The Societal Villainization of Powerful Women

By Nicole Chedraoui

If you had to make a list of the people who hold the most power in our country, who would you write? Perhaps you would write the President of the United States. Maybe members of the Senate, Congress, or the House of Representatives. Of those people you thought of, how many of them were female? If I were to take a guess, I’d say not nearly enough.  It’s no secret that our government is predominantly run by men, but have you ever really questioned why that is? Better yet, have you ever noticed the recurring pattern of villainization among the already small percentage of females in powerful positions? Let’s talk statistics. In the 2016 national election, polls revealed that both men and women prefer men in senior executive roles at Fortune 500 companies, and only two women make an appearance on the 51 top-rated CEOs that employees enjoy working for. Later, a shocking study revealed a troubling trend: Women, as well as minorities, often get a chance at leadership only in times of turmoil–such as when a company is in extreme debt or on the brink of bankruptcy before the woman is even in the leading position. Corporate America is full of examples of this phenomenon. Think of Marissa Mayer becoming chief executive of Yahoo when it was deeply troubled. Mary T. Barra became the first woman to run a major auto company just as the recall scandal began to ruin General Motors, the list goes on and on.  

This phenomenon really makes us question why women are still being treated unfairly in positions of power in 2020. One answer could be that many entitled individuals just don’t like seeing a woman acting like a boss. A research study conducted a few years ago revealed that women face a tremendous amount of backlash, both personally and financially, when they act assertively at work. Female leaders are repeatedly more likely to be called abrasive, strident, aggressive, and even too emotional on the job. Given the disasters so many of these female workers inherit, it’s really not surprising that female chief executives are more likely to get forced out of their jobs than male ones.  As of the early 1970s, no woman had ever been a chief executive of a Fortune 500 company; in April of this year, there were 23 women at the helm of the Standard & Poors 500. So as you can probably tell, our country holds a complicated relationship with powerful women, unfortunately making women have to repeatedly prove themselves–over and over again. And no, dragging one woman through the process doesn’t make it easier for those who follow. I feel it’s important that we recognize some of the strong-willed, determined, and powerful women in our society today–specifically those who have been victims of this societal villainization. 

#1 Alexandria Ocasio Cortez AKA AOC 

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has become a breakout star in the Democratic Party since June of this year, when she pulled off a stunning upset in the New York Midterm primaries, demolishing Rep. Joe Crowley, former top democrat of the house. Once news spread of her winnings, uncoincidentally so did the blistering, non-stop criticism.  While it may be expected that this self-proclaimed socialist may receive some backlash for her views, I’m not here to talk about validating or disputing her views, I’m here to talk about how the connection of her being a fairly successful young woman has earned her the title of a villain.

 Rather than attacking her views, they attack things about her personal life, such as her clothes, her boyfriend, and even her childhood home. Some have even gone as far as to offer her money to debate her, to prove her wrong and belittle her. I believe it’s possible, in some subconscious way, that her offenders are both drawn to and repelled by Alexandria. After all, she’s a compelling young woman with a successful background and education, who is passionate about her beliefs in making our country better.  Being constantly surrounded by elderly white men always on the verge of tearing her down, AOC is repeatedly having to prove herself to the other side, more so than any other male on the left. 

#2 Michelle Obama 

Even if you don’t keep up to date with politics, if you are a citizen of the United States, I think you all know who Mrs. Michelle Obama is.  In 2009, the Obama’s made history by being the first black family to ever set foot in the White House.  While this was a huge accomplishment and step in the right direction for our country, it didn’t stop racist people from knocking down not just Obama, but also Michelle.  Many believe that Michelle Obama may be the most hated first lady in history. Coincidence? I think not. The accomplished lawyer and writer with two Ivy league degrees was almost instantaneously being shut down by the media, and not just for her political beliefs. Additionally, many people have dehumanized Michelle, not even recognizing her as a separate from Barack, hating Michelle by association, and underestimating her intelligence as a woman. This isn’t uncommon for many women though, as many are still looked upon as only being good for a man, and usually inferior to the man in power. Whether you agree with her politics or not, Michelle Obama deserves the respect of being recognized as her own separate human being with a brain of her own. 

#3 Sarah Palin 

Sarah Palin is a retired politician, commentator, author, and reality-television personality; she is also known for serving as the ninth governor of Alaska. She ended up leaving office after an unsuccessful run on John McCain’s presidential ticket, running as the repulican vice president candidate. Although Sarah was loved by many, it’s safe to say she has way more than her fair share of haters.  It may be understandable if Sarah was president and produced such a vast amount of controversy, but the governor of Alaska? Most people can’t even name a dozen governors off the top of their head, let alone obsess over what they’re doing. No, the villainization of Sarah Palin is far more than just her political views, starting with her gender. Had Sarah Palin been elected into the White House, she would have been the first female vice president in the history of our country. Rather than just belittle her political views, they went all out, trying to belittle her power and superiority. Within days of her announcement to run for VP, many had made up conspiracy theories about her faking a pregnancy, and many even suggested that she can’t be a good mother and a politician too.  The idea that a woman is good for nothing except being a mother is not only antiquated, but insulting to every single one of the capable women in this country. By tearing apart women leaders, such as Sarah Palin, we’re showing young girls that they aren’t fit to accomplish things that are considered a “man’s job.” I don’t know about you, but that philosophy seems toxic to me. 

Our country is overflowing with powerful women. In the media, on television, in our government, even in our corporate workforce, there is no doubt that women are just as capable, if not more capable, to achieve incredible things. We have come such a long way fighting to empower women and enforce equality in our world, but there’s no doubting there is still work to be done. So I’ll leave you today with the words of feminist icon Taylor Swift, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can. Wonder If I’d get there quicker if I was a man.” The unfortunate truth is,  you would probably get there quicker if you were a man.  

And to my ladies, remember your power and your capabilities. Change is coming. 

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