Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate didn’t descend into the widely panned chaos of the first presidential debate, which featured Donald Trump repeatedly interrupting his Democratic challenger Joe Biden and the moderator. But the one and only meeting of California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence did rub some people the wrong way.
The former Indiana governor, some women said after watching the pair face off, came across as patronizing toward both Harris and moderator Susan Page of USA Today. Pence repeatedly interrupted Harris, and routinely ignored Page’s attempts to cut him off when he spoke past the debate’s agreed-upon time limits.
“He is condescending to women,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a longtime political analyst in the Golden State. “I resented the fact that that he hardly ever acknowledged Susan Page until he was finished saying what he wanted to say, regardless of the timing.”
Former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said much the same on MSNBC after the debate.
“He was patronizing, which drove all the women crazy, and he was boring, which lost the men,” McCaskill said.
Social media exploded with women saying they recognized the behavior from their own lives.
Every woman knows that condescending sexist man who repeatedly calls you by your name as a way to be disdainful and patronizing when he’s talking to you and I don’t know what the term for that is but it is A Thing and Mike Pence is doing it to Susan Page.
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) October 8, 2020
“Every woman knows that condescending sexist man who repeatedly calls you by your name as a way to be disdainful and patronizing when he’s talking to you and I don’t know what the term for that is but it is A Thing and Mike Pence is doing it to Susan Page,” tweeted the writer Jill Filipovic.
And it wasn’t just women who recognized the behavior.
One takeaway from tonight’s debate will be how many times a woman of color, always smiling pleasantly, has to tell a white man, “I’m speaking,” in order to STILL get less time than he gets. It is nauseating.
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) October 8, 2020
“One takeaway from tonight’s debate will be how many times a woman of color, always smiling pleasantly, has to tell a white man, ‘I’m speaking,’ in order to STILL get less time than he gets. It is nauseating,” tweeted another writer, Mark Harris.
Bebitch Jeffe thinks Pence’s demeanor was deliberate.
“I thought he was basically a Trump mini me,” she said. “He did a lot of what Trump did in the last debate but did it without the lunacy.”
Harris responded mostly by smiling. She looked incredulous at times but never got angry. And on more than one occasion, in the face of Pence’s reactions, she said firmly, “I’m speaking.”
Polling suggests support for the Trump/Pence ticket is eroding among women without a college degree. Hillary Clinton lost the group to Trump four years ago, but Biden appears to be picking up support from the demographic.
Ahead of the debate, political analysts said Harris would face intense pressure — and a double standard — to stay calm, even in the face of false attacks.
“There’s this trope of the angry Black woman and she knows she has to avoid that,” said Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College. “She’s had half a century of practice.”
Harris’s reaction resonated with many women. Social media users immediately flooded the internet with memes and GIFs of her facial expressions.
“I’m speaking. I’M speaking.” I hope every little girl heard that. #VPDebate
— Uzo Aduba (@UzoAduba) October 8, 2020
“‘I’m speaking. I’M speaking.’ I hope every little girl heard that,” tweeted actress Uzo Aduba.
How common is it for women to find themselves in such a position? During CNN’s post debate discussion, commentator Gloria Borger found herself being interrupted by former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum when she tried to make a point about Pence’s interruptions.
“Mr. Santorum, I’m talking,” she said.