Prominent feminists have expressed anger at a high profile BBC presenter for saying Hillary Clinton has a “slightly shrill tone”, setting off a debate about how the media describes female politicians.
James Naughtie was presenting a segment on Thursday’s Today Programme about Clinton at the Democratic National Committee when one of programme’s hosts asked him whether the presidential hopeful had a “bit of a woman problem.”
He answered: “She does. There’s something about her which puts some people off. It’s partly the history. It’s partly the slightly shrill tone which she tends to adopt sometimes in speeches.”
Caroline Criado-Perez, feminist author and campaigner, called Naughtie’s comment “gobsmacking”.
Clinton, the first woman to be nominated for US president by a major party, has faced criticism in the US media about her tone and style of speaking.
During the primary campaign in March, MSNBC interrupted coverage of her speech about job creation and gender equality to talk about her voice.
The network’s Lawrence O’Donnell said: “One of the trickier things to teach people about public speaking is that the microphone works, you don’t have to actually yell... There’s a private version of Hillary Clinton that’s very winning and very charming, that’s because there’s no microphone.”
Naughtie made his comment after Today played a famous excerpt from a 1995 speech by Clinton in China when she was First Lady.
She said: “I believe that now, on the eve of a new millennium, it’s time to break the silence. It’s time for us to say, for the world to hear, that’s no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights.”
Journalist Sunny Hundal was stunned at Naughtie’s subsequent comment but journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer responded, denying it was sexist and it related to her “horrific” voice.
But some claimed there was a double standard because the word “shrill was “another way of criticising women’s voices”.
Another pointed out that Clinton’s tone of voice was a small issue compared to Donald Trump’s belligerent rhetoric.
A BBC spokeswoman told HuffPost UK that Naughtie was “conveying in his commentary and analysis the perceptions of Hillary Clinton by US voters”.
She added: “When the piece is listened to in its entirety the context is clear.”