Kamala Harris’ Performance In The Debate Highlights Larger Issue Around ‘Manterruption’

The only vice presidential debate of the election campaign was held at the University of Utah.

By Alexis McCowan, Howard University News Service

After the only vice presidential debate of 2020, a phrase resonated with those who tuned in to watch the first debate since President Donald Trump was diagnosed with coronavirus.

“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” said Senator Kamala Harris on multiple occasions.

This was Harris’ response to Vice President Mike Pence’s interruption at the debate held at the University of Utah.

This evening was historical on several fronts. In August, Harris became the first Black and South Asian woman, as well as the first graduate of a historically Black college or university, to be chosen as a major party candidate’s running mate.

But the monumental event was overshadowed by constant interruptions from Pence. 

Moderator Susan Page of USA Today, established the guidelines of the debate, which included that each candidate would be given two, uninterrupted minutes to answer each question. 

The first interruption was during Harris’ answer about coronavirus. 

Harris said both Trump and Pence knew about the pandemic on January 28.  “The president said it was a hoax… today they still don’t have a plan but Joe Biden does,” she said.

Pence said they didn’t tell anyone because Trump wanted people to remain calm. 

According to CBS news, Pence interrupted Harris 10 times, while Harris interrupted Pence five times. Pence spoke 38 minutes to Harris’ 35 minutes. 

“The challenge for women, and for the first woman of colour, 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,” Commentator Jessica Yellin wrote in an Instagram post after the debate.

This debate underlined a bigger problem, which is the “universal phenomenon of men interrupting women.” 

A 2014 George Washington University study found that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33 percent more often than when they were talking with men. According to gender communication expert Deborah Tannen, men speak to determine and achieve power and status. Women talk to determine and achieve connection. 

The New York Times asked women to share their own experiences with “manterrupting” on Facebook.

“Women in a wide range of industries, at all levels, offered hundreds of such examples in response,” the Times reported, adding that, “Being interrupted, talked over or shut down is a nearly universal experience for women outnumbered by men.”

International educator, Megha Banerjee said in the Facebook thread that she used to work at a company with very few women. “When I would express my opinion, I was often interrupted, or my point was ignored,” she wrote. “It’s been six months that I’ve left that job, and I’m a much happier, more confident person.”