The Glass Podium

During Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump interrupted an exchange between Carly Fiorina and Senator Rand Paul to tell Fiorina to stop interrupting. “Why does she keep interrupting everybody?” he asked. “Boy, terrible.”

Numbers from FiveThirtyEight show that the majority of men on the main Republican debate stage—five, including Trump—interrupted more often than Fiorina that night. So why was she called out?

“Every podium in America is made for a 6-foot man,” a woman candidate for governor once told The Barbara Lee Family Foundation, suggesting the debate process is rigged against women. Debates reward traditionally masculine behavior, speaking out and speaking loudly, in men, but it’s more complicated for women.

Research shows that being heard in debates is essential for women candidates to prove to voters that they are qualified, but women must always be aware of their tone. Women must be authoritative but not come off as bossy, and serious without seeming boring.

This means that not only must women often do more to be heard, but when they do assert themselves in conversations, they can face criticism and negative repercussions (studies back that up). As Hillary Clinton recently put it, “It’s just that when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”

It’s not that Fiorina didn’t interrupt on Tuesday—every candidate interrupted. It’s that she was the only one attacked for doing so. Trump’s outburst points to the double standard that can still exist for candidates in debates and boy, that is terrible.

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Photo via Shutterstock


Erin Souza-Rezendes is communications director at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.