Dear Men: We are speaking. Dear Women: Help us out! | Helen Ubiñas
Here's the thing that we must contend with before we run out and get our “I am speaking” T-shirts: What part do fellow women play in this phenomenon?
Kamala Harris was us on that vice presidential debate stage on Wednesday.
And we — women who have had to deal with entitled men longer than we have our menstrual cycles — were Kamala Harris.
“Mr. Vice President, I am speaking…”
Harris said that repeatedly over an hour and a half.
During a panel on which political analyst Gloria Borger was the only woman (because of course she was) former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum interrupted her to defend — you can’t make this up — Pence’s interruptions.
“Don’t make the claim that he interrupted repeatedly!” Santorum shouted at Borger.
“I’m speaking,” Borger said. “He did.”
CNN host Anderson Cooper interrupted both of them to point out that Pence actually interrupted Harris and debate moderator Susan Page, who struggled to control the conversation with infuriating politeness.
“Thank you, Mr. Vice President,” she implored while he steamrolled her pleas to follow the rules. Even the fly on his head couldn’t stop him.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Vice President, your time is up,” she’d say, inserting those damn apologies women use to legitimize, even soften, our thoughts and actions.
On Thursday, Page explained her approach: “I felt the only thing I could do was interject his time was up."
Oh, sis … where to begin?
The networks’ tallies showed Harris interrupted as well, although half as much as Pence. But from my vantage point, it just looked like her attempting to reclaim the time that he kept taking.
It’s no wonder Harris' “I’m speaking” became an instant rallying cry for women. Almost immediately women online began sharing their stories of being talked over and minimized by men.
These aren’t just anecdotes. Decades of research comparing genders have found that men are more likely to interrupt women, that women often don’t get the credit they deserve, and when they speak up, they pay a price.
A 2014 study by George Washington University found that men interrupted women 33% more than they did men. A 2017 Northwestern University study looking at over a decade’s worth of transcripts of the U.S. Supreme Court found that men interrupting women continued even at the country’s highest court.
Hand to Baby Jesus, as I was working on this very column, I found myself in a conversation with a male friend who, because he was a friend, I warmly warned was seconds from me going full-on Kamala Harris on him.
We shared a good laugh over that, which is often how women have to balance fighting for respect. A joke and a smile, lest we be pegged as — gasp — unlikable. Harris did smile a lot during the debate.
But here’s the thing that we must contend with before we run out and get our “I am speaking” T-shirts: What part do fellow women play in this phenomenon? Because even more infuriating to me than watching Pence interrupt Harris were the dynamics on the stage that should have never allowed it.
We had two women — one Black, one white. And the lone white man was still allowed to go on and on and on — with an assist by the white woman. That’s the whiteness-and-patriarchy combo that women of color often find themselves trapped between.
I mean, did we forget the lesson the women of the Obama White House taught us, the “amplification” strategy to gain parity with the men in Obama’s circle: When a woman makes a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to her so that the men in the room not only recognized the contribution but also couldn’t claim it as their own.
It’s a great model for women everywhere. It holds, even today. Especially today, in a country led by an administration that is overwhelmingly white and male.
After the debate, I joked on Twitter that there should be a National “I’m Speaking!” Day.
But really, that day should be every day.
So today, tomorrow, and every day that calls for it, speak up.
Don’t apologize, and say it straight.
I am speaking.
She is speaking.
We are speaking.