Donald Trump is the second-most “feminine”-sounding candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a new analysis of the candidates’ speeches and debate performances. Due to his use of phrases like “my beautiful family” and “lasting and effective relationships,” Trump comes in right behind Hillary Clinton when it comes to language that’s biased toward women.
The ranking comes courtesy of Textio, whose software analyzes job postings for coded or gendered language that might turn off potential candidates. Textio classifies words and phrases as feminine or masculine if they elicit a statistically significant number of positive responses from women or men, respectively. The method might be scientific, but the results—“conscience” and “open our hearts” are feminine; “will not tolerate” and “absolutely destroy” are masculine—hew to the same binary gender stereotypes that have been around for generations.
Still, Trump broke the mold: His language, the most polarized between masculine and feminine of any candidate, proved just as impossible to pin down as his policy ideas. Trump’s speeches, while more feminine than all the other men in the field, are also full of masculine-coded phrases like “driven to compete” and “like you’ve never seen,” plus rude words like “imbecile” and “dummy,” which turn women off more than men.
Trump has been adding more feminine words, phrases, and themes to his speeches as his campaign has progressed, possibly for the benefit of the female electorate. “If men add these little feminine flourishes, they have it both ways—they get admired for being tough and yet people like them,” linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen told the New York Times. Women, on the other hand, risk being pegged as too aggressive if they adopt masculine phrasing. Textio had to modify its existing algorithm to account for the fact that every candidate uses feminine-biased words like “contributions” and “family” quite frequently, but found that Clinton discusses family five times as often as the others.
Robin Lakoff, author of Language and Woman’s Place, considered the candidates’ nonverbal communication and found Trump, he of enthusiastic gestures and elaborate facial expressions, to be even more feminine than Clinton. Ted Cruz, with his monotone inflection and short sentences, was the most masculine. Cruz’s words are also the most masculine of all the candidates’, and he’s far more committed to male-biased words than Clinton is to female-biased ones. His speeches are littered with masculine words and phrases—“relentless,” “hunt down,” “totally destroy”—that would sound more at home in a video-game commercial than a level-headed political debate. In anecdotes about other people, which pop-up an average of four times per thousand words in candidates’ speeches, Cruz references individual men nine times for every one story about a woman. Clinton’s stories are the most gender-balanced, with just three times as many stories of men as of women, in part because she talks about her husband more than any other individual person. Rubio mentions men 18 times for every story about a woman; in almost every case, that woman is his mother.
When he’s not talking about ethnic minorities, particularly people from Mexico—with more negativity than any other candidate—Trump is talking about himself. The average candidate uses first-person language 125 times per 1,000 words; Trump’s average is 212. He also addresses his audiences with “you” less than any other candidate, a surprising tack for a populist wannabe politician. But when a candidate has already defied the gender binary of language, the confines of traditional political speech are easy to absolutely destroy.