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.

Bret Stephens and Frank Bruni with Thane Rosenbaum

15:33
viewers and listeners you know one
lesson I learned when I was the editor
of The Jerusalem Post is that the most
stereotyped people in the world and I by
stereotype people I don’t mean Jews or
Palestinians I mean this kind of Jew or
that kind of Palestinian they’re always
going to font they’re always going to
surprise you if you actually practice
journalism you will
go and meet settlers who are also like
hippie stoners and you know you think oh
the settlers they’re all these
right-wing fanatics but there’s always a
flip side you will meet Palestinians
including Palestinians affiliated with
radical organizations that also have
their surprises and journalism at its
best always has to make large allowances
for the capacity to be surprised by the
people that you are otherwise most eager
to stereotype I think where we go wrong
in big ways is when we fall prey to
those stereotypes I mean why was for
instance the the story about UVA the
rape hoax at UVA why was that so readily
believed because so many prejudices that
we had or at least segments of the media
had about white entitled frat kids at
UVA behaving in certain ways all of them
seem to be confirmed by that by that
narrative so people jumped on and said
well this has got to be right because
this is the classic the classic UVA frat
boy and this is how you might expect
they would behave and of course this
turned out to be one of the big egg on
your faces story that not only nevermind
damaged the journalists in question or
Rolling Stone magazine I think damaged
the profession as a whole and it also by
the way damaged victims of rape because
they would always have to live under the
burden well you never know because there
was that there was that UVA story and I
think this is this is true not simply as
journalists but as human beings you
always have to look at someone and say
I’m expecting this I have to I have to
there has to be some large allowance in
my mind that they will not be the people
who will conform to the stereotype that
I had about them and I might add going
to the times destroyed a great many
stereotypes I had harbored when I was at
The Wall Street Journal good about the
kind of people are at the times good you
know and to add to what Brett’s saying I
mean some of the most stereotyped some
of the most stereotyped people in
America by journalists are Trump voters
and
some of the stereotypes hold true but
some Donen I mean I remember him it’s
one of the reasons why it’s important to
get out there I remember going to an
early Trump rally in South Carolina just
before its primary and spending a couple
of hours there interviewing the voters
who’d come and each of those people
their take on reality wasn’t the same as
mine it wouldn’t have been the same as
Brett Caesar but each of them had a
specific and thought out reason why they
found Donald Trump attractive and none
of those reasons fit neatly into the
stereotype of Trump voters and I think I
mean I’ve always been under the under
the position if we want to under if we
want to get beyond Donald Trump we have
to understand in a real way and not a
superficial stereotypical way what made
him so appealing to so many voters
because we’re not going to reach those
voters with someone else unless we
understand that well sorry Brett you may
remember that when you were on Bill
Maher a year ago you responded to this
point exactly that there is a kind of
liberal blue state prejudice about a
Trump voter and that in fact there’s
other ways to see them and understand
him and there’s the very point that
Frank is making I’m gonna get back to
that Innes and later hopefully I want to
talk about what you think that the cause
of Trump how he became our president
we’ll get to that in a moment but I want

to first go back since we talked about
two of your columns I want to get to one
of yours that just came out today wasn’t
actually a column it was a much more
extended essay and and wanted I think he
very frequently read and because this is
the Y M H a people in this room might
care about this essay in particular and
this is really about progressive
liberalism and the politics that is not
unfamiliar to Frank and its obsession
with Israel the deemed Immunization
deluded the legitimacy of Israel and how
that oftentimes this kind of woke nests
progressiveness also slides into
anti-semitism and why is it that those
people who are who feel most strongly

This is the greatest blunder of Trump’s presidency

There is no way around it: President Trump lost.

He lost his gamble on shutting down the government. And though he will pretend otherwise, he has also lost his grandiose plan to build a border wall that most of the country does not want.

Trump walked away with nothing more than an assurance from congressional Democrats that they will sit down with Republicans for three weeks and try to come up with a border security plan that both parties can agree upon. There’s a reasonable chance they will come up with a solid proposal. But there’s just as much likelihood that Trump’s dream for a wall will die a quiet death there.

Nonetheless, this is the consequence of Trump’s obsession with satisfying the red-hatted, nativist throngs who chanted “build the wall” at so many of his rallies.

Not only do 6 in 10 Americans now disapprove of the job that the president is doing, but his party has also lost the 10-point edge it once held over the Democrats on the question of which party to trust on border security, according to a fresh Post-ABC News poll.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has shown that she better than Trump understands the art of the deal in Washington. She is the one who succeeded in building a wall — and Trump ran right into it.

Now, as Trump surveys the shambles that his greatest blunder has made of his presidency, the question is whether he and the Republicans learned anything from the five-week calamity that they caused. Will his party be as willing to follow him the next time he leads them toward the edge of a cliff?

If there is even a thin silver lining to the travesty of the longest-ever government shutdown, it is this: The Republicans’ slander of public servants has been exposed for what it is.

When the shutdown began, conservative pundits assured themselves that few Americans would notice or care, because only a quarter of the government was not being funded. By its final day, there was turmoil at airports, slowdowns at the Internal Revenue Service and countless individual stories of federal workers who were forced to find sustenance at food pantries and face agonizing choices between whether to pay for heat or medicine this month. In the Post-ABC poll, 1 in 5 people said they had personally been affected by the shutdown.

The stereotype of government employees as pampered, overpaid, Washington-bound bureaucrats has been around for many years. Republicans have long portrayed them as the enemies of reform and efficiency.

But Trump targeted them as no one did before. From his earliest months in office, he and his allies have portrayed those who dedicate their lives to serving their country as the corrupt, subversive “deep state” — the bottom-feeders of a swamp in need of draining.

As the shutdown began, Trump first made the absurd suggestion that 800,000 government workers were happy to give up grocery and rent money for a construction project on the U.S.-Mexico border that would stand as a monument to the president’s vanity. Then he contradicted himself in a tweet that declared it was largely his political enemies who were feeling the pain: “Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”

Where a little empathy might have been in order as the shutdown continued, Trump’s team revealed a callousness that would have made Marie Antoinette blush.

Trump economic adviser

  • Kevin Hassett said furloughed workers should be celebrating the fact they were getting time off without having to use vacation days. “In some sense, they’re better off,” he told PBS NewsHour. Commerce Secretary
  •  Wilbur Ross, a billionaire who pads around in custom-made velvet slippers, expressed bewilderment that federal workers would go to food banks instead of taking out a loan from a bank or credit union. And
  •  Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, dismissed their ordeal as “a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country.”

So it was noticeable that when Trump made his Rose Garden announcement Friday that the government was opening again, he began it by thanking federal workers who had displayed “extraordinary devotion in the face of this recent hardship. You are fantastic people. You are incredible patriots.”

On that point, Trump was absolutely right. Government employees have shown they are all that and more. Which is why they deserve much better than a chief executive who would wager so recklessly with their lives and their livelihoods.

Sarah Jeong and the Question of “Context”

Two years ago, the ESPN host Bomani Jones appeared on the network’s “Mike & Mike” morning show wearing a T-shirt that seemed, at first glance, to bear the logo of Cleveland’s baseball team, but, in place of the trademark cursive “Indians,” the shirt read “Caucasians”; the crude caricature of a Native American had also been altered to look like a grinning white man. The reaction was swift: ESPN demanded that he cover up the shirt while on air; many white people criticized Jones’s “racism” on social media. The point was easy to discern: Native Americans continue to be depicted in derogatory ways and relegated to a kind of racist stereotype in a manner that many white people would find intolerable were it directed at them. Stripped of context, the shirt appeared to be a needless racial provocation. Situated amid the dynamics that inspired it, though, the shirt becomes an attempt to undermine racism by forcing observers to think about the nature of the Indians’ iconography.

.. Jeong said in a statement that the tweets were intended to be an inversion of the racist and sexist trolling that had been a feature of her digital life—an attempt to fight racism by deploying its own language against it. She said, “While it was intended as satire, I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers.

.. Jeong’s satire defense is, indeed, not entirely sound. Her words may well have been satirical, but they are a form of satire with a high risk of collateral damage. The most devoutly bigoted figures of our era, such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Donald Trump, have used the satire loophole as a way to gerrymander the boundaries of acceptable conversation to contain their most inflammatory comments.

.. Donald Trump has reaped incalculable political benefit by exploiting the apprehension that white people have become societal punching bags. In his rhetoric, Trump is not missing the context but deliberately erasing it, contriving a misunderstanding that is profitable on multiple levels for its architects. They understand the current debate around free speech and social media not as an attempt to create parameters of decency around public dialogue but rather as part of a board game in which each side attempts to remove valuable pieces from the other’s team.

.. The dishonestly named Project Veritas has attempted a number of outlandish schemes meant to entrap journalists or distort their words into some fireable offense.

.. But there is also an even greater effort at work, aimed to strip away the moral authority of people belonging to a vulnerable group, in order to make the spurious argument that they’re too compromised to hold anyone outside that group accountable. This is the off-brand cousin of Trump’s method of responding to the Mueller probe: strip away the credibility of those who are making the accusation, and you diminish the weight of the accusations themselves.

..  the conversation in the past week has focussed entirely upon Jeong’s reactions to racist and sexist assaults rather than the fact that she was subjected to them in the first place.

..  the idea of reverse racism serves as a blunt instrument to facilitate the actual kind.

How the Supreme Court Replaced One Injustice With Another

.. During World War II, about 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent, including almost 40,000 foreign nationals living on the West Coast, were removed from their homes, forced to forfeit their possessions and then incarcerated on the basis of military orders authorized by the president.

.. The real reason for the government’s deplorable treatment of Japanese Americans was not acts of espionage but rather a baseless perception of disloyalty grounded in racial stereotypes

.. When President Trump used questionable evidence to issue executive orders last year banning immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, I heard the same kind of stereotypes that targeted the Japanese-Americans in World War II being used against Muslims.

.. we implored the court to repudiate its decisions in those cases while affirming their greater legacy: Blind deference to the executive branch, even in areas in which the president must wield wide discretion, is incompatible with the protection of fundamental freedoms.

.. But the court’s repudiation of the Korematsu decision tells only half the story. Although it correctly rejected the abhorrent race-based relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans, it failed to recognize — and reject — the rationale that led to that infamous decision. In fact, the Supreme Court indicated that the reason it addressed Korematsu was because the dissenting justices noted the “stark parallels between the reasoning of” the two cases.

.. the Supreme Court seemed to repeat the same bad logic of the 1940s decision by rubber stamping the Trump administration’s bald assertions that the “immigration travel ban” is justified by national security.

.. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained in her dissent

.. By blindly accepting the government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group, all in the name of a superficial claim of national security, the court redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu and merely replaces one ‘gravely wrong’ decision with another.”

.. The court’s decision replaced one injustice with another nearly 75 years later.

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.

Octavia Spencer in the Spotlight

The Oscar-nominated actress discusses her role in “Hidden Figures,” diversity at the Academy Awards and why she’s been cast as a nurse 16 times

 she wanted to play the part of an African-American protester who gives the signal for a riot to start against Ku Klux Klan members. “Joel told me that my face was too sweet for that role,” she says. Instead, he cast her as a nurse.
.. The role stuck. She has since played a nurse 15 more times