Hillary Clinton talks more “like a man” the more powerful she becomes

Photo: Krista Kennell - Shutterstock.com

Photo: Krista Kennell – Shutterstock.com

Blog post based on an article in Perspectives on Politics, written by Jennifer Jones

Over the course of her historic presidential campaign, reactions to Hillary Clinton’s speeches and debate performances have focused less on what she says, and more on how she says it. In 2016 alone, Clinton’s style of speaking has been criticized for coming across as unrelaxed, hair-raising, nagging, and grating.

As a leader, Clinton is compared against traditional masculine qualities that we have come to associate with leadership—strength, determination, self-confidence, decisiveness and more. She is criticized when she fails to display these masculine qualities and yet she is criticized and disliked when she fails to display her warmth and femininity—a classic “double-bind” that women in politics and other leadership positions often confront.

By tracking her subtle linguistic behavior over time, my research shows how these forces manifest in Hillary Clinton’s self-presentation. My findings suggest that as the Democratic nominee transitioned from First Lady to U.S. Senator to Secretary of State, she spoke in an increasingly “masculine” way.

James Pennebaker and colleagues find that language encodes gender in very subtle ways—not by what we say, but how we say it. Women tend to use higher rates of pronouns (you, theirs), especially first-person singular pronouns (I, me) than men. Women also use common verbs and auxiliary verbs (is, has, be, go), social (friend, talk), emotional (relieved, safe, kind), cognitive (think, because), and tentative (I guess, maybe) words at higher rates than men. Men tend to use first-person plural words (the royal “we”), articles (a, an, the), prepositions (of, to, under), big words (over six letters), words associated with anger (destroy, kill), and swear words ([redacted]) more frequently than women.

Utilizing this insight, I examine whether Clinton talked “like a man” as she navigated a path toward political leadership by conducting a quantitative textual analysis of 567 interview transcripts and candidate debates between 1992–2013.

Read Jennifer Jones’ article on the linguistic styles of Hillary Clinton, “Talk ‘Like a Man’: The Linguistic Styles of Hillary Clinton, 1992-2013” for free through election day on 8th November, 2016.

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