Hillary Clinton’s So-Called Likability Problem Is Our Issue, Not Hers

Of all the things I’ve learned researching what women voters really think about Hillary Clinton, and whether they love her or love her not as the possible first woman president of the United States, not once has anyone ever said, “You know, I’d really like her lot and she’d have my support, if only she was a knitter!”

Women have found plenty to scrutinize Hillary over — some won’t vote for her because of certain marital choices she’s made and others laud her for leading the way on women’s and children’s issues. Some ponder whether they can vote for her because they don’t sense that she’s “authentic”, while others are total fan girls who admire her without question for her loyalty and focus. But never has anyone said to me, “You know, I’d really be able to finally throw my support to Hillary if she just took up tennis!” Or photography. Or wine tasting.

Yet New York Times commentator David Brooks claims to have solved the so-called Hillary Clinton likability paradox, pronouncing that people just don’t like her because she has no hobbies. After all, who can trust a commander in chief that’s all business, all the time?

Bill and Barack played golf! GWB had all that brush to clear on his ranch and he liked to take spins on his road bike! Reagan was a manly man riding his horses decked out in his cowboy gear. Of course, Richard Nixon would have been much better off without his obsession with audio equipment. While Brooks wants us to believe he’s finally answered the Hillary riddle, many women know that his theory isn’t about presidential hobbies at all.

The underlying message here is that you can’t look presidential unless you’ve got a physical activity that people relate to, or, more precisely, that men relate to. Hobbies equal a competitive endeavor that, in a man’s world, translate to vitality and strength, rather than something that is part of nurturing a family, like, say, quilt-making. If Paul Ryan does ever run for president, he’s all set with his P90X workout.

And if Hillary Clinton was suddenly seen installing a craft table in her Chappaqua home because of newfound interest in scrapbooking (all those pictures of baby Charlotte, you know!), you can be sure the hobby card would turn quickly into the ‘we don’t want a distracted grandma in the White House’ card.

Brooks’ theory on women candidates and likability is about to backfire, though, because in a 21st century working woman’s world, there is little time for hobbies, exercise-related or not. Ask around. I’m not comparing most women’s schedules to that of a Secretary of State who flew 950,000+ miles or a presidential candidate who seems to suffer sexist slings and arrows at every turn. Most of the women I know don’t have time for a hobby, especially like the tried and true presidential pastime of golf that demands a solid block of at least five undisturbed hours. We’re lucky if we can slip in a little time for the kinds of things Hillary has actually admitted to doing (which Brooks would have discovered with a quick Google search) like her love of HGTV, Parks and Recreation, a nice glass of wine or some quality grandma time with Charlotte. I suspect if Hillary — or most of the women I know — had five hours to herself, she might take up the hobby of competitive napping.

This male criticism of an alleged workaholic female — one who wants to become the president of the United States — is less about dissecting the Hillary Clinton paradox than it is about suggesting that there’s yet one more thing wrong with serious, ambitious women. We don’t smile enough. We take compliments out of context and call them sexist critique. Our ambition is destructive. And if we don’t have a hobby that looks like one all the guys have, then our dedication to work is suspect.

All this falls squarely into the category of “you can’t win for losing.”

When it comes to likability and how we define that, Hillary isn’t the one with the problem. We are.

Paradox. Conundrum. Call it what you will. But the problem is within us when it comes to how we view powerful, accomplished women. If we, as Brooks, hold it against Clinton that she isn’t in a book club with her Hillaryland gal pals or that she’s putting our interests ahead of her free time, then our electoral issues with her will deserve their own political therapeutic diagnostic codes.

Joanne Bamberger is the author/editor of the award-winning book “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox” (She Writes Press). She is also the editor in chief of The Broad Side, a noted digital magazine of women’s commentary. You can find her on Twitter at @jlcbamberger and at joannebamberger.com.

Expert on women & politics. Author/Editor of Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox. Opinion journalist, attorney, photographer

Expert on women & politics. Author/Editor of Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox. Opinion journalist, attorney, photographer