Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

A Woman Ran for President: A Political and Gender Discourse Analysis on Hillary Clinton

A Woman Ran for President: A Political and Gender Discourse Analysis on Hillary Clinton

Bridget Bennane

2016 was the first year that a woman made it to the general elections for president in the United States. However, after a long and hard campaign, Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency. Using the transcripts from the three presidential debates and commentary from three media outlets, this paper analyzes Clinton’s discourse and how the media could have affected the public’s perception of Clinton using gender stereotypes. Using Fran Tonkiss’s method for discourse analysis, word counts on specific words and phrases were done to analyze and identify key themes, arguments, variations, and emphases in her speaking. Some of the categories examined and counted were her use of pronouns, how she used Donald Trump’s name, the number of times she mentioned family, women, or children, and how many times she insulted or interrupted someone. The words that someone uses in their speech can tell a lot about their intentions. While the media criticized her for her sarcasm and “creepy” smile, a deeper look at Hillary Clinton’s words provide insight into some unnoticed details.

April 6, 2017 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This is an interesting take to look at this election from the sole perspective of H. Clinton’s spoken words, did your results find that her speech patterns fall into what is expected of ‘females’ within our culture? Or did they fall outside of cultural norms- perhaps leading to her being constantly ostracized? I imagine there was a plethora of material to go through for this paper…an possible future study could look at her linguistic ‘style’ over time, from first lady < senator < secretary of state < presidential candidate. Does her linguistic style change with public position, political environment, or as female dynamics shift?

    Comment by Kelsey Jorgensen | April 6, 2017 | Reply

    • I make the point in my paper that she does do things like insult and interrupt, which are not normally considered “expected” behavior for a female in our culture. I also discuss how those patterns are picked up by the media and turned into gender biased accusations because Donald Trump was worse with his insults and interruptions and wasn’t as hounded by the media. I think that study you suggest would be awesome and I’ve considered it for further research.

      Comment by Bridget Bennane | April 26, 2017 | Reply

  2. hey Bridget! This an interesting topic that I touch on in my paper. I comment that no matter what type of discourse she used (male-patterned: harsher speech, interruptions, non-emotive, or female-patterned: hedges, softer and higher tones, collaborative, emotive) she was criticized. I’m interested to know what you found during the course of your research.

    Comment by Stacy Markel | April 8, 2017 | Reply

    • Hey, Stacy. I would be very interested in any sources you have on the topic. My conclusion was that the way she talked and responded in the 3 debates was taken harsher than if she were a man (ex: Donald Trump). I explain that Donald Trump insults and interrupts many more times than she did and yet she is the one being called “an animal.”

      Comment by Bridget Bennane | April 26, 2017 | Reply

  3. I’m sure there will be plenty to say on this topic as more women come into higher political rankings (as I certainly hope they follow in her footsteps!). I would love to read this paper. I am curious to know the biggest piece of advice a female candidate can take away from a work like this and apply to their campaign.

    Comment by Rebecca Cornejo | April 10, 2017 | Reply

  4. This paper sounds fascinating! I think your method is a very interesting approach… I’m curious if you discussed whether different authors behind Hilary Clinton’s speeches had an impact on words used, since her words were often determined by a whole team of people. Since these debates are so heavily practiced and sometimes scripted (remember Marco Rubio’s big scripted fail?), I’m curious if that kind of discourse (within Debate) differs when it comes to other forms of political discourse.

    Comment by Elizabeth Riedman | April 15, 2017 | Reply

    • I’m not a presidential debate expert but I believe that a lot of her answers were practiced while some were off the cuff. I’m sure a debate candidate can quote specific lines everytime they speak during a debate. Therefore, in my paper I explain that I chose the debates because they were somewhat less “scripted.”

      Comment by Bridget Bennane | April 26, 2017 | Reply

  5. First and foremost, I am amazed at and incredibly envious of your ability to present your research so concisely! I would recommend fleshing out the methodology portion of your abstract just a little more. Specifically, I would like to know which three media outlets you selected in analyzing commentary from three presidential debates and, if space allows, why these particular media outlets were selected. Given the partisan nature that generally characterizes most news outlets, briefly explaining your reasoning for selecting the three news outlets explored in your paper might be worth mentioning as (I would imagine) your selection would have a significant impact on your analysis. I would also suggest providing a brief sentence at the end of your abstract summarizing your conclusions. Can you briefly summarize the nature of the “intentions” and/or “unnoticed details” that you mention? Really fascinating paper topic!

    Comment by Kailey McAlpin | April 17, 2017 | Reply

    • Hey, Kailey. I looked at a study done on the political leanings of several large media outlets and from there decided to use CNN, BBC, and Fox News. I’m sure you can understand why CNN and Fox News but I had a hard time deciding on the third because I wanted it to be somewhat neutral. So while BBC is not an American news outlet many Americans do use them for news and they consider them a neutral-ish party. Thanks!

      Comment by Bridget Bennane | April 26, 2017 | Reply

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