News & Politics

RIP Vocal Coach Christine Jahnke, Who Taught Female Politicians How to Avoid Sexist Critiques Every Time They Spoke

Christine Jahnke at the Center for American Women and Politics's Ready to Run campaign training program in 2014. Photograph by Vincent Cimilluca/CAWP.

Christine Jahnke died August 4. She was 57 and had cancer. Jahnke, who lived in Washington, was a top vocal coach for Democratic women: She consulted on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and helped Michelle Obama prep for a speech in 2009, among many other clients.

Washingtonian profiled Jahnke in 2016, writing about how she taught people to battle “our culture’s inbred animosity toward women who seek positions of power,” as Alexis Sobel Fitts wrote. Jahnke taught Sobel Fitts what she described as a “stealth move for interrupting men”:

If a woman just butts in—my technique when I find myself drowned out in editorial meetings—she comes across as hostile. The trick, says Jahnke, is to wait for the speaker to take a breath. In that pause, she says, you break in with two things: the person’s name (people stop when they hear their name) and a leading phrase (“That’s a great idea, Joe, but we need to consider . . . .”). The idea, Jahnke explains, is to make your voice heard without allowing a man to feel that his idea is being dismissed or demeaned.

Jahnke admired US Senator Kamala Harris’s ability to communicate, the New York Times wrote in an obituary. Harris wasn’t one of her clients, but she appreciated the way the senator’s techniques “enabled her to command the stage. … If you listen carefully, you will notice how slowly she is speaking and how she uses pauses to add drama.”

Her clients, she told the Times last year, “come into training sessions more aware of what they need to work on because they have been dealing with the tone police all of their lives.”

“I can show you endless clips of men being…grrr,” Jahnke told Sobel Fitts. “They just look authoritative. A woman does that and she is shrill, angry.”

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.

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