The Curse of Likability
Yvonne E. Mwende
“We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”
Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Culturally reinforced signals have dictated that women should not only be subservient, but likeable as well. With the likeability meter often imposed by the patriarchal society, hence, the scales tip against women. Where girls, are raised up to be women who shrivel up and change to please some amorphous entity, women who chip away and unburden themselves of their opinions that would not be deemed ‘likeable’.
While men would be applauded for being boisterous, successful, powerful, influential, such qualities unfortunately would land a woman into trouble. Consider this, in 2003 two professors from Columbia Business School and New York University ran an experiment to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace. They began with a Harvard Business School case study about a real-life entrepreneur — Heidi Roizen. The case described how Roizen became a successful venture capitalist by using her “outgoing personality … and vast personal and professional network [that] included many of the most powerful business leaders in the technology sector.” In the experiment half of the students were assigned to read Heidi’s story and the other half the same story with the name changed from ‘Heidi’ to ‘Howard’.
The professors then polled the students about their impressions of Heidi or Howard. Both were rated as equally competent — their accomplishments were identical. However, Howard came across as a more appealing colleague, while Heidi was seen as selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for”. It was the same data with a single difference — gender, and this created vastly different impressions. Men are easily liked by both men and women for having traits that would make a woman be less liked by people of both genders.
Here lies the problem. We teach women to disappear within themselves, put pressure on them to be likeable, to be nice, to abhor confrontation, to be acceptable to whomever sets the standards. This. Is. Very. Dangerous. Sexual predators have capitalized on this. Many women and girls endure abuse in silence — they after all have to be nice, not upset the status quo. As author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it, “Many girls spend too much time trying to be ‘nice’ to people who do them harm. Many girls think of the ‘feelings’ of those who are hurting them.” This is a sad reality. Women need to exorcise themselves of this curse. We have to refuse to live in a world where it hurts to be a woman — physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and sexually. It is burdensome. Sad — we do not teach boys likeability as we teach girls.
Fortunately, I Am My Bodyguard has consistently purposed to break this curse. Through the trainings, girls are taught to have confidence and to show aggression to a predator. They are taught to value self, not to chip away or hide, but to embody their full selves.
P/S: Please note, we will not hold our workshops as envisioned due to the government’s pronouncements on COVID 19 physical distancing. We do hope you keep safe and stay quarantined.