Maybe you’ve heard, but the United States is currently going through a lot right now. On Wednesday night, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached President Trump in what was essentially a party line vote. In that instant, he became the third president to be impeached in U.S. history. Presiding over that historic moment? Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose every move has been carefully observed and analyzed ever since she announced the impeachment inquiry back in September.
When the time came to announce the results of the vote for the first article of impeachment — abuse of power — the tension in the room was palpable, even through a TV screen.
“On this vote, the yeas are 230, the nays are 197. Present is one. Article 1 is adopted," Pelosi said, quickly slamming her gavel. Some applause and murmurs began to erupt from the House Floor, and in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, the speaker glared to her right and gestures for them to cut it out. Admittedly, it’s not clear who exactly she was targeting, but they definitely received the message as the would-be commotion quickly fizzled out.
The speaker’s nonverbal command was immediately meme-ified, with many people describing it as a classic mom look. And, it's already en route to topping her iconic State of the Union power clap. This one, though, felt all-too familiar — whether it’s the glare you got as a kid when you took one too many cookies or it’s the glare you’ve given your own children for acting unruly, its meaning is about as universal as it gets. And experts can't help but agree on this.
“As soon as she said, ‘Article 1 is adopted, she hit that gavel quick and hard,’” Patti Wood, a body language expert, tells Refinery29. “The reason I want to emphasize that is because that was her first admonishment to keep part of the House from erupting.”
The assumption has been that Pelosi was shushing fellow Democrats who had begun to clap after the first article of impeachment was passed. But it could very well be that she was in fact trying to keep everyone’s emotions in check — including her own.
“You see her lips go down together very, very tight like a sealed bag, and slightly inward,” Wood points out. “And her chin is tight as well. That says two things: She’s looking out there and emphasizing, ‘I’m keeping my emotions in check, and you keep your emotions in check.’”
Pelosi’s lips then go downward “in sourness,” meaning that the lips go down and go back out within a fleeting second. “It’s really quick,” Wood says. “Then she gives the side eye. She gave the mom side eye of admonishment. If you look at her lips, there’s lack of symmetry. Part of her wants to be emotional and express outward.”
But presumably because of her role as speaker and being under such public scrutiny, Pelosi maintains her composure, emphasizing the somberness of the moment at hand.
“She’s holding herself in check,” Wood explains. “But her side-eye with the card is symbolically saying, ‘No.’ It strikes out and forward. She’s holding it together as well, and she pretty successfully does it. She had a lot to contend with.”
While the entirety of the viral moment was merely a few seconds, Wood theorizes that it’s resonated with so many people because most of us have felt emotionally impacted by the impeachment process.
“However you feel about it, it’s been so many months of holding onto these emotions,” she says. “[Pelosi] was representing for us what was going to happen with our emotional state. She’s communicating that they are confident in the vote, in the message they’re sending. She didn’t want it to be rabble-rousing on either side. All of that was strong, but it wasn’t over-the-top strong — it was controlled strong.”