Peter Kane – Relationship Theorist and author "The Monogamy Challenge"

Understanding Our Reactions to Hillary: Why Do We Resist Powerful Women?

I have always liked Hillary Clinton. When she was the First Lady, and in the years that followed, I often mentioned that I liked her and felt she is a good example of a strong, powerful and authoritative woman. I shared this in part because I knew that many people, both liberal and conservative, tended to criticize her. I spoke then, as I speak now, because I still think we as a society need to get more comfortable with the idea of a woman being powerful and authoritative. This has become even more dramatically obvious as this crazy presidential election has de-volved.

People’s resistance to Hillary is a fitting anecdote for how patriarchy has resulted in our being accepting of powerful or authoritative men and critical toward powerful or authoritative women. In my work with Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of Selves, we often talk about the value of both “personal” and “impersonal” energy. We usually need some of both to have successful relationships. If I ask people how they feel about men or woman if they are personal, meaning warm and friendly, or impersonal, meaning powerful or authoritative, a patriarchal bias is usually revealed. If I ask them how they tend to perceive a man who has a lot of impersonal energy, they will usually see him as a strong leader. If I ask them how they perceive a woman who has a lot of impersonal energy they often say “as a b_ _ _ _.” If I ask how they perceive a man with a lot of warm or personal energy, they often say weak or needy, and a woman with a lot of warm or personal energy is usually perceived positively as a motherly and generous person.

This might suggest that powerful women and nurturing men are screwed in our culture. At least until now (we have been trying to heal this since the 60’s) but this election may be showing us that we still have a long way to go.

Could this election be any more vulgar or abusive? Donald Trump seems to have attacked every group except the rich and white. We have also been listening to the most vulgar anti-female rhetoric of our time, and people (at least a relatively high number of them) are so conditioned by patriarchy that they think a crass, unscrupulous, male business man, would make for a better savior (or President) than an authoritative, intelligent, female lawyer!

If you are reading this, I probably don’t need to explain how sad and crazy it is that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. One of my views of how that happened is because the other Republican candidates were so similar to each other that the nut job stood out amongst them. The other candidates, although quite radical and conservative, became a sea of mediocrity and were lost. There was nothing hopeful about them and there was nothing more moderate for the republican base to get behind, so a radical edge became the majority when it was really a vocal minority. See my last blog on Donald Trump.

Many voters seem to be clear that they are voting for anyone but Trump. But with or without Trump, I think we have a lot to learn about ourselves by looking at why so many moderate voters (I refuse to use the term liberal to describe what is actually moderate) resist Hillary? I think a key issue could be described as her having more impersonal energy than many expect a woman to have. Her strength is perceived as being colder because she is a woman. This effects how we react to her strong statements and to her jokes and laughter. It effects how we feel about her body, health or weight. Even her non-scandals might be viewed differently if she was a man. We might give a man more latitude because he was a leader doing what was necessary to produce change. One thing for certain is that if she was a super cuddly grandma type that she wouldn’t be electable or have survived law school, let alone Arkansas and DC politics. Now that we she is an experienced Politician (with some crusty edges) we hold her to false notions of how women are supposed to be pleasers, nurturers, and sex objects.

This can teach us about all kinds of relationships. To learn from this would mean that we all need to see and resolve or bias’s, and then adjust for them. Do we expect the most knowledgeable clerk at a hardware store to be a man? Nurses to be women? And so on. But, perhaps more importantly, do we expect different things from our male and female friends? If a woman expresses a stronger opinion than we expect are we more apt to withdraw or criticize her for being crabby? If a man is more emotional or yielding, do we judge him for being weak? By seeing these bias’s we can guide ourselves toward accepting things that we have been uncomfortable with in the past. Being a feminist could include directing a question at the hardware store to a female clerk. It could include pausing and letting go of your resistance to a female friends strong opinion. It could involve taking the lead when a man yields.

Nearly my entire book applies to this query. It is about understanding your unique history and how your position creates your relationships. It also has chapters on Patriarchy, Matriarchy, and how selves – both personal and impersonal effect relationships.

I also want to be clear that I am not suggesting that Hillary is a minority in the truest sense. She is not. She is a rich white women. I am suggesting that having a woman serve as President of the United States, is difficult for a surprisingly large number of voters. It is helpful to understand that true Feminism has evolved since the 70’s to include race and class. So it would be fair to argue that Hillary is part of the dominant class and race, and that another subtlety to this is that she has been a target of some reverse discrimination. She would make for a great case study about the intersection of gender, race and class, but here I am focusing more simply on how we react to women with power. Remember that women only won the right to vote 96 years ago.

May we all continue to be comfortable with all aspects of ourselves, including authority.

P.S.: I am sorry it took me so long to write this blog. Perhaps waiting until election day is fitting, so I might add: congratulations Hillary!

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