“I’m Speaking”: Feminists React to … an Actual Debate

"I'm Speaking": Feminists React to ... an Actual Debate
The most important takeaway from the debate was how it highlighted the burden of respectability placed on women—especially Black women—and the notable double standards that exist on the debate stage. (@AnnaHolmes / Twitter)

Wednesday night’s debate was markedly more polite than its presidential precursor, to the relief of almost everyone watching. But it was not without its interruptions and tense moments—which, many pointed out, represent their own everyday form of patriarchal racist experiences when it comes to the way men speak over women (especially women of color).

Harris came out strong, saying of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” She went on to stress Trump’s inadequate response:

“On Jan. 28, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic. They were informed that it’s lethal in consequence, that it is airborne, that it will affect young people, and that it would be contracted because it is airborne. And they knew what was happening, and they didn’t tell you.”

But perhaps the most important takeaway from the debate was how it highlighted the burden of respectability placed on women—especially Black women—and the notable double standards that exist on the debate stage. Harris could never drop a “Shut up, man!” like her running mate.

Aware of these racialized and gendered dynamics, her team reportedly advised Harris to not fact-check Pence too much, at risk of being perceived as overly-confrontational. Studies have shown that women, and women of color in particular, are penalized in the public eye for a level of negativity and emotional affect that white men regularly get away with.


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But despite being regularly interrupted by Vice President Pence, Harris fought to reclaim her time, and dropped a few notable one-liners along the way.

The climate change section of the debate was particularly rife with avoidance and mistruths, as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was quick to point out:

Another important topic to grace the stage was the state of healthcare— notably, a challenge to the Affordable Care Act is due to be heard by the Supreme Court a week after election night. The issue of abortion was a sticking point, with Pence reaffirming a staunch anti-abortion stance.

When, during a discussion on climate change, Pence boldly stated, “According to all of the best estimates, our air and land are cleaner than any time ever recorded. Our water is among the cleanest in the world,” many were quick to point out that that’s not quite true for everyone:

And while the fly that landed on Pence’s head stole the show, many were quick to note the ways in which a Twitter-dominated news apparatus tends to latch on to meme-able moments over actual political stances—and the important narratives that go overlooked as a result.

The next presidential debate is scheduled for next Thursday, October 15—though whether or not it will actually happen is up in the air, as President Trump has stated that he will not participate in a virtual debate despite currently having COVID-19.

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About

Oliver Haug is an editorial intern with Ms. Magazine and a recent graduate of Smith college. Their writing has previously appeared in Autostraddle and the New York Times' newsletter "The Edit." You can read more of their work at oliverhaug.contently.com, and follow them on twitter here.