Tough. But not too tough. Aggressive but not too aggressive. Smile, but don't smile too much. The standards that female politicians are expected to adhere to are far more rigid and stern as compared to their male counterparts, with absolutely zero room for mistakes.
Earlier this week, US Senator Kamala Harris, a woman of colour and the first Indian-origin woman to run for Vice President, faced current VP Mike Pence at the Vice Presidential debate ahead of the elections. The Harris-Pence debate saw a flurry of situations unfold over important issues, but was less chaotic than the Biden-Trump debate. With flies sitting on Pence's head and Harris' epic comeback to her opponent every time he interrupted her while speaking, the fact that the latter kept smiling almost all through the debate was not hard to miss. But scrutinising eyes managed to find a problem with that.
Even as her announcement of the Green New Deal and her views on fracking were widely discussed, Kamala Harris' smile became the centre of focus on social media. All you have to do is search for 'Kamala Harris smile' on Twitter, you will be bombarded with a plethora of opinions - on how her smile was fake, on how it was a mood, on how it reminded every desi netizen of their mom's death stare. On why her smile was too much or maybe not enough.
For a whole day, netizens dissected each and every expression by Harris and were quick to opine whether they thought it was necessary or not. Take a look:
Kamala Harris’ fake smile while Pence is talking smack is the code-switching behavior that many Black folks know all too well from working in predominantly white environments.— uché blackstock, md (@uche_blackstock) October 8, 2020
What Kamala Harris taught the United States today to talk less and smile more........— ‼️VOTE NOW ‼️ (@p0sitivekhidd) October 8, 2020
lol the summary of this debate is Kamala Harris' continuously astonished smile— Hera Naguib (@HeraNaguib) October 8, 2020
I just saw Kamala Harris’ smile and wave as she came onstage and for me she’s already lost the debate.— Adele Scalia (@AdeleScalia) October 8, 2020
The guys that tell women to smile more are angry that Kamala Harris smiled so much.— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) October 9, 2020
"I'm speaking...mmmkay..." *smiles and nods condescendingly* ugh...its an awful look! #Debates2020 #biden #trump2020 #MikePence #KamalaHarris pic.twitter.com/8VqY8TloHx— Laura Wright (@TheWrightPhotos) October 8, 2020
The Venn Diagram of people who are critical of Kamala Harris' facial expressions and people who tell women to smile more is a circle.— Ms. Charlotte (@charlotteirene8) October 8, 2020
Female politicians, over the years, have repeatedly been asked to smile more. Here's a report by CNN which lists down every time women in public eye were under the scanner for their smiles. "She's not smiling enough, she's too aggressive", "she's coming on too strong", "this is unattractive" -- these are just some of the blatantly sexist comments that have frequently been directed at Harris and other politicians like Hillary Clinton or US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Mike Pence smiled a lot too, all through the debate, especially while he was speaking over his opponent and the moderator. But no one's talking about that. No one dissects and takes apart US President Donald Trump's expressions either, despite his aggressiveness which was on full display during the Presidential debate.
In 2016, while Hillary Clinton was reading out her victory speech, a host from MSNBC tweeted what every woman must have heard at some point in their lives; he tweeted that Clinton should "smile."
A few weeks later, Clinton was criticised for not smiling enough. Then-Republican National Committee Chairman had said that Clinton looked too angry and that, in his eyes, was unappealing.
Clinton, who has faced such casual sexism all her career, once told CNN during an interview that she felt being asked to smile more was sexist. Citing that there are male politicians who speak too loud or don't smile often, Clinton said, "Well let me say, I don't hear anybody say that about men."
But that was not it. When she later faced Donald Trump at the Presidential debate, Clinton stood by quietly, smiling all through, as Trump addressed the audience. While the debate covered important topics, like Trump's sexist comments all through his campaign, Clinton's critics had something else on their minds - why is she smiling so much?
Text from a GOP friend of mine in Congress.I'm sorry, Congressman, but tonight Hillary is coming across as presidential. #DebateNight pic.twitter.com/DsEEV2FSho— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) September 27, 2016
Who told Hillary Clinton to keep smiling like she’s at her granddaughter’s birthday party?— David Frum (@davidfrum) September 27, 2016
And this time too, after the Vice Presidential debate, history repeats itself. Harris smiles less, she gets criticised. Smiling too much makes her "bossy" or "nasty". But it looks like she really doesn't care about such sexist gender roles. You shouldn't too.