Hillary Clinton made history on Thursday night when she became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major U.S. political party. While her speech was an emotional milestone moment for some, others focused on something else: Clinton’s apparent reluctance to show her pearly whites.
The “smile” police consisted of a number of high-profile pundits, including political journalist and Atlantic editor Steve Clemons, who tweeted on Thursday evening that the nominee was “lecturing” the audience and needed to “modulate” her voice.
After seeing the negative reaction to his tweet, Clemons apologized, saying his sexist comment was “unintended.”
Meanwhile, New York Magazine‘s Andrew Sullivan called Clinton’s speech “theme-free pudding,” and criticized her for not seeming at ease.
His piece did, however, address—and refute—the notion that his comments would be perceived as sexist.
Readers lambasted me for every criticism of her speaking style on feminist grounds. And I understand how Clinton carries an enormous weight as the first woman presidential candidate that makes the usual criticisms of her – that she’s pedestrian, uninspiring, and hectoring at times – sound sexist.
Plenty of other—male—observers joined the “Hillary should smile more” chorus and didn’t follow up the comments with apologies or caveats:
This isn’t the first time the former Secretary of State has been talked about this way. In March, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough tweeted the following message to Hillary Clinton about her four Super Tuesday primary victories: “Smile. You just had a big night. #PrimaryDay.”
Fortune‘s Kristen Bellstrom offered an excellent explanation then as to why being told to “smile” is so offensive to women:
There’s the idea that smiling makes women look “prettier,” and the implication that appearing attractive to men is one of our responsibilities. Then there’s the condescension of being told the correct way to feel. (You should always be happy!) Of course, a smile also makes you look friendlier—or perhaps I should say, more docile. It’s a way of neutralizing a woman who might otherwise be read as a potentially threatening presence.
You might think that in a world where we finally have a female presidential nominee, men would be over the smiling thing. Apparently not.