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Women and Elective OfficePast, Present, and Future$

Sue Thomas and Clyde Wilcox

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199328734

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199328734.001.0001

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Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Case Study in the Rhetoric of Female Political Figures

Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Case Study in the Rhetoric of Female Political Figures

(p.80) 5 Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Case Study in the Rhetoric of Female Political Figures
Women and Elective Office

Moana Vercoe

Randall Gonzalez

Jean Reith Schroedel

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Although leadership studies identify charisma as an important characteristic of effective leaders, there has been little research into the ways that political figures use rhetorical constructs to project charisma and virtually none into the interaction between gender expectations and charismatic rhetoric. In this chapter, we trace Hillary Clinton’s use of different types of charismatic rhetoric depending on the political context and gender expectations.

Keywords:   Charisma, Rhetoric, Gender expectations

…I’m always rather nervous about how you talk about women who are active in politics, whether they want to be talked about as women or as politicians, but I want you to know that we are grateful to have you as both today.

—John Fitzgerald Kennedy remarks to a U.N. Delegation of Women, December 11, 1961

Words have a funny way of trapping our minds on the way to our tongues, but they are a necessary means even in this multi-media age for attempting to come to grasps with some of the inarticulate maybe even inarticulable things that we’re feeling.

—Hillary Rodham Clinton, Wellesley College Commencement Address, May 30, 1969

…In democracies in the television age, female leaders also have to navigate public prejudices—and these make democratic politics far more challenging for a woman than for a man.

—Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, February 10, 2008

From student body leader in the late 1960s to First Lady of Arkansas and in the White House, senator from New York, presidential candidate, and finally secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life has been one of firsts. Clinton’s long public career can be viewed as reflecting both the promise and limitations of second-wave feminism. While Clinton is an extraordinary individual, her four-decade-long career sheds light on how women must negotiate an often hostile political landscape. As amplified in several chapters in this volume, women in public life face a double bind in that they must balance perceptions of warmth and competence, often viewed as feminine, and masculine qualities reflected in communalism and agentism (the orientation toward (p.81) power versus the orientation toward the group) in a way that is not expected of men (Eagly 1987, 1997; Eagly, Wood, and Diekman 2000; McGinley 2009).

At the time when Clinton graduated from college, women occupied very few elected political positions. Only 2 percent of the members of Congress were female, less than 5 percent of state legislators were women, and several states did not even have a single woman serving in any elected office. These numbers gradually increased throughout the 1970s and 1980s. A sharp upswing in the numbers of women running for and elected to office in 1992, the vaunted “year of the woman,” led many to think we had entered a new era. The optimism evaporated with a return to incremental gains in the rest of the 1990s, followed by a plateau and then stagnation during the first decade of the 2000s, when women’s representation in state legislatures hit a high of just under a quarter female before dropping slightly. At this time, 12 percent of the country’s governors are women, as are 12 percent of mayors in the nation’s 100 largest cities, and after the 2012 elections for the first time 18 percent of the membership of Congress are female (Center for the American Woman and Politics 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2012d).

In this chapter, we begin by tracing the arc of Clinton’s public career, highlighting ways that she has tried to negotiate gender expectations while pursuing an active professional and political career. Then we turn to an in-depth analysis of how these competing demands are reflected in her public discourse—from her 1969 commencement address at Wellesley College to her statements as secretary of state up to the 2012 election. Using textual analysis, we plot strategies employed by Clinton that are reflected in her rhetoric over a forty-year period in relation to the changing political context in which she operated. We pay particular attention to her use of stereotypical masculine and feminine rhetorical phrasing (e.g., communal and agentic language). We believe that the study of her rhetoric not only provides insights into her extraordinary career but also illuminates the gendered nature of political discourse across time.

Clinton’s Career: Activism While Negotiating Gender Expectations

Although Clinton was raised in a staunch Republican family and as a high school student campaigned for the 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, she also reached adulthood at the height of the second wave of the women’s movement. During her first year at Wellesley College in 1965, Clinton served as president of the Young Republicans, but by her junior year she was campaigning for Democratic presidential challenger Eugene McCarthy. Following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Clinton organized a two-day student strike and worked with black students to pressure the administration to recruit more African American students and faculty. In 1969, the student body lobbied for Clinton to become the first student in Wellesley’s history to give the commencement address (Gerth and Van Natta 2007). (p.82) This accolade brought Clinton her first taste of national attention when she appeared on a nationally syndicated talk show and was featured in Life magazine.

While at Yale Law School, Clinton worked at a public interest law firm associated with the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit child advocacy organization, and interned for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor researching housing, health, and education issues as well as working on several political campaigns (Bernstein 2007; Gerth and Van Natta 2007). Following graduation, Clinton took a position as staff attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund, joined the Richard Nixon impeachment inquiry staff advising the House Judiciary Committee, and published several well-regarded law journal articles of children’s issues, all of which led historian Garry Wills (1992) subsequently to describe her as “one of the most important scholar-activists of the last two decades.”

The Arkansas Years

After moving to Arkansas and getting married, Clinton taught at the University of Arkansas Law School, became a partner in the Rose Law Firm, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit organization that promotes legal assistance for low-income people. Clinton’s decision to keep her maiden name Rodham drew criticism during her husband’s 1978 Arkansas gubernatorial campaign (Frandina 2009), and her choice of whether or not to use her maiden name in defining herself in the public arena continues to draw scrutiny from some (Associated Press 2007; Kelly 1993; Preston 2006). It became an issue in Bill Clinton’s 1980 failed reelection bid when his opponent accused the couple of undermining traditional family values. To defuse critics, she dropped Rodham during Bill Clinton’s successful 1982 gubernatorial campaign. As First Lady of Arkansas, Clinton promoted “activist” state programs in childcare, health, and education (Wills 1992). This balancing of feminist leanings, professional aspirations, and political realism worked, and Clinton subsequently was named Arkansas’ Woman of the Year in 1983 and Arkansas’ Young Mother of the Year in 1984 (National Archives and Records Administration 1994), in addition to twice being placed by the National Law Review on its list of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” (Gerth and Van Natta 2007: 85).

The White House Years

Clinton’s activism as First Lady of Arkansas and her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign claim that voters were getting “two for one” (Kiely 2008) were clear signals that she was going to be a political force in the White House. This perception was reinforced by Clinton’s immediate decision to take an office in the West Wing, which housed the president’s staff, rather than in the East Wing where previous First Ladies located their offices (Burrell 1997: 171–172). Instead of solely fulfilling the (p.83) public hostess role expected of First Ladies, Clinton clearly functioned as a trusted advisor to the president. She was not the only First Lady to fill this sort of role, but she was also much more open about her policy role than previous First Ladies (Black 2001).1 Her highest-profile policy position, as head of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, initially was given high marks, but those plummeted after opponents launched a massive public relations assault on the proposal. (That assessment is likely to be revised upward as historians come to view the reforms proposed by Clinton as an important precursor to the Barack Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act.) Throughout her tenure as First Lady of the United States, Clinton not only continued to be a strong voice for children2 but also became an outspoken women’s rights advocate for the first time after the failure of health-care reform. In the aftermath of this policy failure, Clinton began to travel abroad extensively3 and strongly argued that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” (Healy 2007). At the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing, she gave a powerful speech attacking the many forms of violence that women and girls face throughout the world and contending that women’s rights are an essential component of human rights (Burrell 1997: 176).

From the beginning of her time in the White House, Clinton’s nontraditional approach to her role as First Lady generated criticism.4 One needs to think only of the stir created by her offhand comment made during her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign that “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” Clinton was pilloried as denigrating stay-at-home-wives and mothers (Bernstein 2007: 109). She also had to endure heavy criticism for investments she and her husband made in a real estate ventured called Whitewater; for the suicide death of friend, former law partner, and Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster; and for the decision to stand by her husband after his philandering became public. Yet Clinton persevered and then confounded her critics by moving her legal residence to New York and running for the Senate during her husband’s waning days in the Oval Office.

Hillary’s Senate Career

Despite being labeled a carpetbagger, a derogatory term originally describing those from northern states who moved to the South after the Civil War to exploit the opportunities of Reconstruction, Clinton was elected to the Senate in 2000 with 55 percent of the vote. Although she had not previously lived in New York, she built a base of support during her Senate campaign by visiting every county in the state and engaging small groups in a “listening tour” (Gerth and Van Natta 2007: 204). Upon entering the Senate, Clinton also dampened down fears of Senate colleagues that she was a radical feminist through actions such as getting them coffee at Democratic caucus meetings (Barone and Cohen 2007: 1130) and being a regular attendee at (p.84) the Senate Prayer Breakfast (Bernstein 2007: 548). After the September 11 attacks in 2001, Clinton worked with New York’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, to obtain funding for the recovery effort. Her leadership in advocating for 9/11 first responders resulted in investigations into the long-term health implications of surviving the attacks on the World Trade Center (Gerth and Van Natta 2007: 349).

During her first term, Clinton not only worked hard to master the nuances of New York state politics but also earned kudos for being a “work horse” rather than a “show horse” in the Senate. In spite of the track record she earned during her first term, her opponent in her 2006 reelection campaign, John Spencer, tried to discredit her by charging that she had undergone cosmetic surgery. Clinton’s response was to laugh and suggest that reporters look closely at her face to see if they could see any scars (Barone and Cohen 2007: 1132). Clinton was returned to the Senate with 67 percent of the vote in 2006, carrying all but four of New York’s sixty-two counties and reinforcing the inappropriateness of suggesting plastic surgery as a criterion for judging the performance of anyone in elected office, let alone someone with her record. Clinton’s legislative history includes measures to improve prescription drug safety for children, support for foster and adoptive families, and increased benefits for military families. Her efforts on the Senate Armed Services Committee led Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to describe Clinton as “…very reasonable” on defense issues (Barone and Cohen 2007: 1130).

Running for President

Few were surprised when Clinton announced her intention to run as a presidential candidate in January 2007. Throughout the first half of that year, she was the clear front runner, leading in fundraising and the opinion polls of likely Democratic voters. However, the race tightened in fall 2007, and by early 2008 Clinton had fallen behind Obama in the polls. Although there are many possible reasons Obama prevailed rather than Clinton, there is absolutely no disputing that Clinton was subjected to an unprecedented degree of hostile and sexist attacks during the campaign that came from both the right and the left (Lawrence and Rose 2011; Uscinski and Goren 2011). Moreover, when it began to appear as if Clinton might not gain the Democratic nomination, she was pressured to prematurely withdraw her candidacy and was subsequently criticized for failing to immediately support Obama (Jaffe 2008). In short, Clinton was chastised for behaving just like an ambitious politician and fighting to the end, something that is viewed positively as “having fire in his belly” when the candidate is a man but is unseemly in a woman.

Serving as Secretary of State

Although Obama and Clinton were fierce competitors during the primary season, Obama clearly had developed respect for Clinton’s expertise and political instincts, (p.85) and he asked her to become secretary of state less than a week after he was elected. Clinton described her decision to accept the appointment thusly: “I’m pretty old-fashioned and it’s just who I am. So at the end of the day, when your president asks you to serve, you say yes, if you can” (Barr 2009). And it does not seem that Obama’s respect for Clinton was misplaced as she has proven to be an innovative leader of the State Department. For example, few people are aware of the existence of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, a blueprint for elevating American civilian power to advance national interests and better partner with the U.S. military (LaFranchi 2010; Lemmon 2011), which Clinton instituted shortly after taking office. This may be her most lasting State Department legacy.5 Prior to her tenure, the State Department had lacked a procedure for regularly reviewing its priorities, policies, and programs. Central to Clinton’s approach is humanitarianism and human rights. Clinton’s vision of these clearly encompasses advocating on behalf of women, and she made women’s issues a central component of U.S. foreign policy by creating a new role for a U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. And in late 2011, in a speech before the United Nations Human Rights Council, Clinton stated unequivocally that “gay rights are human rights” (BBC News Online). During the Arab Spring and the persistent turmoil throughout the Middle East, Clinton has continued to be a strong voice for human rights. Under her leadership the State Department has expanded its use of social media to empower and provide support to citizen protesters (Calabresi 2011), but this has not come at the expense of traditional diplomacy. By mid-2012, Clinton has set a new record for the number of secretary of state trips to foreign countries (Klapper and Lee 2012).

While not opposed to the strategic use of military power—as is evident in her presence as the only woman in the White House picture of those involved in observing the mission to take out Osama bin Laden—Clinton has sought to position the United States as a “smart power,” willing to use force when necessary but not as the dominant means of pursuing foreign policy goals (Calabresi 2011).

Hillary Clinton: The Case of a Woman in Politics

Given the many and varied political and leadership roles she has taken and aspired to over the span of her career, Hillary Clinton offers a case study of women’s political leadership. Case studies are generally an accepted methodological choice for research when the subject under review is either new or had previously been unavailable to researchers. Clinton meets both of these criteria because of the unprecedented nature of her achievements as well as the documentation of them. From her 1969 commencement address onward, many of her speeches have been recorded. The accessibility of Clinton’s rhetoric over time allows for the intensive examination of an individual, including developmental factors, in relation to its context that characterize a case study (Flyvberg 2011). In this instance, the examination focuses on (p.86) the development of an individual in relation to a dynamic and often hostile political context. By focusing on her rhetoric we can examine the way Clinton used language in negotiating the changing political landscape with its inherent expectations of women in power over time.

Gender Stereotypes

Over the past four decades, scholars have sought to understand how gender as a social construct affects all aspects of human life. Gender encompasses the ways that social roles, behaviors, and character traits are interpreted as appropriate or inappropriate based on the biological sex of the individual. As Duerst-Lahti (1997: 12) notes, gender is “relational: To understand feminine requires understanding masculine.” With respect to this project, two areas of gender-related research are particularly relevant: (1) political science research on the relationship between gender stereotypes and leadership; and (2) social psychology research on gender, language, and perceptions of leadership ability.

Gender Stereotypes and Leadership Assessments

Political scientists have identified two types of gender stereotypes that affect male and female leaders: belief stereotypes and trait-based stereotypes. The first refers to stereotypes about the ideology and issue stances of individuals with women in general being viewed as more liberal than men and as better able to handle issues such as education, health, and social welfare but as less capable of handling foreign affairs, crime, the economy, and defense (Dolan 1998; Huddy and Terkildsen 1993a; Koch 2000, 2002; Matland and King 2002). The second, trait-based stereotypes, is the assumption that women are more compassionate, trustworthy, willing to compromise, and empathetic but that men are stronger leaders and are more assertive, active, and self-confident (Burrell 1996; Huddy and Terkildsen 1993a; Matland and King 2002). A more in-depth analysis of the impact of attitudes toward women on voter behavior is provided by Dolan and Lynch in Chapter 3. Although gender stereotypes do occasionally advantage women, they generally have been found to make it more difficult for women to gain high political office, because those are thought to require more of the “masculine” issue competencies and character traits (Fox and Oxley 2003; Huddy and Terkildsen 1993b).

Within social psychology, leadership studies are an important subfield of research, some of which focuses on the relationship between trait-based stereotypes and perceptions of leadership. While both warmth and competence are generally viewed as positive attributes in a leader, these evaluations are influenced by gender stereotypes. Male leaders almost always gain an advantage by getting high marks on both of these dimensions. Competent females, however, often receive lower evaluations because competence among women can be perceived as coldness, which (p.87) violates the gender stereotype requiring women to be warm (Cutler 2002; Fiske et. al. 1999, 2002).6 This is compounded by the findings of experimental studies combining cognitive psychology and political science showing that when evaluating candidates on characteristics unrelated to job performance, such as facial features, female candidates are judged as less mature and less competent than their male counterparts (Herrick et al. 2012; Todorov et al., 2005). This research suggests that women with leadership ambitions must try to find a means of conveying the gender-expected warmth while at the same time overcoming perceptions of lesser maturity and competence without projecting coldness (Eagly and Carli 2007: 83–118; O’Neill and O’Reilly 2011; Rosette and Tost 2010).

The Importance of Rhetoric in Assessing Leaders

Most people do not have opportunities to directly observe leaders carrying out their tasks, so their evaluations of leadership ability must be based on other criteria. Public speeches, debates, and other media engagements are the predominant means of indirectly assessing leadership potential and ability (Shamir 1995). There is an inherent subjectivity in evaluations of the public utterances of leaders because their language is mediated by followers’ perceptions and attributions, with the most effective leaders being labeled as “charismatic” (Bligh, Kohles, and Meindl 2004). Moreover, charisma is an ambiguous concept, first identified by Weber (1947: 333) as “a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least exceptional powers or qualities.”

Researchers have sought to “demystify” charismatic leadership by identifying the types of rhetoric most often associated with leaders being labeled as charismatic (Emrich et al. 2001; Schroedel et al. 2013; Seyranian and Bligh 2008; Shamir, House, and Arthur 1993). Visionary rhetoric, where the leader creates a linkage between core aspects of his or her vision and core aspects of followers’ self-concepts, has been found to be positively associated with the leader being labeled as charismatic. Somewhat surprisingly, there has been only minimal research on gender and charisma (Bligh et al. 2010). This is interesting given that charismatic constructs are often labeled as feminine or masculine based on their relationship to gender trait characteristics. Yet we would strongly suggest that the types of charismatic constructs that are labeled as feminine and masculine are closely tied to the issues and character traits typically associated with women and men.

Feminine Constructs

Communal constructs are rhetorical phrases that enhance the sense that the speaker and listeners are part of the same community. These constructs strengthen collective identity. They are gendered as feminine because they stress the empathetic (p.88) bonds between the speaker and the audience. The four communal rhetorical constructs are as follows:

  1. a. Collective focus language builds consensus and trust. It affirms a shared social identity (Hogg, Hains, and Mason 1998). One way of measuring this is through the use of words such as humanity and team.

  2. b. Followers’ worth involves language that demonstrates the leader’s confidence in her or his followers and enhances their sense of efficacy (House, Spangler, and Woycke 1991). Words that praise the audience as well as terms that are associated positive emotional states are included by this construct.

  3. c. A leader’s similarity to followers is enhanced by the use of language that highlights her or his status as a member of the same in-group as the followers (Bligh, Kohles, and Meindl 2004). This is measured by the use of language that focuses on familiarity with followers and builds rapport while downplaying individual differences.

  4. d. Cooperation language signals commitment to a shared vision and collective outcomes. The use of this type of language is considered part of the feminine leadership ethic (Marshall 1993; Rosenthal 2000). Words denoting friendship, teamwork, and self-sacrifice are included in this construct.

Masculine Constructs

The agentic charismatic constructs emphasize character traits that have been strongly associated with male leaders, such as strength, competence, and decisiveness. The agentic constructs fall into three general categories:

  1. a. Action-oriented rhetoric is a bold and purposeful articulation of a vision. It often involves a call to action (Conger 1991). Words reflecting movement, speed, and physical processes are associated with this construct.

  2. b. Adversity rhetoric typically involves a call to rebel against conditions that are presented as intolerable and that the leader, with the support of followers, will overcome (Conger 1991). Words describing situations as unacceptable typify this construct.

  3. c. Competition rhetoric goes beyond calls to action and involves goal direction. Dominance and force exemplify this masculine leadership construct (Marshall 1993; Rosenthal 2000), which is measured by language associated with personal triumph, excess energy, and resistance.

A fuller description of each construct and more examples of the words that typify each are included in Appendix A.

(p.89) Methodology


Our primary data set is composed of nearly 700 speeches given and statements made by Clinton from her 1969 commencement address at Wellesley College through to the November 6, 2012, election. To focus on prepared statements where Clinton is presenting herself to a larger audience rather than interacting with one or more individuals, the data set deliberately excludes interviews. Using her graduation from college as our starting point, the data set spans six key periods of her political development and public engagement: before becoming First Lady of Arkansas; First Lady of Arkansas; First Lady of the United States; senator of New York; presidential hopeful in the 2008 primaries; and secretary of state.

Computer-Aided Content Analysis

Using computer-aided content analysis allows us to examine Clinton in her own words and analyze choices made in her rhetoric in relation to the political context. The goal of content analysis is to make inferences from texts to context objectively and systematically (Krippendorff 1980; Neuendorf 2002). Computer-aided content analysis permits examination of subtleties within a text that might not be evident to even the most sophisticated and informed reader without the bias that can result “when something as volatile and emotional as politics is examined by something as volatile and emotional as a human being” (Hart 1984: 101). Additionally, distinguishing rhetorical style from the subject matter of particular speeches allows the identification of trends in linguistic orientation over time. Inherent in this approach is the assumption that words matter and the choice of words in framing an argument may reveal as much about the speaker as might the argument itself.7 A brief description of each construct and sample words are included in Appendix A.

A possible limitation of this type of textual analysis is that it conflates word frequency with salience—it assumes that the frequency of word use reflects their importance. This limitation is not a major factor in studying Clinton’s use of agentic and communal rhetorical constructs over time. A more important limitation is that it analyzes texts independent of context. This is of greater concern due to the range of roles played by Clinton over time, the variety of topics on which she has spoken, and differences in the audiences she has addressed. We counter this challenge by considering the context within which she spoke in our analyses.

In examining changes in Clinton’s rhetoric over time, we looked at both her position in the political system and the issues under discussion. We compared the seven rhetorical constructs over the aforementioned six time periods, using the 1969 Wellesley Commencement Address as our starting point. Acknowledging that the prevalence of masculine and feminine charismatic constructs may vary according to the subject matter of a speech and the context, we divided the statements analyzed (p.90) into three masculine and five feminine issue domains and two gender-neutral issue domains. The topics included in the feminine issue domain were women’s issues, children and families, health issues, education, and human rights. The masculine issue domain included commerce, defense, and international relations. We also identified two gender-neutral categories. The first category is composed of topics such as climate control, history, and American heritage, which are equally the domain of men and women. The second we labeled as inspirational and include commencement speeches (aside from the Wellesley Address) and statements to State Department staff and families.


The means, standard deviations, and correlations for the rhetorical constructs under examination are provided in Table 5.1. Although the four feminine rhetorical constructs correlate positively with each other and negatively with the masculine construct of action, the variables do not breakdown along strictly gendered lines, suggesting a more complex interplay between gender expectations and Clinton’s use of language over time and across issues. Table 5.2 breaks down the statements analyzed by period and the gendered nature of the subject matter. During Clinton’s years in the White House, over half of her speeches addressed topics that can be classified as feminine in orientation, such as adoption, health, and education. This proportion has progressively decreased throughout her career, and as secretary of state approximately two-thirds her statements relate to commerce, international relations, conflict, and defense, which are more masculine in orientation.

Given the change in the gender nature of the issues addressed by Clinton, it might be expected that her rhetoric changed over time to favor the masculine aspects of charisma; however, this has not been the case. We used pairwise t-tests (a statistical technique that determines if a data pair differs from each other in a significant way), that compare the average use of a particular rhetorical construct, to identify changes in Clinton’s use of the seven rhetorical constructs over time. Table 5.3 compares the means of each construct from 1969 to November 2012. Due to data availability, the analysis focuses on her time in the White House as First Lady and beyond. Over time, there were no significant changes in Clinton’s use of Adversity and Similarity to Followers. Clinton has not employed the mechanisms that unite people through the feminine construct of similarity and the masculine construct of common challenges differentially in negotiating her various leadership roles and the expectations of women in power.

Interestingly, over time and as she has become more involved in stereotypically male political and issue domains—as presidential candidate and as secretary of state—Clinton has used more of the feminine charismatic rhetorical constructs and less of the masculine. Collective Focus has steadily increased; Similarity to Followers (p.91)

Table 5.1 Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations for Clinton’s Language


Mean (s.d.)

Collective Focus

Followers’ Worth

Similarity to Followers




Collective Focus

8.89 (3.59)

Followers’ Worth

6.45 (3.22)


Similarity to Followers

2.81 (2.17)




6.18 (4.51)





2.64 (2.30)






3.48 (3.36)







3.77 (3.05)







N = 671.

(*) p < 0.05;

(**) p < 0.01.

Table 5.2 Breakdown of Statements Analyzed by Period and Subject Category


White House



State Department




























dipped during her time in Senate but has subsequently increased; and after showing little change Cooperation has increased markedly during her time as secretary of state. In contrast, Clinton’s use of the masculine aspects of charismatic rhetoric has decreased. Her use of the rhetoric of Competition peaked during her time in Senate, and Action-oriented language has decreased in frequency since Clinton became (p.92)

Table 5.3 Comparison of Means and Standard Deviations of Rhetorical Elements over Time



White House



State Department

Collective Focus



8.25 (3.40)

8.81 (4.37)

9.40 (5.99)

9.24 (3.66)

Followers’ Worth



6.09 (2.53)

5.24 (2.90)

5.89 (3.64)

6.96 (3.53)

Similarity to Followers



2.41 (1.65)

1.53 (1.20)

2.93 (2.43)

3.16 (2.41)




4.18 (2.43)

4.51 (2.05)

4.20 (2.66)

8.44 (5.21)




2.25 (1.68)

3.69 (2.82)

4.06 (2.96)

2.50 (2.33)




3.36 (3.24)

5.25 (2.91)

3.57 (2.25)

3.44 (3.70)




2.95 (2.39)

5.74 (3.84)

4.62 (3.20)

4.08 (3.27)*

Number of Speeches







(*) p < 0.05;

** p < 0.01.

secretary of state. Bligh et al. (2004) show that Clinton’s use of the Action rhetorical construct in the 2008 presidential primaries did not differ significantly from Barack Obama or Mitt Romney’s use of that construct. They further demonstrate that when compared with the language used by Obama, John McCain, and Romney in the primaries Clinton did not score significantly higher on the feminine constructs than her male counterparts and was outscored by Obama on both Collective Focus and Followers’ Worth. Thus, it may be that Clinton responded to the context of contestation in the primaries by adjusting the balance of her rhetoric.

In examining Clinton’s rhetoric in relation to issues that are generally gender stereotyped, we again used pairwise t-tests to compare the means of the seven charismatic constructs according to subject matter. This allows for a more nuanced analysis of Clinton’s negotiation of gender in language and context. Within the data set, approximately one-third of the statements relate to the stereotypically feminine issues of children, families, health, education, and human rights. Almost half of the data set relates to the stereotypically masculine issues of business, international relations, and conflict, with the majority of these coming in the latter periods of Clinton’s career. The remaining statements are split between inspirational statements made at commencements or to staff and family members and those that are gender neutral and include topics such as climate change, history, and heritage. (p.93)

Table 5.4 Comparing Means and Standard Deviations of Rhetorical Elements across Issues





Collective Focus

9.97 (6.12)

8.24 (3.38)

9.05 (3.65)

8.92 (3.73)


Followers’ Worth

6.45 (2.84)

6.14 (2.53)

7.35 (5.46)

7.92 (5.59)

Similarity to Followers

2.27 (1.85)

2.27 (1.91)

3.06 (2.40)

2.50 (2.01)


5.15 (2.89)

4.58 (2.80)

7.72 (5.46)

5.19 (2.87)


3.47 (2.36)

2.43 (1.83)

2.54 (2.57)

2.78 (1.20)


2.66 (1.86)

3.65 (3.74)

3.51 (3.43)

3.80 (2.98)


3.26 (2.37)

3.28 (2.74)

4.02 (3.23)

3.91 (3.60)

Number of Speeches





* p < 0.05;

(**) p < 0.01.

The results of this analysis of speeches according to the gendered breakdown of the issues covered are shown in Table 5.4.

While we maintain that the gendered charismatic constructs are tied closely to issues and character traits, Clinton shows how fluid these ties can be when navigated by a skilled leader and communicator. Although there is no significant difference in the usage of the Action, Adversity, and Followers’ Worth rhetorical constructs, it is interesting to note that the lowest average scores for Followers’ Worth occur in the feminine issue category. Similarity to Followers, another feminine rhetorical construct, is significantly higher for masculine issues than for either feminine issues or inspirational statements, as is Cooperation. For each of the stereotypically feminine rhetorical constructs, the lowest average is recorded in a feminine issue category. The only masculine rhetorical construct with a significant difference between issue categories is Competition, which is higher for masculine issues than feminine issues.

These results suggest that Clinton employs the masculine rhetorical structure of Competition according to traditional expectations in relation to gendered issue areas—highlighting conflict when discussing stereotypically masculine issues and downplaying it in stereotypically feminine domains. However, she deviates from traditional expectation in her use of the feminine rhetorical structures. Clinton uses feminine aspects of charisma more than masculine ones in speaking about (p.94) stereotypically masculine issues. She brings the strengths of both masculine and feminine charisma to these statements. This counterintuitive result validates the choice of single rather than composite measures in exploring Clinton’s use of gender in her rhetoric, since, like her career, her rhetoric does not follow established or expected patterns.

Discussion and Conclusion

In examining Clinton’s rhetoric during the 2008 presidential primaries, Bligh et al. (2010: 18) conceived of her voice as “the particular leadership style expressed in Clinton’s speeches” and demonstrated her manipulation of masculine and feminine charismatic constructs over the course of the primaries. They concluded that they could not sufficiently assess if Clinton had found her voice during the primaries. In examining Clinton’s rhetoric, “her voice” as it may be, over a longer period, we sought to examine her development as a charismatic and unprecedented woman leader over time, according to her own words. In her confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 13, 2009, Clinton expressed her philosophy as the nominated secretary of state:

I believe that American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted. We must use what has been called “smart power”: the full range of tools at our disposal—diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural—picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.

Although she was speaking about the role of American leadership in the international system at a particular point of time, Clinton’s words can be seen as reflecting part of her own leadership philosophy. Throughout her political career and in the various roles in which she has served, Clinton has used the full range of tools at her disposal. We found changes in her rhetoric over time and in response to the political context and her subject matter. The balancing between masculine and feminine charismatic constructs across issue areas we found underscores how Clinton demonstrates that “to understand feminine is to understand masculine” (Duerst-Lahti 1997: 12). Documenting Clinton’s understanding and mastery of gendered rhetorical constructs challenges stereotypes and reveals that the development of a voice, while fluid in using gendered language in unexpected ways, remains distinctively feminine and in control.


(p.95) Appendix A: Overview of Charismatic Structures




Sample Words

Collective Focus

Singular nouns connoting plurality that function to decrease specificity, reflecting a dependence on categorical modes of thought. Includes social groupings, task groups, and geographical entities.

Crowd, choir, team, humanity, army, congress, legislature, staff, county, world, kingdom, republic

Follower’s Worth

Affirmations of a person, group, or abstract entity.

Dear, delightful, witty, mighty, handsome, beautiful, shred, bright, vigilant, reasonable, successful, conscientious, renowned, faithful, good, noble

Similarity to Followers

Attitudinal similarities among groups of people. Includes terms of affinity, assent, deference and identity.

Congenial, camaraderie, companion, approve, vouch, tolerance, willing, consensus, resemble, equivalent


Behavioral interactions among people that often result in group outcomes. Includes relationships from formal work and informal associations to more intimate interactions, job-related tasks, personal involvement, and self-denial.

Unions, schoolmates, caucus, chum, partner, cronies, sisterhood, friendship, consolidate, mediate, alignment, network, detente, exchange, public-spirited, care-taking, self-sacrifice, teamwork, sharing, contribute


Human movement, physical processes, journeys, speed, and modes of transit.

Bustle, job, lurch, leap, circulate, momentum, revolve, twist, barnstorm, jaunt, wandering, travels, lickety-split, nimble, zip, ride, fly, glide, swim


Natural disasters, hostile actions, censurable human behavior, unsavory political outcomes, and human fears.

Earthquake, starvation, killers, bankruptcy, enemies, vices, infidelity, despots, betrayal, injustices, exploitation, grief, death


Human competition and forceful action including physical energy, social domination, and goal-directedness. Includes words associated with personal triumph excess human energy, disassembly, and resistance.

Blast, crash, explode, collide, conquest, attacking, violation, crusade, command, challenging, overcome, master, defend, rambunctious, prod, poke, pound, shove, dismantle, demolish, overturn, prevent


(1) . When asked by pollsters in 1993 whether they preferred a more traditional First Lady, 70 percent of respondents concurred (Burrell 1997: 181).

(2) . Clinton played a major behind-the-scenes role in crafting and building support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program that provided health coverage for children whose families’ incomes exceeded the levels for eligibility of Medicaid coverage but that were still too low to be able to afford health insurance (Jackson 2008).

(3) . During her eight years in the White House, Clinton traveled to 79 countries, more than any previous First Lady (Healy 2007).

(4) . More than 20 articles in the popular press compared Hillary Clinton to Lady Macbeth (Burns 2008: 142).

(5) . While serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clinton had become familiar with the Defense Department’s review process and used it as a model for the State Department’s new review process (Wolfson 2009).

(6) . With specific regard to Clinton, see Gaffney and Blaylock 2010.

(7) . We employ DICTION 5.0 as our primary tool in examining Clinton’s negotiation of the stereotypically gendered communal and agentic rhetorical constructs over time. Developed explicitly for examining American political rhetoric and grounded in linguistic theory, DICTION uses the words most frequently encounter in U.S. political discourse in enumerating patterns in language choices, clusters of lexical and contextual associations in thinking, the epistemological assumptions of the speakers’ communicative cultures, verbal tone, proportionality, and intertextual “continuities and discontinuities” in language usage (Hart 2001: 44). As a lexical program, DICTION concentrates solely on word choice and the frequency of predefined families of words. It uses 33 predefined dictionaries containing over 10,000 search words in analyzing text. DICTION chunks texts into 500-word passages for analysis and then averages the characteristics of each of the individual passage to yield a composite score for each text. This allows for easy comparison of speeches regardless of their length. For the same of consistency and comparability, we included statements only 500 words or longer in our data set.