Hillary Clinton, Listening, and Responding

Posted Mon 07 November 2016 Author The Gazeboist  | Category : Society

Tags : Hillary Clinton ; politics ; social skills ; dipshit sexism ;


So, someone linked me to this Vox article by Ezra Klein in a conversation about Clinton. I agree with most of the article; it fits my impression that Clinton is warm and personable in interviews (and presumably other one-on-one or small group situations) but struggles when making speeches to a crowd. I've described this elsewhere by saying that she lacks "podium charisma", despite her possession of a fairly typical degree of more personal charisma. I think Clinton needs to be responding to another specific person in order to come off well, as opposed to speaking to a crowd that's mostly just responding to her. Let's call the first mode "communicating by response", and the second one "communicating by broadcast"[1].

Overall, I think the article does a pretty good job describing why Hillary Clinton comes off so badly compared to other politicians. It's a good explanation of why people call her "stiff" and "robotic"; the article makes sense of that opinion without making nonsense of Clinton herself.

But! I disagree that it's a gendered thing, at least in the way the article implies. First of all, any system where you have to gather support from very large groups of people is naturally going to favor people who are good at public speaking over people who, for whatever reason, aren't. Second, I doubt the difference is status vs rapport the way the article describes. Trump speaks in terms of status a lot, but plenty of other politicians (Obama, Bill Clinton, Bush) speak almost entirely in "rapport dimension": they want to make you like them. And lastly, while I'd believe that women are more likely to struggle with communication by broadcast, I don't think it's remotely binary. There are plenty of men with what looks like the same sort of public speaking trouble - I believe Mitt Romney is one such, for example.[2]

The whole "rapport dimension" / "status dimension" thing strikes me as very typical of a certain sort of complementarian pseudo-feminism that crops up every now and again. On the right, this sort of thing means that women are unfit for public life and should stay in the home. On the left, it means that we must change the public sphere such that no woman ever experiences this sort of struggle. The two sides are united in their claim that a woman is helpless before her surroundings, and that every woman must also struggle in the same way. Under this view, it is impossible that one woman might have particular traits (like a preference for concrete prompts to respond to) that make certain tasks difficult for her, there is no reasonable way she might learn skills that would make it easier, and there are few, if any, men who struggle in the same way (or such men are gay, or trans, or "female-brained", whatever they say to the contrary).

Fuck that noise.

Plenty of men prefer to communicate by response, and plenty of women are fully comfortable speaking without a prompt of any kind. Again, I'd be willing to accept the claim that more women do response, or that more men do broadcast, but to claim that broadcast is exclusively the province of men (and, implicitly, that response is exclusively the province of women) is as nonsensical as the claim that rape is the exclusive province of men, or that nurture is the exclusive province of women.

There's more to this, potentially - I happen to be a man who prefers response communication, so I have some idea how it works, and I'd like to explain it in more detail sometime. But that time is not now, because I want this to go up before the election. Ah, well. Maybe in the future.

[1]This name sucks and I'm sorry. But I don't do this one very well, so it's hard for me to give it a good name.
[2]Parallels between the Clinton and Romney campaigns are eerie at times.