Hell Hath No Fury Like an Accomplished Woman Facing Down a Man-Boy

While women have to prove themselves by their past performance, men are judged by their potential—a big advantage for young men in a hurry. No wonder women like Nikki Haley are mad.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy participate in the Republican primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Sept. 27, 2023, in Simi Valley, Calif. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

This story originally appeared on Jill.substack.com, a newsletter from journalist, lawyer and author Jill Filipovic.

The second Republican debate was a chaotic disaster. The candidates all interrupted each other and talked over each other; they lied and misled the audience; they largely ignored the issues that impact women’s lives; they hit new lows when Chris Christie said Joe Biden is “sleeping with a member of the teacher’s union” (his wife) and Mike Pence jumped in to assure viewers that he definitely sleeps with his wife.

But one candidate stood out: Nikki Haley.

Don’t get me wrong—she’s exactly as terrible as the rest of them. But the best moment in the debate was when Haley turned to the smarmy Ramaswamy and said, “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.”

It was a movie-worthy insult, the culmination of Haley’s obvious and growing loathing of the young and entirely unqualified man on stage.

It also reminded me of the bad blood between Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg in the Democratic primary four years ago.

Both situations may feel familiar to women of a certain age who have had to deal with men of a certain age: There is little more infuriating than working hard for decades to become deeply competent and great at your job, only to have some little barely-legal dweeb show up and claim he can do it better—especially when he’s not just condescending to you, he’s trying to take the job you want.

Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.

Nikki Haley

Of course no one is entitled to the presidency (or the vice presidency), no matter how hard they’ve worked. But for many American women, it’s easy to understand Haley and Klobuchar’s irritation at the young, under-experienced men in their respective races. Women have been outnumbering men on college campuses for generations now, and have been a majority of college graduates for about as long.

Women like Haley and Klobuchar, though 12 years apart in age, were both part of cohorts of women who outperformed men academically and who took the “right” path to success—do well in high school, go to college, graduate, maybe go to graduate school, get a job, move up the chain—only to see men surpass them again and again.

There have been fewer male college graduates than female ones since women now in their 60s were in college. And yet the halls of power are still overflowing with men.

  • More women graduate from law school than men, but women make up just 37 percent of lawyers.
  • Men are 80 percent of equity partners and 70 percent of non-equity partners at law firms.
  • Women are so underrepresented among CEOs that it wasn’t until this year that, among S&P 500 companies, the tally of companies with women in charge finally outnumbered those led by men named John. 
  • Of those 500 companies, just 41 are led by women.

Nikki Haley has terrible ideas, but she’s done what so many women have: Gone through the process, collected accomplishments, waited her turn.

Jill Filipovic

This isn’t just a dynamic for women at the top. One reason women have long outnumbered men in college is that women have to get college degrees to earn anything close to what less-educated men do. A man can have a high school degree and still make a very good living across a series of male-dominated and male-coded jobs in the trades. A woman without a college degree is much more likely to be stuck in a pink-collar poorly-paid job—and pink-collar jobs are paid less than blue-collar ones, often on the basis of gender alone.

A janitor, for example, is paid an average of 22 percent more than a housekeeper. Does a housekeeper really do 22 percent less work than a janitor?

And the solution, unfortunately, isn’t just for working-class women to go into traditionally masculine jobs: As soon as women start to outnumber men in a particular line of work, the pay and prestige go down.

To put a finer point on it: Across industries, men are paid better and promoted more readily just on the basis of being men.

This means that a lot of women have seen their work undervalued. A lot of them have been leapfrogged by men—often by younger men. Researchers have long noted that while women have to prove themselves and are professionally evaluated on their past performance, men are judged by their potential—a big advantage for young men in a hurry. It’s hard to imagine the 30-something female mayor of a small American city deciding she’s ready to run the country; there likewise aren’t a lot of 30-something women who spent a few years running companies only to decide that their idiosyncratic and extreme political ideas mean they should be in the White House.

I don’t think Nikki Haley should be president. But there’s no real comparison between her bona fides and Ramaswamy’s. She has spent the last 20 years working her way up the political chain. She’s held legislative roles and executive ones. She has terrible ideas, but she’s done what so many women have: Gone through the process, collected accomplishments, waited her turn. And now she’s experiencing what so many women have: A young man, buoyed by his own enormous ego, skipping the hard parts and the learning-how-to-do-it parts and feeling entitled to power, simply on the basis of his potential greatness and self-assuredness.

No wonder she’s livid.

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Jill Filipovic is a New York-based writer, lawyer and author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind and The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness. A weekly columnist for CNN and a 2019 New America Future of War fellow, she is also a former contributing opinion writer to The New York Times and a former columnist for The Guardian. She writes at jill.substack.com and holds writing workshops and retreats around the world.