It happened with Sen. Hillary Clinton, and it's happening with Gov. Sarah Palin. CNN has confirmed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid characterized VP candidate Gov. Sarah Palin as "shrill."
It's a way to attack the person based on perceptions rather than discussing the relevant issues. And male candidates aren't called shrill.
According to the encyclopedia, such stereotypes are common, as in: ‘Well, she's supposed to be back by now but she's probably stopped off somewhere to gossip. You know how women are.’ There are many such generalizations: for example, that the tone of women's voices is or should be soft and feminine, while men's tones are or should be deep and masculine; that in female gatherings (hen parties), voices are shrill or cackling; that women's intonation is often (like that of children) whining or nagging.1.
Interestingly, Gov. Palin used the gender stereotype in this race too, calling Sen. Clinton a "whiner."
I call on the leaders and the media to stop using sexist terms to define and to silence female candidates - of any party. This includes: "shrill," "whining," and "Cheerleader-in-Chief."
1 Source: Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language Date: 1998 http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O29-GENDERBIAS.html