Kamala Harris says ‘Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking’—and women can relate

This is the web version of The Broadsheet, a daily newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox. Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Two women win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Laurene Powell Jobs exits some media investments, and Sen. Kamala Harris takes […]

This is the web version of The Broadsheet, a daily newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Two women win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Laurene Powell Jobs exits some media investments, and Sen. Kamala Harris takes part in a historic debate. Have a thoughtful Thursday.

– ‘I’m speaking.’ Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence engaged in the most consequential vice presidential debate in a generation on Wednesday night, given that both are second-in-line to men who will be the oldest president ever elected, no matter which one wins. Plus, it was the first time a Black woman debated a white man in a one-on-one national debate.

There was plenty of distraction from the weight of the contest: The plexiglass, a visual reminder to viewers of the on-going COVID-19 outbreak at the White House. The relative civility of the event, which was more a commentary on the horror show of a presidential debate last week than anything else. And, of course, the fly that landed on Pence’s head and stayed put for two minutes and three seconds. (Thank God someone kept track.)

But even if viewers could get past those diversions, they likely didn’t learn much, as the candidates, asked questions by USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page, covered already well-trodden ground. Harris criticized the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response at every turn, and Pence sought to paint Harris as a radical liberal.

What was especially interesting was Harris’s style on stage. She faced a minefield of stereotypes—the ‘angry Black woman’ trope, for instance—and double standards. The Harris campaign had reportedly advised the senator to not fact check Pence at length, for fear of coming off as too negative.

Harris did try to correct Pence’s statements on several occasions, namely the vice president’s assertion that Joe Biden will raise taxes and ban fracking. She argued that the taxes of those earning less than $400,000 would not change, and she refuted the fracking claim as false. (Joe Biden opposes leases for new fracking on federal lands but doesn’t support outlawing the practice altogether.)

There’s no way Harris could’ve pulled off the “Shut up, man!” tone Biden used in his debate—another double standard—but she did counter Pence’s interjections with a succinct line: “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.” It was a way to call out his behavior by spotlighting her own, a far cry from a deferential “excuse me.”

And there’s no doubt that some women watching at home related to those moments; they saw themselves trying to make a point over Zoom or attempting to wrestle back control of a meeting. The researched phenomenon of men interrupting women is a long-running undercurrent of workplace gender dynamics, and it’s been codified into pop culture with its own term—’manterruptions’—and viral political moments, from “Reclaiming my time” to “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Even with Harris’s confrontations, Pence interrupted her 16 times by NBC News’ count; she cut him off nine times. And an episode after the debate illustrated how intractable the problem is for women, whether on a debate stage or not. Political analyst Gloria Borger, the sole woman on a CNN panel following the debate, was talking about how women might have reacted to Harris’s experience of getting interrupted when a male panelist interrupted Borger. Her line: “Mr. [Rick] Santorum, I’m speaking.”

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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