Let the record show that Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris made it 7:56 minutes into a 51-minute debate with incumbent Vice President Mike Pence before she had to shush him.
Mike Pence: Susan, I have to weigh in here-
Kamala Harris: Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.
Mike Pence: I have to weigh in.
Kamala Harris: I’m speaking.
And she did.
In all, Pence interrupted Harris 16 times in about 70 minutes. She held her ground pretty much every time: “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking….He interrupted me and I’d like to finish, please….If you don’t mind letting me finish, we can then have a conversation…”
It was a rhetorical dominance honed over multiple campaigns against male opponents and countless hearings in male-majority committees, but it was also quite obviously pre-planned.
Harris and her debate team knew Pence was likely to interrupt her, and they gamed out a strategy to deal with it — one that was appropriate, respectful, and instantly meme-able.
Being interrupted by a man in a universal experience for American women. Young or old, black, white or brown, rich or poor, stay-at-home-mom or Supreme Court Justice, we all get interrupted by men. And that’s not some radical feminist theory — that’s just science.
Multiple studies over the past 45 years have shown that males constantly interrupt female speakers. A landmark 1975 study using secretly recorded conversations in public spaces found that men on average interrupted another man 7.7 times, but interrupted women an average of 48 times. Nearly four decades later, a similar George Washington University study found that men interrupted women an average of 2.1 times in a three-minute conversation, versus 1.8 times when talking with another man.
It was an interesting comparison with 2016, and even the presidential debate of late September. Donald Trump is almost gender-neutral when it comes to debate interrupting (“debaterrupting”?). While he attacked Hillary Clinton with particular vigor in 2016, his basic method in all debates is to leave no space for his opponents to form a coherent sentence. Clinton stayed on track during all their exchanges, but never really found a way to shut him down. As a woman, it would have been politically risky for her to call him a “clown” or say “will you shut up, man?” as Biden did last week.
Pence, not surprisingly, is more of a traditional “manterrupter,” just putting all that unearned confidence out there and letting it fly. In all, he interrupted Harris an average of once every four minutes or so. But, nevertheless — to borrow from another much-memed another moment — she persisted. In the end, CNN reports that Harris spoke for a total of 36:24 and Pence for 36:27.
Aside from some applause from women sitting in their living rooms all across the land and a cool hashtag, it’s hard to know if this could be the start of a larger shift in how women deal with the manterrupting phenomena. In theory, at least, a woman as president or vice president could help other women feel more comfortable asserting their own voices.
We’ll see. Soon.
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