Even now, in the 21st century, double standards for men and women are not only alive and well, but thriving. And this is especially true in the world of politics. Today, January 31st, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders demonstrated the most eye roll-inducing of sexist double standards when she commented that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi needed to “smile more.”
In an interview on CNN’s New Day, host Chris Cuomo noted that Pelosi seemed perturbed during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30th. But Sanders disagreed with Cuomo and took it a step further by saying that Pelosi’s facial expression was indicative of the Democrats’ unwillingness to work with Republicans.
Pelosi’s Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill came to Pelosi’s defense on Twitter, clapping back at Sanders.
Certainly, Pelosi expressed deep disapproval of Trump’s address, which included references to “chain migration” and negative remarks on Obamacare. On Twitter, she wrote that she felt Trump’s speech had “sowed division.” But Pelosi’s frown, rather than her opinions, is what has been commented on the most.
The attitude that women should “smile more” is an insidious trend that has affected more female politicians than just Pelosi. Hillary Clinton was subjected to the same attitudes during her presidential campaign, when NBC anchor Joe Scarborough tweeted at her “Smile. You just had a big night,” after she won the Democratic primary. And Republican candidate Carly Fiorina said that many told her she didn’t smile enough during her performance in the Republican debates during primary season.
The notion that female politicians need to smile more plays into the harmful stereotypes that women are “shrill” and must always be agreeable. It’s also an unfair standard; male politicians aren’t subjected to the same scrutiny over their facial expressions. The bottom line is that it’s never okay to tell a woman to smile — not even if you’re another woman. We hope that next time Sanders can argue her point without making a gendered attack on another woman.