But perhaps the most significant for women, regardless of where our political affinities lie, was the sheer number of times that Vice President Mike Pence interrupted Senator Kamala Harris. “I’m speaking,” she said politely, yet firmly. “I’m speaking.” Over and over again. The interruptions were relentless.
Last night, we witnessed in real-time how women have been talked over and minimized for decades by mansplainers and men in general.
Unfortunately, no woman watching was surprised—being talked through and over is a part of our daily lives. To be a woman is to be constantly subverted, belittled and hushed by men. Our authority questioned, our ideas devalued.
It happens all the time.
The realtor who interrupted my sentence to tell me “something he just thought of.” His thought was clearly more important than mine.
The family member who dismissed my well-researched explanation with a casual, “Yeah, maybe.” His opinion was clearly more valid than mine.
The plumber who looked past me to talk to my husband. My husband is clearly more equipped to talk about piping than I.
The man who, moments before I walked onto the stage to give a TEDx talk, said, “Vavavoom!” (I was wearing a jumper), “Are you going to tell sex jokes?” he asked. Yes, because clearly that’s what women do when they give TED Talks.
My midwifery client’s partner who, midway through his girlfriend’s push, asked me if I could get him some water because this was really hard for him. (I don’t even have a quip for this one.)
Men interrupt, cut off and attempt to supersede women all. the. time.
The thing is, I don’t think that many men even realize they’re doing it. Interrupting has become such an ingrained part of acceptable behavior that even good, decent men who try to respect women do it. And that represents a huge problem.
At its core, interrupting someone means that we believe that what we have to say is more important than what the other person is saying. That men constantly interrupt women therefore means that men think their voices are more important than women’s. Our society has done nothing to combat this behavior. From the gender pay gap to the deficiency of attention paid to women’s health to the total lack of regard and support for mothers, we are regularly bombarded with a very clear message: Men are more important than women.
Last night, this notion was center stage. Vice President Pence repeatedly interrupted and talked over not only Senator Harris, but debate moderator Susan Page. He made it abundantly clear that his words were above theirs—above the rules of the debate, even.
(Speaking of Page, did you notice that every time she tried to reign the conversation back in she apologized? “I’m sorry, Mr. Vice President, your time is up.” She felt the need to say she was sorry for doing the job she was hired to do.)
Should Senator Harris or Page have behaved as Pence did, the morning’s headlines would be full of slams accusing them of being unstrained, too emotional and unhinged. But a man did it, so instead, we just roll our eyes and get on with our day—or do we?
Senator Harris made major strides in the current groundswell of women’s empowerment we are experiencing. She stood up for herself in public. She (calmly, because of course) demanded that she be given equal mic time. She inspired a new rallying cry for women across the world who are fed up with being told and shown that they are less-than.
“I’m speaking.” She said. And we heard her, loud and clear.
Let us not lose the momentum Senator Harris created last night.
Men, please pay attention to how you use your voice when a woman is speaking. You may not have created the culture that has allowed this to happen, but every time you cut a woman off, you perpetuate it and benefit from it. Check yourself, and check other men too—the next time you hear another man interrupt a woman, say, “She was speaking.”
Women, and everyone of any gender who has had their voice oppressed, quieted and devalued, stand your ground.
You are important.
Your words and thoughts are valuable.
You are worthy of equal mic time.
And come November 3rd, vote.