Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, employed a serious demeanor during the last two showdowns. She stayed stoic when selling her foreign policy prescriptions. Her eyes hardened after opponent Donald Trump called her “beautiful.”
In short: She acted no differently than the 10 other men on stage, who didn't have to field comments about their appearance.
Fiorina's remarks on smile frequency may have come in response to CNN’s Michael Smerconish, who complained she wasn't exactly chipper in the first GOP debate. “There was not a smile all night long,” he said in September. “There are times to be serious, but you’ve got to loosen it up a little bit.”
The tendency may be ingrained in our psyches. Decades of research shows why someone like Fiorina, the only woman gunning for the GOP nomination, might face different societal standards.
In a 2000 study, researchers dressed babies in gender-neutral colors and asked a group of adults to guess their sex. Infants who cried were thought to be boys. Those who smiled and cooed were labeled girls.
“Analysis showed a tendency among young adults to perceive newborn infants as male immediately following birth,” the researchers wrote, “and this perceptual bias diminished if the babies smile.”
They showed another group of participants pictures of happy or angry adult faces and asked them to name the gender. People labeled grinning women as female and frowning men as male. They hesitated, however, when confronted with images of displeased women and delighted men.
Female participants in a bevy of psychology studies also reported smiling more often than male participants. A 2003 report found sex differences in smiling were larger when respondents reacted to environments that called for “gender-appropriate behavior.” Another from 1990 found women in simulated job interviews smiled more than men, even when they played a hiring manager.
Women, of course, don't always smile because they're happy. They may also feel more pressure to smile from others.
Last month, a sports reporter asked Serena Williams, objectively one of the most talented athletes on the planet, why she wasn't smiling after an exhausting match. (Her unvarnished response: "You’re not making it super enjoyable.")
Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh built her career on a viral campaign called Stop Telling Women to Smile, which became last year a documentary about street harassment. The posters she pastes on buildings across the country feature portraits of women, arms-crossed, expressions sour, with captions like: Critiques on my body are not welcome.
Fiorinna's five-second smile suggests these critiques remain persistent for women in politics and on America's sidewalks.