Obama’s “Feminine” Communication Style

Posted by:
Category: Negotiation, President & Executive Branch
1 Comment »

A few weeks ago, Kathleen Parker, a writer for the Washington Post, likened Obama to a woman because of his negotiation style, calling him the first female president. (See the article here.)  Confronted with crises and criticisms, our President hasn’t responded in the alpha dog style of many male politicians. Instead, he’s a listener and talks it out. Traditionally, according to Parker, these methods are exercised almost exclusively by women. While the author is quick to commend the President on this refreshing change from the norm, she also points out that his style, especially in response to crises like the BP oil disaster, may have decreased his effectiveness.  Does this mean that women, in negotiating and communicating in this talk-it-out method are also less effective? Or is that assessment only true of men who adopt that style? The article goes on to cite research from University of Minnesota Professor Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, who asserts that men can adopt feminine communication styles without the consequence of being labelled as ineffective. Parker, however, isn’t convinced that Obama hasn’t suffered for his adoption. 

Additionally, women are generally viewed as effective communicators while employing “feminine” communication styles, but have been chastised for taking on styles normally attributed to men. For example, Hillary Clinton has received continual criticism for talking too assertively. (For more on this, see my book chapter with others on gender, politics and negotiation or  my article comparing Clinton’s experience to female lawyers)  On the other hand, female candidates who are perceived as likable might also be trivalized.  (See a great Newsweek article from early July, Too Hot to Handle.)

Parker’s article seems to suggest, contrary to Campbell’s findings, that men are subject to equal amounts of criticism. What do you think? Would you agree that Obama’s style, in comparison to past presidents and to the stereotypical male politician, is “feminine” and that he is suffering as a result of that adoption? Is this sentiment true of other men who adopt the “listener” style?

Cross posted at Indisputably.

Print Friendly

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

One Response to “Obama’s “Feminine” Communication Style”

  1. Ed Fallone Says:

    Comparison to the feminine is an established rhetorical device in American political history. Lincoln was applauded by one of his early biographers for being “a man of heart — aye, as gentle as a woman’s and as tender. . .” By the time of the gilded age, and the rise of rampant capitalism, the feminine style was viewed as a liability in politics rather than a positive attribute. Historian Richard Hofstadter described how agitators for legislative reform in the late nineteenth century were derided by the bosses that controlled political parties. These bosses identified “rapacity with manliness, looked upon [reformers] as dudes, freaks, immune to the spirit of their time not out of virtue but perversity — ‘man-milliners’ . . .” And who can forget Arnold Schwarzenegger’s put down of the “girly-men” who opposed his legislative priorities? I consider Parker’s disquisition to be less of a serious inquiry into modes of communication and more of a reflection of the political opposition to Obama’s policies.

Leave a Reply