By Hannah Patterson
“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”
Kamala Harris had to interject while being interrupted yet another time while Vice President Mike Pence assumed the authority to speak out of turn. Women from around the world understood this feeling. Men speaking over women, especially in the world of politics, is unfortunately universal and consistently degrading.
There are several layers to this specific piece that show how intersecting identities compound oppressive treatment. Kamala Harris is a woman. Kamala Harris is a Black woman. Kamala Harris is running for a high position of power in the country. Kamala Harris is part of the Democratic Party. These factors combine to create the perfect circumstance for men around the country to attack her politicized identity. However, even her simply being a woman was enough for her to be undermined and disrespected in front of the entire nation.
From the moment she made the statement in defense of her right to be heard, every aspect of her side of the debate was hyper-analyzed. Every facial expression was examined, and her tone was now significant. Viewers, including Biden/Harris supporters, began playing into the dangerous “sassy, Black woman” trope that attributed her facial reactions to Pence as “attitude” when, in reality, it’s just emotion. It’s not “sassy” or mean or angry; it doesn’t need a negative connotation added to force her to fit a racist stereotype. The political climate we’re currently in has brought about a multitude of feelings, and Harris, with a powerful position within her grasp, sits at the top of the political realm at the moment, and she is allowed to emote without these harmful labels.
Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are Muslim women who also face sexist assaults from men in politics as well as racist vitriol. This is yet another example of race, gender, and now religion intersecting to create layers of oppression for these women. They fight every day for a country that has yet to change its bigoted behavior. These are qualified, intelligent, worthy women who work day in and day out to do good by their constituents. Yet, men with zero experience, such as Kanye West or Donald Trump, wake up one day and decide they’re the fittest to run an entire country, wreaking havoc with their lack of knowledge.
Harris’ public correction of Pence was graceful, polite, and not at all what she had to do, but what women most often feel required to do because of the way patriarchal foundations of America have backed women into a corner of “lady-like” behavior. Women can’t be too loud. Women can’t be outspoken. Women can’t be too powerful. Women can’t… But we can, and we will.
Powerful, radical women in politics are rising up and providing the representation of strong-minded women who inspire many others. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a firecracker of drive, voice, and justice during her political career. With such badass behavior has come a whirlwind of toxic masculinity. Men will find any and every way to insult her intelligence, appearance, character, and more. When you see men so upset about a powerful woman standing up for marginalized communities, working to prevent climate change, and acting as an inspiration to girls everywhere, you start to uncover how the problem isn’t a partisan issue but rather a misogyny issue. Some men simply cannot handle powerful women.
In July of this year, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was on the steps of the Capitol when a republican representative called her “a fucking bitch.” AOC says she almost walked away as she was so used to this kind of behavior from men. However, she too spoke up and exposed the culture of dehumanizing language against women in politics.
“We start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports men,” AOC exposed in her response to the “apology” she received regarding this incident.
This country has framed itself to benefit white men, and white men only, in every system set forth since invading Indigenous land. Thus, masculinity and white-male confidence is attributed to power, success, and authority. When male candidates go head-to-head, they attack each other’s manhood. When someone does something risky, they have “the balls” to do so. Subconsciously, we’ve been groomed over time to see masculinity as a qualification for leadership. We must unlearn and reject masculinity as powerful and strong while deeming femininity weak and gentle.
Women have been fighting for adequate representation in all facets of society for centuries now. A lot of work has been done, but there is still a lot of work ahead to bring about intersectional justice. When Kamala Harris had to stop Pence from interrupting her voice – her power – she lit a fire in women watching. The most beautiful part of it all was that she did do it. She did not allow him to think so little of her that he would be allowed to disrespect and belittle her in such a way. She stood firm and made her voice shake the room with confidence and authority. She was fearless without the attribution of male traits or masculinity.
When Kamala Harris had to clarify to Pence that she was, in fact, speaking, the culture of attacking women became disrupted. Women deserve respect and basic human decency, not because of a title or position, not because they dress a certain way, not because they act a certain way, not because they believe certain things, but because they are human beings. One day the patriarchy will learn, when women speak, you will listen.