During the 2016 presidential campaign, there was a lot of negative commentary about Hillary Clinton's voice. Some examples from across the political spectrum are compiled and discussed here, and even-the-liberal-The-Atlantic published on "The Science Behind Hating Hillary's Voice". Since Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump pretty much got a pass for vocal characteristics analogous to Hillary's, it was suggested more than once that the criticism was sexist, most creatively in this reprise of Shout by Dominique Salerno and Laura Hankin.
In fact, considering how many people have criticized aspects of Donald Trump's speaking style, it's striking that there's been so little discussion of his tone of voice as opposed to his rhetorical style and content. But this balance is distinctly different for his senior advisor Stephen Miller — see Kali Holloway, "What makes Trump advisor Stephen Miller so unlikeable?", Salon 2/15/2017. That article leads with a collection of video clips from Miller's recent interviews — here's the audio track:
Holloway's evaluation of those clips is strongly negative, and also distinctly gendered:
If you caught any of those appearances, you may have noticed a few Miller trademark gestures. Empty, reptilian eyes scanning left to right over cue cards. A pouty mouth delivering each insane untruth. And a voice that sounds like every hyper-unlikable, pompous, joyless, self-important authority-on-everything you’ve ever met. Or as Katie McDonough of Fusion puts it, “he has the voice of someone who is a dick.”
The link takes us to Katie McDonough, "Why does Stephen Miller sound like such a dick? A voice coach explains", Fusion 2/13/2017:
Stephen Miller sounds like a dick.
A person could mean this in the ad hominem sense, surely. He is one of the architects behind the xenophobic and exceedingly dickish Muslim ban that was recently blocked by a federal appeals court. As a high school student, he wrote dick letters to the editor that complained about receiving class communications in English and Spanish. In college, he was a dick about racism and sexism and gave his column in the student newspaper the very dick name, “Miller Time.”
But Miller also sounds like a dick in a more direct sense. He has the voice of someone who is a dick.
Watching Miller, a stranger, I was struck by the familiarity of his dick voice. I know this dick, I thought.
Curious if there is such a thing as a quantifiable dick voice, I reached out to John West, the head of speech coaching at New York Speech Coaching, to get some perspective. West works with CEOs, hedge fund managers, politicians, and actors to help them become more effective speakers. He also, presumably, helps them to not sound like dicks.
McDonough's voice-coach interviewee is somewhat evasive on the gender-stereotype issue:
Q: We talk about vocal fry and upspeak as these ways of critiquing women’s speech and voices, but is “asshole voice” a differently gendered version of this?
A: And if we were at all concerned about what will we can call this type, thank you for putting that to rest. I think we have landed on this now and I look forward to you making this the next big thing in vocal pop culture.
Yes, asshole speak, sure. I think that, again, a big part of what we espouse and try to dissect as speech professionals is where things fall on the gamut. As soon as we try to reduce things to black and white we do get ourselves locked into our biases.
You can read the whole interview and see what you think.
My own impression is that the expert's comments are mostly subjective ones, which may be correct, but as a whole leave the quantification of "dick voice" (or the less implicitly gendered "asshole voice") as a task for speech scientists of the future. There's been a lot of work on "sentiment analysis" or "emotion classification" from voice (and video), but remarkably little on personality projection. Maybe a workshop at Interspeech 2018?
Miller's tone (and content as well) have engendered similarly strong reactions elsewhere. Monday morning on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were temporarily speechless after presenting a couple of minutes of Miller Sunday-show highlights:
In the past, I've been skeptical about the gender association of phenomena like uptalk and vocal fry — or at least concerned about the lack of evidence and the danger of confirmation bias for stereotypes. And I'll take the same attitude towards "asshole voice", whatever exactly it is — let's wait until we have some evidence before concluding that it's a guy thing rather than an asshole thing.
For more of Stephen Miller in context, here's his full 2/12/2017 appearance on Fox:
Update — Gail Collins writes that Stephen Miller "sounds like a really unpopular college sophomore complaining about his grades", linking to this ABC News interview: