People prefer leaders with deep voices. I recently linked to these findings:
“Research that looked at US presidential candidates between 1960 and 2000 found that in all eight elections, the candidate with the lower voice had won the popular vote.”
Experimental results confirmed this observed preference. This is not particularly surprising. A deep voice is a sign of high testosterone, and High T people tend to be assertive, confrontational, and socially dominant. In a world with competing groups (hunter-gatherer tribes, city-states, corporations), you want your leader to stand up for the in-group and defend it.
Anyone who saw the recent film, The Iron Lady, knows that Margaret Thatcher underwent voice coaching during her political ascent. Here is a comparison of her earlier, higher-pitched, more feminine voice and her later, lower-pitched, more masculine voice.
To the extent that people — note: both men AND women — prefer high testosterone leaders of their in-group, then we’d expect the women to be under-represented in politics, particularly in executive roles. But the women that do succeed will be high testosterone and “tough as nails”: Margaret Thatcher (“The Iron Lady”), Hillary Clinton (hawkish foreign policy), Nancy Pelosi (the death stare), Sarah “Barracuda” Palin. They will come from high testosterone professions (lawyers are High T), and have reputations for being competitive and confrontational. Not exactly shrinking violets.
Despite women as a whole facing this disadvantage, the High T female politicians who break through can flip the script on men. Women are insulated from charges of sexism, and thus dominant women can explicitly emasculate men by telling them to “man up“, like Palin did. (Can you imagine a male politician telling a woman to “woman up”, or “act like a lady”?)
Or more subtly, consider this brilliant moment in the history of oratory and rhetoric courtesy of the Iron Lady. Watch until the end.
By saying “The Lady’s not for turning”, it was a swipe at political critics and rivals, mostly men, who wanted to reverse the liberalization of the British economy. The implication was that these so-called men were less resolute and more cowardly than a lady. Talk about sexist! Thatcher reveled in this tactic, embracing certain feminine qualities — like wearing pearls or offering tea — while dominating the men around her.
No matter your political persuasion, it’s hard not to admire what she accomplished. She was a true pioneer.