Why It Stings So Badly When Men Tell Hillary Clinton To Smile

Even the potential next POTUS isn't immune from having her face and tone policed.
Hillary Clinton, woman who should apparently be smiling at all times.
Hillary Clinton, woman who should apparently be smiling at all times.
Getty/Damon Dahlen for The Huffington Post

Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. Based on the numbers, she will likely be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, which would make her the first female nominee for president representing a major party in our country's history. During her primary night speech, she spoke passionately about paid family leave, health care, social security and equal pay, but a few male pundits could only focus on policing her face and tone.

"Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough wanted Clinton to smile:

And Fox News host Howard Kurtz and POLITICO Chief Political Correspondent Glenn Thrush were distracted by her "shouting":

Demeanor is not something that has ever been off the table for critique and discussion when it comes to politicians. But when powerful men tell a powerful woman to "smile" or "be conversational," there's a reason that it strikes a nerve beyond the political sphere.

Women experience the policing of their voices, their tones and their facial expressions on a near-daily basis -- inside the office, online, and even walking down the street.

We are forced to navigate a professional atmosphere that demands we be aggressive but personable, tough but soft, and steadfast but nurturing in order to get ahead. We are expected to smile while up against the gender pay gap, a working world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave or family leave or child care, and a society that tells us our greatest value still lies in the way we look and our ability to attract heterosexual male attention. It's enough to make you want to shout -- or cry -- but as a working woman, you know that neither response will get you very far.

When you tell a woman to smile, it sends a very particular message: Her face is for public consumption. Her face should be pleasing to you, for your benefit.

When powerful men tell a woman who might just become the most powerful in the world to smile, it reminds the rest of us that no matter how well we play the game, it is ultimately rigged against us. Because even becoming the Democratic frontrunner for president of the United States doesn't exempt you from the bullshit any woman with a body and a face has to deal with.

Of course, other presidential nominees, both Democrat and Republican, raise their voices when giving rousing political speeches, and fail to smile 100 percent of the time. But they don't seem to receive the same kind of consistent criticism Clinton does for that gruffness, or shouting, or lacking an inviting enough face.

(See a mashup of the critiques lobbed at Clinton over her voice below.)

Clinton herself is cognizant of the increased scrutiny she faces over her tone as a woman.

"When women talk, some people think we're shouting," she said at the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum in October. The comment, to no one's surprise, drew huge applause -- and some screams. Afterwards, Clinton smiled.

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