By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
This is a political season for double standards, glass ceilings, and dancing backwards in high heels. Hillary Clinton, as the first female to be nominated for President by a major party, finds herself locked in a close race with one of the least conventional candidates in modern times, Donald Trump. That combination has created some interesting challenges, many of which are unique to the contest itself, but some of the challenges are new manifestations of a very old problem: gender, and more specifically the expectations attached to gender in public communication. I don’t want to fixate on gender just because one candidate is female, and as the debates move on, I will definitely get to the substance. But in watching the first general election debate between the candidates, what jumped out at me is the differences in nonverbal communication.
Maybe a focus on nonverbal communication is a natural result of it being the first debate: the first time we get to see the two candidates standing next to each other on the same stage at the same time. In fact, it was during the first debate of the last election cycle that I wrote the earlier “Look Like You’re Winning” post. At that time, it was Mitt Romney who looked confident and presidential while President Obama looked distracted and stressed. On Monday, however, it was Secretary Clinton who was seemed to have the best nonverbal presentation. While Donald Trump had previously criticized Clinton for not having a “presidential look,” it was she who looked poised and pleasant while he consistently looked aggravated and annoyed. If the facial expressions had been reversed, I believe it would have been seen as an unmitigated disaster for Clinton. The reason for that, of course, is pretty unfair, but it comes down to different standards and expectations for women. A stern and stressed male face isn’t ideal, but it isn’t considered out of character either. A stern and stressed female face, on the other hand, conflicts with some of the most fundamental traits we associate with women as communicators. In this post, I will take a look at the faces we saw on Monday’s debate and call out a few principles that matter most for women, but benefit all speakers.