My Gen X Hillary Problem: I Know Why We Don’t “Like” Clinton
Then a few weeks ago I heard a clip on the radio of a young man questioning Clinton at a town hall meeting in Iowa. “I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest,” he said. “But I’d like to hear from you on why you think the enthusiasm isn’t there.”
It was subtle, but there was something in his tone I recognized. It was not a tone you would use to speak to someone who was a former secretary of state and senator. It was the tone you reserve for that dumb chick in your meeting who probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It was a tone I’d heard countless times over the course of my career, and in that moment I suddenly saw Hillary Clinton in an entirely different light.
I played his comment back in my head, trying to pinpoint exactly what I found so irksome, and realized it was the phrasing “I’d like to hear from you.” The phrase has tiny flecks of condescension in it. It’s not the way you’d phrase a question to someone you believe deserves a place at the table. And then I thought back over the course of my career, and made a mental list of all the times someone had phrased something in a way that had just a soupçon of implied incompetence to it.
And in that moment, as the young Iowan’s voice rattled around in my head, I knew I would support Hillary. Not just because we both have a uterus (thank you, Killer Mike). Not because I’m afraid of going to a special place in hell (thank you, Madeleine Albright). I’m supporting her because as a member of Generation X, I’ve lived through enough to understand that if Hillary were a man she’d be the front-runner hands-down. I haven’t suffered the overt sexism of earlier generations, but in its place has come a more oblique, more insidious variant. It’s the kind that makes you question whether the fault might lie with you and your abilities. It gives rise to questions about why people aren’t enthusiastic about you, why they didn’t like it when you took a strident tone with them and then, when you adjusted course, complained that you weren’t aggressive enough, or why there’s something about you that just feels wrong. In politics people call this likability. And the female politicians we “like” are few and far between, because they remind us of our mothers or wives or that girl you hated in gymnastics class. We don’t have a frame of reference for what it looks like for women to be running the show, so if she’s not a man, she comes across as all wrong. In the tech world people don’t talk about “likability.” Instead they say, “Mike is going to present to the client because he’s got a great style. But don’t worry, you’ll still have a few slides that you can really own.”