Everyone wants to be liked. Sure, not everyone lies awake worrying about whether the bus driver thought they were likeable or not (just me? Okay.), but no one wants to be despised. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘Ah! What a beautiful day! How can I alienate the entire human race today?’ (Okay, maybe Donald Trump thinks that – but I’m not convinced he’s human.)
But whilst everyone wants to be likeable – at least to an extent – not everyone needs to be likeable.
White, rich, cis, straight, abled men don’t need to be likeable. Being a colossal c**k womble didn’t stop Steve Jobs accumulating a net worth of over $10 billion. No one looked at him and thought ‘Great business man – but would you wanna go for a pint with him?’
Women though–women need to be likeable. How many women have lost out on a promotion because ‘She’s great. Highly skilled. But she’s a bit cold isn’t she. Not very likeable.’ Just ask Hillary ‘Nasty Woman’ Clinton–she knows all about it.
BAME people (that’s Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), also need to be likeable. More than that – they need to be perfect. Polite, but not a doormat. Confident, but not brash and arrogant. Educated, but not exclusionary. They need to be everything and more, just to avoid being shot in the streets (and even then, that’s not always enough).
Curiously, politicians need to be likeable too–regardless of their race or gender (although likeability certainly has more of an impact on BAME or female politicians).
“Policies don’t win elections. Being likeable does.”
Nigel Farage made it onto the televised leader’s debates in 2015 purely because Gaz down the road thought he was a ‘proper ledge’. Ed Miliband lost the election because he once ate a bacon sandwich a bit weirdly on the telly. Donald Trump secured arguably the most important job in the world because he somehow managed to convince middle (white) America that he was a Great Guy.
Succeeding in Western politics right now seems to have less to do with competency, and more to do with whether or not you’d be good bantz on a lads’ holiday to Ibiza (do lads still go to Ibiza? I have no idea). Policies don’t win elections. Being likeable does.
Valuing likeability above all else in politics is a dangerous game. Not only does it negate the importance of things like, oh I don’t know, policies, but it rigs the system even further against women and minorities.
Because being likeable isn’t about being nice or polite or even a person that a lot of people like. It’s about being white, educated, rich, and respectable. It’s about fitting neatly into society’s ideals, in every way possible. If you deviate from ‘the norm’ in away, god help you – and god help your campaign.
If we’re going to place importance on likeability in politics, we need to expand the definition of likeable. Until we do, we’re going to keep electing people like Donald Trump and Theresa May – who if you ask me aren’t very likeable at all.