During the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday, October 7th, Senator Kamala Harris found herself in a position that many women find themselves in all too often. While answering a question posed to her, the vice-presidential nominee was interrupted by Vice President Mike Pence, who continued to speak over her, even though she reminded him that it was in fact her turn.
"Mr. Vice President, I'm speaking," she said while maintaining a smile and her composure.
Commentators, both male and female, took notice and spoke on the uncomfortable position Senator Harris, and many women, find themselves in when dealing with men in a professional setting.
CNN's Van Jones remarked: "She had to walk that tightrope that women of color, and women in general, have to walk. Of being strong, but not too strong... She got run over by Pence over and over again, the moderator did nothing about it, but she kept her poise, she kept her composure, and she did great tonight." Jones elaborated further, ultimately calling Vice President Pence "mansplainer-in-chief".
Others who watched the debate came to a similar conclusion. Regarding Senator Harris' performance, one Georgetown University professor said, "Clearly her challenge throughout the whole debate was to avoid coming across as aggressive." She continued: "There's a double bind for women - because anything you do to come across as a forceful candidate violates expectations for women. I think she walked that fine line extremely well."
While this debate had far fewer interruptions than the first presidential debate, which saw President Donald Trump interrupt Vice President Joe Biden 71 times to Biden's 22, the implications of the vice presidential debate's interruptions were more nuanced due to racial and gender-based expectations.
Commentator Jessica Yellin said: "The challenge for women, and for the first woman of color to be on a major presidential party ticket especially, is to take back your time without media and swing voters calling ya 'difficult' 'tough' 'aggressive.' Answer: Do it with confidence, a smile and gleam in your eye." That is exactly what Senator Harris did. She was able to refute the Vice President's claims, all while maintaining a calm demeanor and smile, despite the gender and political minefield she had to traverse.
Studies show that, in general, men tend to interrupt women more often than they do other men; a reality many women are very familiar with. Couple that with the innate tension of a vice presidential debate, and it is commendable that Senator Harris maintained her poise and equanimity throughout.
We long for a time when female candidates, and women in general, will be judged based on the merit of their statements and actions, instead of preconceived gender and racial biases.
Learn more here: Van Jones: Pence was a 'mansplainer-in-chief' during debate, here: Harris on Pence interruption: Mr. Vice President, I am speaking, and here: VP debate: Did gender play a role in the interruptions.