How Sexism Overshadowed the Vice Presidential Debates

Side by side of Mike Pence and Kamala Harris

Senator Kamala Harris continues to break glass ceilings—going on stage last Tuesday as the first Black and Indian woman to participate in a Vice Presidential debate. With history being made for women of color, it’s incredibly disappointing that we can’t fully relish in these achievements for herstory. Instead, we were subjected to a debate where a U.S. attorney, senator, and Vice Presidential nominee had to navigate the double bind of society’s racism and sexism against her white male opponent.

Don’t get us wrong—Sen. Harris did a phenomenal job standing her ground. But when you look at the sheer number of times she was interrupted, it’s hard to ignore that this is a situation that many women—especially women of color—find themselves in. Harris was interrupted 10 times, twice as many times as Vice President Mike Pence. And even when politely reminding Vice President Pence that she is, in fact, speaking, her calm demeanour wasn’t enough to deter the onslaught of misogynoir that was bound to come her way.

Black women have to walk a fine line in order to avoid being perceived as one of the many stereotypes that reduce them to a caricature of their race and gender. And media correspondents and political pundits made it clear in the last week that they were perpetrators of these harmful tropes. Former Fox host Megyn Kelly tweeted, “Take it like a woman. Don’t make faces.” Ohio Pastor Darrell C. Scott said Harris was “Hillary Clinton in black face.” Actor James Woods said, “Kamala Harris behaved like a ‘Valley Girl,’ smirking and rolling her eyes like a petulant brat, dodging every question she was asked.”

After Sen. Harris’s nomination, Danielle Casarez Lemi, a political studies fellow at Southern Methodist University, made a point that was inevitably true during this election cycle. “[Kamala’s] going to be tasked with managing those perceptions of her identity. And that’s time that could be spent on the ground, building relationships with people and formulating policies.” The abundant amount of sexist and racist comments in a matter of days have proved this theory correct.

Take Action! Let’s hold the media accountable for spouting the kind of rhetoric that’s been holding women back from positions in politics. Use the hashtag #RepresentHer to demand accurate and unbiased representation of women in leadership.