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“I’m speaking.” A Phrase Familiar to Women

Sen. Kamala Harris handled the interjections of Mike Pence during the VP debate with grace. A skill many women have learned in order to handle situations with entitled white men. The history of patriarchy and the normalization of white men in power has silenced the voice and watered down the authority of women. Harris was the prime example and showed everyone on national television.

During the VP debate Thursday Oct. 7, Kamala Harris had to repeatedly put her foot down as Vice President Pence interrupted her as she spoke to interject his response. She would kindly and assertively say, “I’m speaking. Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” to issue Pence to silence so she could complete her two-minute response to the moderator’s question. NBC News recorded Sen. Harris was interrupted 16 times by Pence compared to her interrupting him seven times. Women across the nation watched as she held her composure, addressed him properly and avoided speaking out of anger. 

Whether a politician or a Starbucks barista, gender roles create a difficult dynamic for women as they try to find space where they were never intended to have it. Men, by way of their privilege, are used to dominating space and conversations as they were the ones to create them and did so only for themselves. Such actions were reflected as Pence displayed a complete disregard not only for what Harris had to say but also for her time to speak. Ultimately, it is proper to suggest he spoke over because she was a Black woman to whom he felt above. Harris also had to press the moderator to give her the same amount of time to speak as Pence was allowed in order for the debate to be fair and equitable. Pence was ultimately recorded to have spoken for more time than Harris. 

Women’s voices are often drowned out by the privilege and presumed authority of their male counterparts. Without any true evidence, women were believed to be unable or unfit for the positions of power men created and held. They were then shuffled into a corner of society to be home-based, in the kitchen and quiet. Women were never considered to participate in politics until the early 1900s, before women even had the right to vote. Presently, women represent less than 25% of American Legislation.   

Harmful stereotypes about women make speaking up even harder. Kamala Harris was fighting the “angry Black woman” while on that stage to avoid coming off as an aggressor though she had every right to. Black women are pressured into “killing with kindness” to avoid justifying the tropes. At the same time, men continue to take their space invalidating their right expression. A Black woman’s space was never valued, especially their space to speak. The pressure rises with the position of power as well. Black women make up 307 out of the 538 women in state legislature. They understand the pressures of acting a certain way to avoid racially biased feedback on how they present themselves.

Kamala Harris represented every Black woman who had been interrupted, ignored or treated as lowest on the ladder. She represented women who had been shuffled out of spaces they were entitled to. However, she demonstrated her power with poise proving it was possible to demand respect from a man who believed he was more powerful than her.

Featured Image by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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