The Cute-and-Little Stage Hurts Hillary Clinton Chances with Young Women

It’s been a while since I’ve written about this topic, but little has changed.  On Huffington Post today, I revisit it in terms of Hillary Clinton’s run for president.   In They Don’t Get It, Do They?  (re-released recently on Kindle), I wrote about the “cute-and-little effect” where young women are duped into thinking that those old feminists have in wrong.  TDGI was published a while ago.  Of course, so was Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetic.  And while I’m not Aristotle, some things are true for a long time.  One of those is that when it comes to preparing oneself for politics in the workplace, in nonprofits or in government, women often have a slow start.

Women, as a rule, start their careers enjoying male mentoring and encouragement.  They begin to think that things have changed.  They don’t need to be feminists, God forbid. They can sit back and reap the benefits of those old gals who worked so hard to level the field.  The truth is that young women are eventually blindsided by politics.  If you have a daughter, you might tell her this.  There is no point too early to learn that negative forms of politics are inevitable in most organizations and your turn to deal with them is going to come.  Most men know this as well they should.

Hillary Clinton knows this in spades.  She has had to deal with politics in a very public way.  She knows that she has to be twice as good to even get a chance at grabbing the gold ring.  She makes mistakes.  After all, who is there for her to learn from?  Not many women.  Much of what she does is trial and error.  Given that, she’s doing well.

Some women try to stay in the cute-and-little phase for as long as possible. Recently, a woman told me that she used that phase effectively.  Now, she can’t do that anymore. There comes a point where it’s up or out and up means becoming a threat to some people.

Women need to learn about politics as soon as they enter the workplace.  Before is fine too.  There’s no need to become demoralized or defensive about the inevitability of politics that get in the way of women’s progress.  Once you know the terrain, navigation becomes easier.

Clinton has known the terrain for some time.  Her navigation efforts may seem unnecessary to some young women.  But it won’t be long before their cute-and-little phase runs its course.  If they are ready, they won’t be blindsided.  They may be criticized for being assertive or even aggressive, but nobody becomes a leader by being cute and demure and criticizing other women for not being sufficiently feminine.

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What Exactly is Political Correctness?

When I begin to write a blog entry on this site, a question pops up. It asks, “What’s on your mind?” The answer for the last few days is the term “political correctness” bandied about for some years, and especially by Republican presidential candidates of late, as a way to disparage forms of speech often intended to stem hated and bias.

What is political correctness to you? When we don’t ask such questions of ourselves, terms like “PC” are used as propaganda. If we’re not paying attention, if we fail to question the appropriateness of their use, we are more easily persuaded.  We are like sponges.

Having studied persuasion all of my career, watching how words are used is a significant part of what I do. And so it is with “political correctness.”

Here is one definition:

“Political correctness is a term primarily used as a pejorative to describe language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society; in pejorative usage, those who use the term are generally implying that these policies are excessive.”

Excessive by what standard? Inconveniencing which people? It’s easy to refer to consideration for others by using words not offensive to them as “PC” — a negative thing. Is it really? At least, is it really in all cases or is it also a way to reduce conflict and to enhance civility?

More on this later. Just raising the issue right now. When is such consideration of people unlike ourselves in some way a negative thing, when is sensitivity to what might cause them offense simply too much in light of other concerns, and when is it a useful and productive way to raise our own sensitivity to cultural, gender, age, or other differences? The answers are not simple.  Asking these questions of ourselves is important. At least then, we’re thinking.  At least then we’re not duped.

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Mental Health is in Our Hands

I’ve been away from blogging, but back now and  writing after some time about mental health.  My blog on Huffington Post is the first of many.

Few of us are from families that have not been touched, at the very least, by mental illness.  How could we be?  One in four of us experiences mental illness or neurological disease in the course of a lifetime.  And, as Governor Chris Christie so eloquently pointed out this week when discussing drug addiction, it’s easy to judge and easy to place the blame when bad things happen to other people.  The reality is that you could be simply minding your own business and doing just about everything as well as possible and still have your number come up.

Until medical science is far beyond where it is today, placing blame is a waste of time.  Sure, we can take some responsibility for bad things that happen, but even then it’s usually in hindsight.  Hopefully, we learn and do better. People with mental illness need our help. Their families need that help too.  That’s one place where we can definitely do better.

So, when well-intentioned people gather to change the appalling lack of excellent mental health care, the last thing we need is politicians taking strident stands, refusing to move forward and sentencing others to life-long despair.  We can do far better.  And with the first bipartisan step in the passage of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 2646) that occurred this week, we need to be sure we don’t allow the momentum to cease.

As a former debater, a professor of persuasion and politics, I expect there to be weaknesses in whatever solutions are proposed.  As a person, a friend, a relative of people who suffer, I’m anxious to hear all sides.  But to allow mental health care to remain in a deplorable state helps no one.  The harm is inestimable, the pain excruciating.  As a researcher, I know that there are few answers that can be completely supported as we work in a domain of probabilities, not of fact.  But there is one fact:  We cannot afford the status quo.  It is unscientific, it is unethical, and it is immoral.


How to help:  Members of the Energy & Commerce Committee listed here.  Send them and/or your senators and congressional representatives a note or forward the Huffpo blog and urge them to vote for HR2646. Ask for a reply!


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“Boots on the Ground” — A Close-up on Campaign Rhetoric

Today I posted a short blog at Huffington Post. Democrat or Republican, the next time I hear a presidential candidate talk about putting “boots on the ground” I might spit. Where are the journalists who should be asking exactly what that means? And I don’t just mean sending troops. I’m talking about when they return home too.

It’s one of those euphemisms that allows the user to seem tough. In reality, more often than not, its purpose is to make the person who isn’t going to be in those boots and whose child is not likely to be in them either appear patriotic. In that sense, it’s cheap. It should be dropped from the lexicon of campaign rhetoric, drummed out as meaningless drivel.

Decisions to send men and women to war are complex and should not be reduced to four words. Making oneself appear eligible to be commander-in-chief by employing those words should render one ineligible.

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That “Biden Magic” Revealed Again

In 2007, I posted a blog entitled “That Biden Magic”. That magic is depth, empathy, humor and humility. We saw it again with Stephen Colbert, who has also overcome adversity. As we continue to think about authenticity this week and as the election moves forward, it’s well worth a few moments to listen to Vice President Joe Biden share what really matters.  All candidates for the U.S. presidency could take a few lessons from this interview, including how few words it takes to convey ideas when they come from the heart.

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Additional Thoughts on Authenticity

Having read the responses here and on my Huffington Post blog, “Authentic Politics: What is That?” I think the subject warrants some additional discussion. So, here are a few thoughts.

When we’re discussing authenticity, there is being true to oneself and conveying that sense of center to others and there is adapting to the situation. They can be at odds. Or a situation can simply be new. Do we agree so far?

If we want to know the “real you,” it could be argued that it exists outside of situational demands. To some extent, this is quite possible. Your moral sense, emotional inclinations, and style predispositions, as examples, can be largely static. But, we come to know other people through how they handle situations. We can’t use a microscope to look inside their brains and see who they really are.

So, while it is preferable at times to get to know someone “warts and all,” we cannot be sure in most circumstances how that person will respond in all situations. This is especially the case with politicians. They are faced, as all of us are, with the challenge of conveying competence while also being likable. To meet this challenge, they manage how they communicate.

Right here is a problem for some people. They are looking for a candidate about whom they feel “what you see is what you get.” Any managing of behavior is dissembling and so diminishes authenticity.

But how are people supposed to just be themselves? What does that mean? Aren’t we all works in progress, growing and changing?

Some people adapt easily to situations and are as comfortable being assertive as they are being accommodating. We might call this the Bill Clinton advantage. He is Bill when angry or sad. At least we think he is. He can stretch his style and be as comfortable in one as in another. He appears to not stray far from his center for any appreciable length of time. Such people may express anger because the situation calls for it, but not become an angry person in the process. Bill gets this. He’s learned to move smoothly across styles.

Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. She is also a woman.
Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford University Graduate School of Business writes and speaks about how power looks. Appearing authoritative is important and yet so is being approachable and being able to relate to people on a human level. To appear authoritative, we tend to close ourselves off somewhat. Being approachable involves being more relaxed and open. Gruenfeld describes how we can “play high” or “play low” appearing more authoritative or approachable in the process.

Most women are socialized to use the body language of someone with lower rank. We also learn to speak in such ways. When we decide that we need to lead with authority, sometimes we leap rather than tweak and we create distance from others that causes them to judge us harshly.

Hillary Clinton tends to lead with distance rather than closeness, at least outside of her circle of friends. When you think about it, why wouldn’t she? As a woman, she must prove her competence. She’s running for president. Can she take the heat? If she sacrifices competence in order to be likable, a price is paid. If she does so suddenly, people distrust the move as contrived. The most she can do is tweak her style. Doing so while being viewed and written about in the media 24/7 is a tall order.

If Hillary were more like Bill, first of all, she wouldn’t be Hillary. Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves what kind of president we want. That is, to some extent, different than asking whether we like Hillary Clinton. Can she do the job? Is she competent? Does she stand for what we care about? Is she able to work with world leaders? Does she have an impressive track record? Does she have the best interests of the country at heart and will she act to protect those interests?

This doesn’t mean how she communicates is irrelevant. It also doesn’t mean that by stretching her style she is not being true to herself and honest with us. We all stretch, present our best selves at times and adapt to situations. We grow. So long as we don’t take this stretching too far, so long as we aren’t different people at different times with no identifiable character foundation, such adaptation is a natural part of being human.  Authenticity, I’m suggesting, allows flexibility.  At times we need to be more authoritative, at other times more approachable.  For women, especially, learning to differentiate among situations and alter our styles to accommodate them is complex because leadership has been a largely male domain.  Some of this is all new.  Many of us have been out there trying to find a good fit in positions of leadership.  It’s a struggle.  Hillary Clinton, like her or not, is out there, “warts and all,” breaking new ground.

Posted in Politics, Tutorials for Women, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

What is an authentic politician?

Is there any such thing? That’s the focus of the blog I’m posting at Huffington Post. Given the media’s propensity to accept “some people say” support as journalism, it’s difficult, at best, to get at what’s real. The task of political candidates is to somehow get past such loose requirements for sources to get their message out. For Hillary Clinton, the task is huge. The blog explores what authenticity should mean and how candidates, especially Clinton, can begin to break through with an authentic message. The task is tougher for women, though that isn’t intended as an excuse. Warren Buffet thinks Clinton should have been “blunt” earlier about the email fiasco and admires Bernie Sanders for being so.

How does she go from explaining at length issues that most people don’t care to dissect to letting people know who she really is?  And is the real Hillary Clinton necessarily one-dimensional? In other words, is authenticity a trap if what it means is communicating the “real you” as if people are that simple?

Most of us have complex characters. Is authenticity being used by people like Andrea Mitchell as a weapon against Clinton, by defining it in a way that makes it impossible to achieve? Worth exploring.

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