Veteran Washington journalist Bob Woodward complained recently that Hillary Clinton "shouts" too much. He said on the MSNBC show Morning Joe that Hillary could make a better case for herself if she "would just lower the temperature and get off the screaming stuff." Panelists on the show then went on to a discussion of Hillary's speaking style, which was largely critical of her for not being restrained enough. Nobody actually said "feminine enough" but that was clearly implied.
Candidate Clinton has also often been called "shrill." Nobody says that about Donald Trump or Chris Christie when they bluster, which is often. This particular gender gap can be a real problem for Hillary. She has a killer resume: Secretary of State, two terms as a senator from New York, and former first lady. The New York Times called her “one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history.” When compared with her fellow candidates, it would seem Hillary Clinton should have a huge advantage in her 2016 bid for the presidency.
Still, she faces one major obstacle that her male rivals do not have to deal with. She's a female whose job is to talk.
It may seem laughable to suggest that in the United States of America in 2015, a woman's image could be affected by how much she speaks in a professional forum. Yet new research finds that both sexes react differently to the ways in which women and men speak. And since talking is what politicians have to do, and do well day after day, hour after hour, this is not an insignificant fact.
The bad news for women is that, when men talk at length, people see them as powerful and competent. When women talk at length, studies show people see them as incompetent and unsuited for leadership. It seems no one likes a woman who "talks too much."
In a 2012 study, Yale psychologist Victoria Brescoll found that the rules of the power game differ for men and women. Using actual speech data from the U.S. Senate, she discovered a significant relationship between power and volubility (i.e., the total time senators spoke on the Senate floor).
Because of this difference, "volubility not only plays an important role in establishing power hierarchies but also in communicating one's power to others."
However, there is a twist: Male senators show a significant relationship between power and volubility, but female senators do not. To the contrary, being conceived of as overly talkative can deflate women's power, not enhance it. The old notion is rearing its head again that women should be "seen and not heard." This fact could hinder a woman's chances of becoming the first female president of the United States.
Looking at CEOs, Brescoll found that "a female CEO who talked disproportionately longer than others in an organizational setting was rated as significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership than a male CEO who talked for an equivalent amount of time."
What is going on? It appears that all of us, men and women alike, share similar views about gender and power: Men are expected to talk, and women — still in this day — are expected to keep quiet.
Will Hillary Clinton implode? For men, high status and talkativeness fit together easily. Bill Clinton, for example, ran over his presentation time at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, but his performance was labeled "masterful" by the press.
Candidate Hillary doesn't get the same kind of treatment; her speech is constantly criticized. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Fox commentator Mark Rudov said, "When Barack Obama speaks, men hear, 'Take off for the future.' And when Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, 'Take out the garbage.' " As Rudov made his comments, the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen read: "Clinton's 'nagging voice' is reason she lost male vote."
Even Clinton's laugh has been criticized. Pundit Dick Morris called it "loud, inappropriate, and mirthless . ... A scary sound that was somewhere between a cackle and a screech."
But it wasn't only conservatives who joined the chorus. Patrick Healy of The New York Times was one of the first to discuss "The Clinton Cackle" and the issue was debated all over the media.
"Cackle" is, of course, a loaded word. Who cackles? Witches. Throughout her public career, Clinton has drawn pejorative labels for basic acts of verbal communication.
Elspeth Reeve of The New Republic wrote in 2015, "You know Hillary Clinton's voice, right? I mean, you know it. It's just so loud and annoying. Or maybe it's like a nagging wife.
"Now think of Jeb Bush's voice. It's so — wait, what does it sound like again? He sounds just ... like a guy, maybe? It's probably hard for you to recall distinguishing features about most of the Republican candidates. Why? In part it's because women's voices are scrutinized more."
Carmen Fought, a Pitzer College linguistics professor, says, "Men are supposed to be assertive, loud and competitive. Women are supposed to be soft-spoken, cooperative and helpful. No matter who's saying something, a man or a woman, they're being judged on their language via their gender."
Linguistic anthropologist Jennifer Jackson of the University of Toronto told U.S. News, "If, when Hillary speaks, she starts to sound like all of the negative gender monikers associated with women, that's not good for her. She has to find unmarked space where she is androgynous."
That's a tall order. In 2008, when Clinton focused on issues in a neutral way, she was accused of being cold and unfeminine. But when she shed a tear on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, she was accused of being too emotional or faking calculated tears. Columnist William Kristol wrote in The New York Times, "She's crying for herself, and I don't even believe it's genuine. I think it's entirely calculated."
Research shows though both males and females think that women speak a lot more than men do, a seven-year study of men's and women's speech found that both genders use roughly the same number of words each day, about 16,000, as documented by psychologist James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin.
No less an authority than the Bible (1 Timothy 2:12) decrees: "… do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet."
No religious texts demand that men silently submit to women. But every woman who runs for office does so in the shadow of a historical demand for her silence.
Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett are the authors of "The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men — and Our Economy."