Kamala Harris and US Vice President Mike Pence during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photos by Robyn Beck and Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK,ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Kamala Harris v Mike Pence: VP debate teaches us how to deal with “manterrupting”

This is why Kamala Harris’ response to Mike Pence’s “manterrupting” during Wednesday’s VP debate has sent Twitter into overdrive. 

Last week, the internet was flooded with widespread criticism over Donald Trump’s disruptive tactics during the first “dumpster fire” of a presidential debate, as well as Joe Biden’s occasional “will you shut up?” flashes of temper.

Wednesday’s face-off between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, however, was an entirely different affair. 

And that was largely due to the former.

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To give credit where it’s due, Pence – unlike Trump – kept his cool throughout the VP debate, favouring a calm and methodical approach when it came to getting his point across.

Much like his Covid-stricken colleague, though, he soon proved himself to be incredibly interruptive. But, on those occasions when he did try to speak over Harris, she remained unwaveringly calm.

“Mr Vice-President, I’m speaking,” she told him, a phrase that was to become her frequent refrain.

“If you don’t mind letting me finish, then we can have a conversation.”

Of course, her words were received warmly by women watching at home, with celebratory memes and GIFs flooding social media.

Because, as you no doubt know yourself, Harris is by far from the first woman to be interrupted by a man: far from it, in fact. 

It was shown in a 2014 study at George Washington University that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33% more often than when they were talking with men. The men interrupted their female conversational partners 2.1 times during a three-minute conversation. That number dropped to 1.8 when they spoke to other men.

The women in the study rarely interrupted their male counterparts – an average of once in a three-minute dialogue.

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Elsewhere, Victoria L. Brescoll, associate professor of organisational behavior at the Yale School of Management, published a paper showing that men with power talked more in the Senate, which was not the case for women.

And a 1990 review by psychologist Eleanor Maccoby at Stanford University in California has shown that this interruptive behaviour begins very early on.

Indeed, by early school years in the US, boys are already more likely to interrupt one another, while girls are more likely to acknowledge what someone has said or pause to let another girl speak.

Kamala Harris vice president.
Kamala Harris has been praised for her resolve.

The phrase, “Mr Vice-President, I’m speaking, ”was an undeniably brilliant response to Pence’s rudeness: it was demonstrative of Harris’ refusal to be spoken over or belittled.

Likewise, it seemed indicative of quiet inner strength. And it gave those watching the sense that the Democratic candidate was not someone to be rattled easily.

However, there were, of course, those who balked at Harris’ unflappable demeanour.

Many of Trump’s supporters leapt upon it as yet another example of her “faux sincerity.” And one conservative radio host went further, tweeting: “Every word that comes out of Kamala’s mouth and every emotion she expresses feels like it came from a room of overpaid DNC political consultants.”

Essentially, it seems as if Harris’ resolve in the face of interruption is indicative of (yawn) a “likeability problem.” 

However, had she opted for Biden’s tactics, and ordered Pence to shut up, it’s highly unlikely she’d have been better off.

One study – titled Can An Angry Woman Get Ahead? – has concluded that men who become angry tend to be rewarded. Angry women, on the other hand, are seen as incompetent and unworthy of power in the workplace.

Elsewhere, research has shown that polite and accommodating women are scientifically proven to earn far less than those women who clearly express their expectations and do not retreat from their demands.

And Dr. Biron, writing in his paper, The European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology, agreed with this wholeheartedly, noting: “Women aren’t aware that more agreeable women are being punished for being nice.

“The nice women we polled in our study even believed they were earning more than they deserved.”

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris' vice-presidential victory was a golden moment of hope

With that in mind, then, it seems as if Harris was bound to be criticised by some for her response to Pence, no matter what she did. She was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t.

So, instead of focusing on all those (let’s face it) right-wing men bleating about her “likeability problem”, let’s instead celebrate the fact that Harris made sure her voice and her opinions were heard, and she said what she came to say. 

Namely, that the White House’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”

“Frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to re-election based on this,” the California senator said, flagging that 210,000 US citizens have lost their lives due to Covid-19.

“They knew and they covered it up. The president said it was a hoax. They minimised the seriousness of it.”

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Essentially, points were made, despite Pence’s constant interruptions. And, in the process, Harris has struck a blow for all those women who have been spoken over, or interrupted, or belittled in the workplace.

As one excited Twitter user put it, “MEN LOVE TO SPEAK OVER WOMEN ALL THE DAMN TIME!!!


Hear hear.

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