The problem became clear early in my coverage of Hillary Clinton.
It wasn’t that I had disclosed I was a supporter, although certainly there were people who objected to what they perceived as my bias, no matter how diligently I detailed my metrics for assessing the candidates.
It wasn’t even that I respected her and her record (with some acknowledged disagreements), or that I believed she would make a competent president. There were plenty of Serious People who believed the same, so that was tolerated.
It was that I like her.
I like Hillary Clinton with unabashed enthusiasm. I like listening to her speak, I like looking at photos of her interacting with people, I like her resplendent jackets and colorful pantsuits, I like her loud laugh, I like her expressive face.
These things, one might note, are not about policy. They are about liking Hillary as a human being.
When I look at her, I don’t see a stereotype of a nagging wife or mother, nor the caricature of a man-hating feminist, nor an extension of her husband (or his administration), nor an embodiment of some nebulous evil.
I see her.
This was not always the case. I’ve written previously about my own experience coming to like and admire Hillary, which required a journey past entrenched false narratives about her and past my own internalized misogyny.
Through that fog emerged the picture of a person whom I like very much indeed.
When I write about her, that comes through. It’s not because I can’t help it; it’s because I want it to be clear, in the spaces between every letter and every line, that I am writing about a woman I like.
It’s a thoroughly conscious rejection of the corrupt dynamic in the political press that requires a perceptible contempt of Hillary in order to establish credibility among the gatekeepers.
I refuse to perform disdain, or even an affected neutrality, in writing about her, in order that I might earn the plaudits of people who have spent four decades transmitting lies about her and burying her in thinly-veiled (or shamelessly overt) misogyny.
That I like her does not inhibit my commitment to facts, nor my willingness to dissent when I disagree with her.
But it renders me uncredible all the same. Because she is “unlikeable.” This is treated as objective fact by the same people who spent the entirety of the campaign invisibilizing her enthusiastic supporters, to uphold their spiteful construct. Spiteful, but effective — which is why women were obliged during the campaign to write pieces with titles like “An All-Caps Explosion of Feelings Regarding the Liberal Backlash Against Hillary Clinton” and “I Like Hillary Clinton. Get Used To It.”
And if she’s unlikeable, what kind of a person likes her?
(Someone, perhaps, who knows they, too, are unlikeable, when held to the same standards.)
This is why the likeability narrative is so persistent: It is the basis from which all other discrediting flows. If you can be so wrong about liking a person who is objectively unlikeable, then your judgment is suspect on everything else.
Only a person who is an utter fool would like a woman so hated. Only a person who doesn’t understand How Politics Works would be taken in by this loathsome charlatan. Only a person who is intractably compromised by their fealty to womanhood would overlook that she is a monster.
If you like her, you must not be very bright. Or decent. Or credible.
The first two are merely insults, bonus features to the main event. It’s that last one — assailing credibility — which is the true objective.
Liking the world’s most unlikeable woman is so very wrong; anyone who does can’t possibly be trusted to get anything right. Don’t trust their facts. Don’t trust their figures. Don’t believe anything they say at all. Ignore them. They are irredeemably stupid.
That’s the goal. And people who like Hillary Clinton had this done to them — and watched it happen to others — over and over and over. It is happening still.
Don’t listen to her. Don’t listen to him. Don’t listen to them. They like Hillary Clinton.
Up and down my Twitter mentions for the last two years, when I am talking about something altogether different than Hillary, I have seen variations on: “Heads up — you might want to take anything she says with a grain of salt. She is a Hillary supporter.”
That is the power of the unlikeability narrative: 65,844,610 people cast votes for Hillary Clinton, millions and millions of them affirmatively, enthusiastically, not just as a vote against her revolting opponent. And yet to like her is to be rendered unilaterally untrustworthy.
To openly like Hillary Clinton, for a political writer, limits your career options, closes off opportunities. Because you are assumed to be foolish — and quite possibly mentally ill. That’s how thick the stigma of liking Hillary is.
For the average person, it can mean ridicule and disdain, along with the hefty dose of stomach-heaving gaslighting that accompanies being treated as a lunatic for confessing you like a woman who has been chosen as Gallup’s most admired woman of the year twenty-one times.
This is a problem. And it’s one with which we’re going to have to reckon if the United States is ever going to have a feminist female president.
Because, despite the plethoric horseshit arguments that it’s just Hillary Clinton who is uniquely unlikeable, we witnessed the hatred unleashed on Senator Elizabeth Warren after she endorsed Hillary, and we have seen very familiar narratives being used against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and we are now witnessing Senator Kamala Harris being subjected to same garbage, just as we have watched the same plays out of the same yellowed, dog-eared playbook being used against Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Maxine Waters, and and and...
The unlikeable label is so effective because it is contagious: Not only does it diminish the woman at whom it’s directed, but it diminishes all the people who like and enthusiastically support her.
We must push back on this dynamic, unyieldingly. Part of that will be our willingness to keep liking “unlikeable” ladies without cringe or caveat.
It shouldn’t be a radical thing to say, but it is, and here I am saying it (again): I like Hillary Clinton.
[Photo credit: Barbara Kinney for Hillary for America.]