Thursday, March 05, 2020


Megan Garber's "America Punished Elizabeth Warren for Her Competence," in The Atlantic, is the best explanation I've read for Warren's struggles in the primaries. This part seems to be the key:
Late last month, the writer Kelli María Korducki wrote a post for Medium, an essay titled “Why High-Achieving Women Pretend Their Lives Are a Mess.” Korducki pointed to 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon as a particularly revealing kind of archetype: the woman who is successful in her career but who is also, in her personal life, a disaster....

For Korducki, the trope of the hot mess doubles as an indictment of how American culture perceives feminine ambition and success. She dubbed the phenomenon “Hot Mess Syndrome” ... You can read that syndrome ..., as Korducki does, as a kind of preemptive apology—and as a bid for relatability. To succeed as a woman on the terms set by the current culture, Korducki writes, “you’d best be a little bit of a fuck-up.”

Reading Korducki’s essay, I kept thinking of Warren.... I kept thinking of the ways the most successful woman candidate this cycle, in terms of blunt electoral outcomes, had the logic of the hot mess imposed on her....

What Warren’s words are ... is unapologetic. Warren, is, very notably, not a hot mess. She has presented herself as omnicompetent, in control, not even “a little bit of a fuck-up” ...

Such an absence of apology, however, is not something American politics—or, indeed, American culture—is fully accustomed to observing in women.
People who aren't comfortable with female achievement want a successful woman to seem like "a little bit of a fuck-up" -- but in presidential politics, a woman is rejected as arrogant and condescending if she isn't a fuck-up, and is rejected as not ready to lead if she is. Women can't win.

I'd add that we accept soaring, Warrenesque rhetoric about hope and possibility from men who are, like her, wonks and not fuck-ups (Barack Obama). We accept it from men who are wonks and are fuck-ups (Bill Clinton in his personal life). We accept it from men who don't know what the hell they're talking about and are the hottest of hot messes (Donald Trump).

Do Republicans get more of a break?

Carly Fiorina would beg to differ, and we'll see whether Nikki Haley or Ivanka Trump can beat Donald Trump Jr. or Tom Cotton for the 2024 nomination, much less the presidency. (I doubt it.) There was Sarah Palin, of course -- a non-wonk (to put it mildly) and an extremely hot mess. For a while, Palin was treated as presidential material on the right. But she lost favor on the right fairly rapidly after 2008.

I don't know what it is about Americans. We elect female governor and senators (at least in some states), but that glass ceiling seems more like concrete. I don't know what can break it.

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