Eager to read the morning after feedback about the MSNBC debate between Hillary and Bernie, I clicked onto the New York Times on line. One header leapt out— “Clinton Raises Her Voice and a Debate over Sexism Rages.”
The Times columnist, Amy Chozick cites Bob Woodward, the veteran Washington Post Editor. “She shouts…there was something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating.” Rather than addressing the content of Hillary’s impassioned words, Woodward critiques further,” I think it has to do a lot with style and delivery.”
Who, today is writing about Bernie’s oratory style, his scowling, “make no mistake,” imperative style? To my ear, Bernie’s emphatic presentations rely on the shout out— the raised voice, the pointed finger, the “truth’s the truth” imperative.
During the debate, Bernie epitomized the wise man, his Einstein-wild, white hair groomed, his suit, dark and freshly pressed. He appears presidential while Hillary, blond, softly coiffed, white pearls at her neck and ears, cannot be “soft” in this debate. She knows what is coming. She is prepped and she needs to make herself heard over the rasping critics.
The issue here is not style but content and how it is, on balance, that when a woman (or girl) is fervent, needing to be heard, raises her voice— her God given high pitched voice— the issue becomes her pitch, the key and tone, not the content.
How we absorb sound is central to this dilemma. Elevated noise—a jack hammer, a fire engine’s sudden blare, a sonic boom, can cause stress. The body has no defense against sound; we feel the vibrations. When I raise my voice in conversation, my husband reacts with discomfort. I want to be heard. I tone it down.
When Hillary raised her voice during the debate to ascertain her point, I applauded her shout out. As Bernie listened, he frowned and it was familiar, the grimace, his discomfort, signaling a sense of judgment in my mind’s eye.
In contrast, Bernie’s tone is lower in range. According to Linda Lowen, who writes about Women, Voice Pitch, Authority and Gender Bias, “to gain authority, women have long believed that it’s better to pitch their voices lower.”
Sound is vibration. In his book, Healing At the Speed of Sound, Don Campbell writes, “So many aural influences affect our mood without our realizing it. When sounds are layered one over the other, their decibels combining and their sound waves colliding, we can start to grind our teeth, snap at our partners, and lose our tempers without knowing why.” It may be that a lower pitched voice is easier for our bodies and psyches to absorb.
An insightful client once remarked in a session, “Tone is everything.”
I am grateful this day for both Hillary & Bernie’s tone. They are cut from similar cloth— post World War II, both experienced and wise about the dire effect of disregard and disengagement, the essential need to speak out.