115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Such a Nasty Woman!":  Positioning Hillary Clinton in the History of American Women's Public Speech

Angela Ridinger-Dotterman, Queensborough Community College

Though the 2016 Presidential race arguably elicited more of--and more intense--sex-specific ttacks aimed at Hillary Clinton's public presence, taken together, her public speeches created something new:  a model for female public speech.  Clinton's use of emotion and affect, her invocation of her sex as a source of unique expertise, and even her fashion choices formed a prototype for a female Presidential speech.  This paper contextualizes Clinton's public speeches within the long history of American women's public speech.

Proposal: 

Media coverage of the 2007 Democratic Primary debate underscored the truth that in the United States, a woman speaker is always a woman first, and cultural expectations about voice, tone, dress, and style are for many viewers equally important (and, more than occasionally, more important) than the content of her speech.  The rules for speaking, or more particularly, the criteria that defines “good” public speech, are rules that presume a male speaker.  Though male speakers may be dominant, assertive, and aggressive without consideration or penalty (indeed, exhibiting these qualities is praised as effective speech), female speakers navigate a very narrow channel between appearing marginal and being declared “bitchy.”  In her analysis of representations of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Kathleen Hall Jamieson observes that “there’s language to condemn female speech that doesn’t exist for male speech.”  Jamieson attributes representations of Clinton’s voice as shrill and cackling to “a long-lived fear of women in politics.”  Turning from mass media representations to exchanges about Clinton in various social media forums, Jamieson documents that “They contain language suggesting various sexual acts in relationship to Hillary Clinton.  They reduce Hillary Clinton to various sexual body parts.” 

Though the 2016 Presidential race arguably elicited more of—and more intense—sex-specific attacks aimed at HRC’s public presence, taken together, her public speeches created something new:  a model for female public speech.  Or, to put it another way, the presence of a female public speaker competing for the nation’s highest office set a precedent for what it means for a woman to speak in public in the United States.  It is the hypothesis of this proposed research that Clinton’s use of emotion, her invocation of her sex as a source of unique expertise on a woman’s right to abortion, and even her fashion choices (the WCTU-inspired white suit) constructed a prototype of a female lecturer.  This paper seeks to contextualize Clinton's public speeches within the long history of American women's public speech.

 

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