In one of the most memorable scenes in A Bronx Tale Calogero asks his mentor Sunny a very important question: Is it better to be loved or feared?
Sunny, the neighborhood’s top Mafioso breaks down the particulars to his young protégé:
It’s a good question. It’s nice to be both, but it’s difficult.
If I had my choice, I would rather be feared. Fear lasts longer than love. Friendships bought with money mean nothing. If I make a joke, everybody laughs. I’m funny, but not that funny.
Fear keeps them loyal, but the trick is not to be hated.
This conversation immediately popped into my mind while I was reading Jessica Valenti’s article on women and likeability for The Nation. In her piece, “She Who Dies With the Most ‘Likes’ Wins?” Valenti discusses the perilous line women are often forced to walk between being liked and being successful.
Valenti argues, as many women have before her, that being successful can sometimes come at the expense of personal likability, and for many women, being thought of favorably is a hard thing to give up, even to reach the top.
To further her point, Valenti quotes Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who told the graduates of Barnard College “that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”
Sandberg explains: “This means that as men get more successful and powerful, both men and women like them better. As women get more powerful and successful, everyone, including women, likes them less. “
During her speech, Sandberg shared her experiences of being ripped to shreds and being called a “two-faced liar” when she joined Facebook. Some argued that Sandberg’s addition would “ruin” Facebook, but instead of trying to assuage her critics and get people to think she was a nice person, she focused on doing her job well. Soon, the critics waned and Sandberg continued being one of the most respected people in the tech industry. But she had to get over her need to be liked in order to be the boss.
Valenti’s article and Sandberg’s anecdote made me think of Nene Leakes, the reality TV diva turned sitcom star. While Leakes is best known as the most outspoken–and truth be told, interesting–member of the Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) cast, she has successfully leveraged her over-the-top personality to pull off a feat many reality TV stars simply dream of: she’s crossed over.
In case you had any doubts, the self-proclaimed “rich bitch” has officially made it.
Although Nene comes off as a bit of a hot head on the show, there’s one thing she will not do: hold her tongue. It’s a trait many have both loved and loathed about her. But while Leakes has made a name for herself being anything but nice, even she is aware of the notion that above all else women must be likable.
In the December issue of Ebony Leakes says:
“I can be outspoken if I’m pushed. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I am lovable, but people take kindness for weakness. I come into a situation being very kind. I may take all I can take and then blow completely up. I go so left. I think that’s a lot of what [RHOA] has shown. The cameras only show when I got completely nuts. But there’s not a person who has worked with me in the industry who will tell you that I came in being a diva or demanding. They all say I’m nicer than they thought I would be and that I’m very professional.”
What does it mean that a woman like Leakes, who has made her fortune verbally cutting others down to size, goes out of her way to assure the public that underneath the mocking tweets and epic on-screen battles that she’s actually a nice person?
While I think Nene couldn’t care less if folks think she’s good people—as her personality and behavior have suggested—she knows that in order for women to be truly successful they need to be liked (to a degree), but if you go out of your way to be accepted (or loved) by everyone—placing acceptance above all else–your personal success will take a hit.
Because as Sunny explains to Calogero, while it’s better to be feared (or respected), the trick is not to be hated.
There is a quote that says, “Well behaved women seldom make history,” and while this is true to an extent, women are often forced to tow both lines—being a bitch (or demanding/ambitious/go-getter) while remaining personable.
Think about it. For every person who thinks Oprah is a saint, others will say she’s the meanest witch that ever blew into Chicago. And for everyone ready to praise Michelle Obama as the epitome of womanhood, I’m sure she has her detractors as well.
So how do you find the sweet spot between being ambitious and being liked? You don’t really. The only safe haven–as Nene and Oprah and many successful woman before them have shown–is to be yourself.
Perhaps you are a little too blunt, or maybe you’re obsessed with decorum. Whatever it is, embrace it. Instead of trying to be the “baddest bitch” in the boardroom or the Mary Poppins of your office because you think adopting either persona will get you what you want, just be yourself.
In the end, if you’re true to yourself, success—however you measure it—will come. And by sticking to who you are, not who you think you need to be, people will respect you more and if you ask me, that’s better than being liked any day of the week.
What do you think: is it better to be liked or respected? Do you struggle with needing to be liked? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.
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