Clinton’s Voice

Khazan, Olga, “Would You Really Like Hillary More if She Sounded Different?” The Atlantic, 1 Aug. 2016, accessed 2 Dec. 2016.


Hillary Clinton’s portrayal in the media throughout her candidacy for president in 2016 has been an interesting insight into how women are viewed today in the lens of popular culture. She has frequently been attacked for being “shrill,” with opponents calling her “Shrillary” and taking to Twitter to air their negative views on her voice. This article responds to that movement, analyzing what it is about her voice that people find so abrasive. Staff writer Khazan interviewed vocal coaches and linguists to determine why so many people find Clinton’s voice so abrasive. Published at the beginning of August, the article responds to an ongoing public discourse about Clinton’s voice. However, it carries more authority than many of the opinion pieces about her vocal intonations because it appears in a more credited news source and has real evidence explaining why people find Clinton’s voice distasteful. The Atlantic tends to post somewhat left-leaning articles, which may have caused some extremely right-wing readers to discredit the message of this article, because in addition to simply analyzing the tones and inflections of Clinton’s voice, Khazan also frames the issue of focusing so much on Clinton’s voice, to the exclusion of her policies, as a question of sexism.

This article explains that although Clinton’s pitch and loudness is absolutely normal for a woman her age, the issue is that she leans into the mic too much and needs to have more interesting inflections as she speaks. It also suggests that Clinton’s careful work to neutralize her folksy, Midwestern accent has actually made her less appealing to voters, because her accent is now too robotic. However, Khazan mentions that women tend to receive much more criticism for their personal qualities than do men, pointing out that nobody commented on Bernie Sanders’ characteristic raspy voice. The fact that people focus on Clinton’s voice to the exclusion of learning about her policies or platform is reminiscent of the issues faced by Woodhull, Rankin, Smith, and Palin, discussed in Finneman’s book Press Portrayals of Women Politicians, 1970s-2000s. By focusing on female politicians’ personal characteristics to show whether or not they are the traditional, feminine woman who “should” have a voice in politics, the press detracts from their actual policies. The excessive media attention given to Clinton’s voice this election season distracted from her actual message, and was used by her opponents to somehow show that she was unfit for presidency, as if her vocal tones affect her ability to lead a nation.

Simply by treating Clinton’s vocal patterns as a news-worthy story, this article helped legitimize the negative discourse surrounding Clinton, reinforcing the idea that her voice is in fact worthy of being discussed in detail by the media. The public uproar about her voice also sends the message to women that our opinions are only valid if we fit into the traditional mold of how women should look, sound, and act. However, the article employs a very level tone and brings up the point that Clinton’s voice should not be a question of so much public scrutiny, reflecting the media’s attempt to be more objective and their desire to perhaps air more stories that discuss Clinton’s policies.


7 thoughts on “Clinton’s Voice

  1. I thought it was interesting how the author brought up how Bernie Sanders voice was never used as a main argument against him or a newsworthy piece of information within news coverage of his campaign. It’s interesting how even women’s voices are analyzed, criticized, and used against them more so than their ideas and their policies.


  2. This is so interesting. I have also read articles about that when women used something called the “vocal fry,” people discredit them. But people don’t judge men who use the “vocal fry.” It is unfortunate that society judges women more harshly than they judge men.


  3. This post brings up a really interesting point in the extreme focus American media places on female personal characteristics. The media holds women to a high standard in expecting them to control personal characteristics such as weight, looks, voice, etc…or be subject to criticism. It is really tragic that people focus on such a characteristic as voice rather than the actual words being spoken. It is a good example of how perhaps what one speaks about and how they talk about others describes oneself more than those they are discussing.


  4. This is a really interesting point. I can’t remember any male political candidates who were scrutinized by being too far or too close to the microphone. Even our expectations of a person’s voice and manner of speech are very gendered.


  5. It’s very discouraging to see the media and the public focus on a topic so trivial as Clinton’s voice rather than her past experience and future plans. To me, this just goes to show how we still view politics as a men’s role because women have to fight so hard to get in; women will be discredited over the smallest thing, such as the sound of a voice.


  6. When I was watching the debates at home, and Hillary began to speak, one of my family members proclaimed, “Ugh, I just hate the sound of her voice,” and promptly ignored the words she spoke. Regardless of disagreements in policy, it is unfair to discredit any person’s words on account of a trait as trivial as voice. Of course, people focused on trivial aspects of Hillary’s persona throughout her campaign, while her male cohort received coverage on their actual positions.


  7. It is so aggravating that petty things like this are what society likes to focus on. I noticed similar things about Donald Trump. Clinton, I feel, was very presidential in attitude and demeanor but it’s interesting that it’s still something that’s overlooked as well as (in some instances) her resume. It’s lovely, however, that women are now beginning to emerge more frequently and prevalently in politics.


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