do about it?” — the answers to which have disruptive and revolutionary implications.

Everybody Hates the Trump Tax Plan

what people used to say about former Senator Phil Gramm .. “Even his friends don’t like him.”

.. the Senate version, which would

raise taxes on most individuals, especially in the middle and working classes, and 

add around 13 million Americans to the ranks of the uninsured,

all to pay for big cuts in corporate taxes.

.. After all, if we’re talking about a big increase in capital expenditure, where does the money for that expenditure come from? Nothing in the bill would make Americans consume less and save more. So the money would have to come from abroad — from selling stocks, bonds and other assets to foreigners, on a massive scale.

.. And this inflow of foreign money would drive up the value of the dollar and lead to huge trade deficits: according to my analysis of the most optimistic forecast out there, more than $6 trillion in deficits over the next decade. These trade deficits would have a devastating effect on manufacturing — remember those jobs Trump promised to bring back? — to the likely tune of more than two million jobs lost.

.. Nor does it take account of what would inevitably come next: tax-cut-induced deficits would, by law, trigger cuts in Medicare, and this would just be the start of a G.O.P. assault on programs like disability insurance 

.. “My donors are basically saying get it done or don’t ever call me again.”

Violence. Threats. Begging. Harvey Weinstein’s 30-year pattern of abuse in Hollywood.

“Everyone knew these stories,” one Hollywood publicist said. “Not the specifics. But people knew it was a hostile work environment, and that he was a bully to people. Because he could win you an Oscar, we were all supposed to look the other way.”

.. when the New Yorker published a 2015 audio recording of Weinstein trying to lure a model into his hotel room, Brewer was stopped cold.

.. Weinstein, enraged that he had been out of pocket for a few hours, lunged at him and began punching him in the head, Brewer said; the skirmish tumbled into the corridor and then the elevator. By the time Brewer reached the street, intent on never associating with the Weinsteins again, he said, Harvey was pleading for him to stay and help ensure that their film got launched.

.. “Listening to the audiotape, it gave me this visceral reaction to my experience that day,” Brewer said by phone Thursday. “This alternating between violence, threats, commands and then begging, mock-crying, trying anything — any angle to get what he wanted.”

.. a genius of promotion who persuaded Oscar voters to pick his lighthearted “Shakespeare in Love” over epic front-runner “Saving Private Ryan” as best picture in 1999.

.. He had a “funny, whiny” voice, and was often bullied, according to former classmates, but he was persistent, sure of himself, an operator.

.. “He was supremely confident, and not worried about any repercussions,” the friend recalled. “It was like, ‘Eh, if they catch me, so what, I’ll do it again.’ ”

.. Weinstein went into business with his brother, first as concert promoters and later

.. “Don’t mention the competition on the air. Don’t put two car ads in the same segment,” she said this past week. “And, if you’re a young woman, don’t be alone with Harvey Weinstein.”

.. His job then wasn’t to make movies but to discover them and get them into theaters. His forcefulness was a boon for independent and foreign films that lacked bankable names. He would be their star, their champion, deploying a brassy, fearless persona to conduct cutthroat negotiations and impassioned publicity campaigns.

.. “Harvey has a bargaining quality, a back-and-forth bullying that makes you just go ‘okay,’ she explained. She jumped out of their taxi blocks later and ran inside a bar, begging the bartender to pretend that he was her boyfriend.

.. “He’s very seductive at the start,” Leight said. “You think he understands you and your destiny is about to change.”

.. But Weinstein’s behavior was erratic. Leight said Weinstein pressured him to ask an actress to “show tit” on screen, though the script required no nudity.

.. In retrospect, he said, the abusive tactics that Weinstein used with women were in line with those he used with directors and male employees: the domination, the cycle of eruptions followed by contrition, the swagger, accompanied by shows of neediness.

“It’s absolutely the same behavior,” Leight said.

..  the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, where the New York-based producer often stayed, and where many of his alleged assaults were said to have taken place.

.. people knew that if you had worked there, you could put up with anything.”

.. West Coast employees employed a system of alerts, passed along by whisper, to prepare for the boss’s arrival.

Harvey is coming.

Harvey is five minutes out.

Harvey is on a kick about “Tulip Fever.” If you haven’t seen it, make sure you do now.

.. One preparation — described by multiple individuals and recognized as both practical and ridiculous — was to hide all the office candy bowls.

“He would take and eat them all and his blood sugar would spike,” the former employee explained. “We were trying to control his moods.”

.. The mood swings, the employee said, were frequent and relentless. Workers discussed in hushed tones how to manage them.

.. “It was not clear that he was assaulting people,” the former employee said. “But was it clear that he was trading his power for sexual favors? Yes.”

.. “What you have to understand is, Harvey was somebody who everybody who worked there didn’t like,” another former employee said. “Talking s— about Harvey was the normal course of action. He’s disgusting. He’s rude. He has food on his shirt.”

.. Weinstein’s blatant bad behavior managed to mask his more insidious tendencies. In other words, you didn’t believe he could be any worse in private than you had seen him behave in public.

.. Some women who have made claims against Weinstein have alleged that his assistants were facilitators of his behavior, or said they were in the room immediately before he assaulted them.

.. “I just thought we were seeing the bad end of a bad temper,” said one industry professional, who often encountered him over several decades. “I once watched him fire his whole staff at an awards show. It was one of the worst things I’ve witnessed — they were running away in tears and crying in parking lots.”

.. “Here’s a man who would take a little film that couldn’t and make it into hits that won Oscars,” said the publicist who watched Weinstein fire his entire staff. “He wasn’t the only one to do that, but he had a really good track record. Sometimes, to do that, you have to be a steamroller. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. I think it’s wrong.” A pause. “I’m sure it’s wrong.”

.. “He said, ‘What have you heard about me?’” Masters said. “And I said, ‘I’ve heard you rape women.’ ”

Weinstein responded, Masters said, “with neither shock nor anger.”

.. Masters said the magazine tried “really hard” to publish a report on Weinstein’s sexual behavior a few years ago. But the source backed out, leaving it without on-the-record corroboration of festering rumors.

.. Harvey was the Trump of the movie industry. He knew what was a good story. He knew how it worked. He knew what a deadline was. He knew about the caring and feeding of gossip columns.”

..  a frequent source of scoops and celebrity gossip for tabloid papers.

.. Many Weinstein-watchers took note of what seemed to be an orchestrated media campaign against Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, the model who accused Weinstein of groping her in a Tribeca hotel room in 2015.

.. The New York Post published photos of her in a bikini and labeled her “Grope Beauty” on its cover. Its Page Six column reported that a police source said there was no physical evidence for Gutierrez’s claim. In fact, Gutierrez had worn a hidden police microphone and recorded Weinstein apologizing to her for the incident.

.. Weinstein had a knack for flattering reporters. He once had his staff put together a mock poster for “Page Six: The Movie” — starring George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson and Matt Damon as the column’s authors — and sent it to the newsroom.

.. Weinstein “cajoled and threatened” him when he wouldn’t kill an item about Weinstein’s divorce from Eve. Weinstein first tried to trade the item for another bit of gossip, Grove said, and next threatened to ban him from Miramax’s film screenings. Grove said he could buy his own movie tickets.

.. Eventually, Grove said, Weinstein backed down when he realized he had no leverage. But first, he said something Grove said “should be embroidered on a pillow. He said, ‘I’m the scariest m—–f—– you’ll ever have as an enemy in this town.’ ”

.. He implied that she needed him. He’d set up a Hollywood world in which everyone needed him.

.. I had dinner with this guy and it turns out he is everything I stand against.”

.. fundraisers alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, the premiere of “Shakespeare in Love” with Hillary Clinton on his arm.

.. His personal giving was dwarfed by that of many other showbiz moguls — only $1.8 million since 1979. But when President Bill Clinton sought help for his legal-defense fund during the Monica Lewinsky saga, Weinstein cut a $10,000 check.

.. Brown, who said she had never heard anything but milder rumors about Weinstein, called the election “a tipping point for a great many women.”

.. lawyer Gloria Allred. She is representing several of Weinstein’s accusers, but said she has “also been getting calls about other men in Hollywood. Studio executives, A-list actors. Big names. Names you would know.”

.. Though she represented more than 30 of Cosby’s victims, she said she suspects “this is going to be bigger. It’s a tsunami.”

.. he championed his boys — and there were no female voices in there.

.. The lack of female voices in Hollywood, Delavigne said, is “a more entrenched danger, and entrenched culture.” A common note she receives from producers, during the screenwriting process, is to make her female characters more “likable.” That one word, she said, epitomizes the film industry’s attitude about women.

.. “It is not ‘likable’ for a woman to say ‘no,’ to say ‘you can’t do that,’ ” Delavigne said. “That is not likable. That is not charming. That is not sweet.”

.. “He had just a very forceful way of going about things,”

.. “He forces himself on you, talks you into it and doesn’t leave you with an option.”

.. He was both needy and abusive

I Miss the Old Megyn Kelly

Wearing a pink pussy-bow blouse, her hair no longer slicked back in the trademark power bob of her later Fox News days, Ms. Kelly declared that she was “kind of done with politics for now.” Rather than politics, she explained, her new show would focus on, well, emotions. “Have a laugh with us, a smile, sometimes a tear, and maybe a little hope to start your day,”

.. It was the antithesis of the woman who was once willing to give up the support of her conservative audience to speak truth to power. The former Megyn Kelly came to slay, whether you liked it or not. The new Megyn Kelly is “so excited — so excited” and “also a little nervous; bear with me, please!” With every gesture, every word, every look, the new Megyn Kelly seems to be trying to convey one thing: Like me.

.. It’s one of the bitterest ironies in television that it was at Fox News, network of blond bombshells and chronic sexual harassment, that Ms. Kelly was given the breathing room to become that most unusual of unicorns: an unlikable woman on television.

.. Even as he was commenting on her bra choices, Roger Ailes himself was giving Ms. Kelly savvy advice that was, in a way, progressive. As she notes in her book, Mr. Ailes told her at the beginning of her career “to not try so hard to be perfect” and to show “who I really am.” Who she really was turned out to be smart, aggressive and impossibly quick. A former lawyer, she developed an adversarial approach that made her something of an anomaly among talk show hosts: Whether she was sparring with Anthony Weiner over President Barack Obama’s tax policy or with Donna Brazile over the Democratic National Committee’s hacked emails, Megyn Kelly was not there to make friends.

.. With time, in fact, she assumed a style that had hitherto been the exclusive province of men: a charisma that comes from dispensing with the need to be liked. And in featuring her, Fox News was doing more to break female stereotypes than any of the more mainstream networks.

It’s true that Ms. Kelly developed her signature style while perfectly coifed, with obligatory blond streaks. And it’s true that she developed her brand of magnetic unlikability while outfitted in Fox’s ubiquitous jewel-toned dresses, her legs exposed beneath the obligatory glass table. But Megyn Kelly’s power came not from her beauty but from her sharp-wittedness, her familiarity with the issues, and her willingness to ask tough questions and demand answers — the same traits that were on full display in the infamous Republican debate when she took on Candidate Trump.

.. Instead of unleashing her, NBC has attempted to transform Megyn Kelly into one of the nice girls of mainstream media, another Kelly Ripa, Savannah Guthrie or Katie Couric.
.. Why did Fox News have more room for this charismatic, difficult woman than NBC? It’s hard to say. Mainstream talk shows — morning shows in particular — have never had much of an appetite for difficult. And at a time when our country is so divided, it was always likely that a network like NBC would try to cast as broad a net as possible, meaning that politics would be off the table for someone like Ms. Kelly.
.. a cautionary tale to all women: You will have to be likable if you want to go mainstream.