“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”
Updated: Oct 9
The first and only VP debate of 2020 just ended and, frankly, I’m exhausted. This administration, this pandemic, this country, and this year are emotionally draining. However, there was another layer on top of those background stressors tonight: blatant sexism from the Vice President aimed at Senator Kamala Harris and moderator Susan Page. Page is the Washington Bureau chief of USA Today and has covered ten presidential campaigns and six administrations (1).
It never gets easier to watch men speak condescendingly to women. To see them constantly talk over women. To hear them gaslight women. To watch them twist the words of women. To very clearly notice the utter disrespect they feel toward women - especially women in power, especially brilliant women, especially proud women.
Well, tonight was no different. I knew the debate would be filled with sexism, but that did not make it easier to watch for an hour and a half. Tonight Vice President Pence didn’t follow any rules. Not only did he talk around each question he was asked, but he spoke over his allotted time every opportunity he could. He spoke right over Susan Page, who tried repeatedly to cut him off and keep the timing of the debate on track. He interrupted Senator Harris time and time again. He faced no consequences for complete lies regarding the Trump administration’s records on everything: from its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to the utter hypocrisy of it trying to confirm a Supreme Court justice in the middle of an election.
Over the course of the debate, the candidates spoke on the following issues that were brought up by Susan Page: COVID-19, the role of the Vice President and the 25th Amendment, the economy, climate change, China and foreign policy, the Supreme Court, police violence and justice for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, a peaceful transfer of power, and polarization in America. Each subject was spoken about (mostly by Senator Harris), but obviously COVID-19 dominated the discussion.
As we all know, President Trump and the FLOTUS both currently have the coronavirus. The White House also played host to an event that is now being considered a “super spreader event.” Because of the “COVID-cluster” in the White House, new safety measures were put in place for the VP debate. Besides sitting over 12 feet apart, there were two walls of plexiglass separating the candidates. Each attendee also was required to wear a mask, which was not a requirement during the first presidential debate last week (2).
Vice President Pence’s team did not agree to those health and safety measures until just hours before the debate, saying the precaution was “not needed” (3).
The ridiculousness of that statement and so many other mistruths he said aside, what made me the most angry was how freely and confidently he talked down to Senator Harris and Susan Page.
He showed overt White male privilege. He showed clear misogyny and disregard for everything Senator Harris had to say. He was not as disruptive or loud as his boss; however, there was condescension throughout the debate. From adding in lies to ignoring the questions completely, he peppered in covert sexism as well. He said things like: “you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts” and cut her off throughout the debate.
Fortunately, Kamala Harris knows how to stand up for herself. She knows her value. She knows that women are often mistreated solely because of their gender in this patriarchal society. An often used phrase during the 1.5 hours was “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”
In one short sentence, Senator Harris showed her respect for the office while asserting her position as a fellow Vice Presidential candidate and human being.
She made it clear that no man, no matter his hubris, is allowed to speak over her. Even though she did this, it still doesn’t take away the fact that we live in a society where it is expected and natural for men to ignore, condescend, and speak over women. Cori Bush, candidate for U.S. Congress, added to the online conversation by Tweeting the following.
Actress Uzo Aduba said of Senator Harris’ “I’m speaking” phrase: “I hope every little girl heard that.” Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post, called the phrase “a familiar moment” for all women (4). Senator Tina Smith (MN) mentioned that tonight women are feeling the following towards men: “Do not lecture. Do not condescend. And do not underestimate us” (5). We all saw Senator Harris stand up not only for herself, but for every single woman who has ever been spoken over by a man. We deserve that representation and we deserve that female power from the highest offices in the land.
Here is a photo I took of my TV while Senator Harris was laughing in utter disbelief at the complete lies and exaggerations coming out of the Vice President’s mouth. Here’s a New York Times fact-check of everything he said. You'll notice that many of Pence’s statements were either “false,” “misleading,” or “exaggerated.” Conversely, most of Harris’ statements are “true” or “mostly true.”
The statements made by our representatives are important. It is always worth pointing out when they are telling utter lies and misrepresentation of facts and science. It is also incredibly vital that our representatives treat people with respect and dignity. We have seen that President Trump and Vice President Pence do not treat any other human with either of those things. And you could see that from the Vice President in the debate as well. He disregarded Susan Page’s moderation by ignoring and talking over her. He interjected lies into Senator Harris’s statements as well. You probably noticed that Senator Harris often spoke over her time as well; however, when she did this, she spoke directly to Susan and asked her if she could finish her statement and explained the importance of what she was saying - instead of bulldozing over her.
Look, it’s no shock that I completely believe Senator Harris won this debate. I am a huge supporter of hers and believe that she and Joe Biden must be elected to save our democracy, planet, and every American value we hold dear. That being said, even if you disagree, I hope you’ll go back and notice the true disrespect Vice President Pence had toward the women on that stage tonight.
If you are a woman, I’m sure you aren’t surprised. But it’s still unacceptable and exhausting to withstand. I feel lucky to have had Kamala Harris up there sticking up for herself and for all women who have been shut down over and over by a man like Mike Pence.
There are so many women who are as strong and bold as Senator Harris running for office across the country this year. We have less than one month until election day. We need everyone to help elect women who will fight for our rights and dignity. Look at the women running in your state and help them out.
Lastly, if after watching that debate… you feel like you need a fly swatter and you feel the urge to donate to Joe Biden to make sure Trump and Pence leave the White House, you can get the perfect item here.
Author's Note: it is already sold out, but there are tons of other great items to buy to support this team!