Manterrupting, Mansplaining, and Anti-Black Dynamics in the Vice Presidential Debates

I don’t know about you, but I really hate being interrupted. I don’t like it when either women or men interrupt me, but men interrupt me so much more often, especially in professional settings, than women do. Research shows that it is not just my imagination. In a previous post, I wrote about research showing that women do, in fact, get interrupted more. I was surprised to see, when I located this previous article, written in 2017, that the picture at the opening of the article was of Kamala Harris with reference to the interruptions both she and Elizabeth Warren had experienced in the Senate. Now Kamala Harris is front and center again in a current conversation about men interrupting women, with the added awareness that women of color get interrupted even more often than do white women.

Colleen Flaherty, writing for Inside Higher Education, notes, “Female academics saw their own experiences in the vice presidential debate’s gendered and racialized dynamics” when Mike Pence repeatedly interrupted Harris and refused to stop talking when moderator Susan Page called time. Flaherty notes that Page signaled to Harris to stop talking thirteen times, but she had to signal to Pence forty-five times.

Pence was demonstrating “mansplaining” or “manologues” when he continued talking and talking and talking while talking over a woman, Page, the moderator. He was demonstrating “manterrupting” when he cut Harris off repeatedly. Flaherty reports that this pattern is not unusual:

  • 66 percent of all interruptions during oral arguments at the US Supreme Court were directed at the three women on the bench as of 2015.
  • Another study of forty participants found that men interrupted 33 percent more often when they were speaking with women, compared to when they were speaking with other men. In that study, men interrupted women 2.1 times per three-minute conversation, compared to 1.8 times per conversation with other men. Women on average interrupted men once.

Another important dynamic on display during the vice presidential debates was a racial dynamic. Flaherty cites Anne Charity-Hudley, North Hall Endowed Chair in the Linguistics of African America at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as saying, “This is the story of Black women” when noting that the moderator, a white woman, admitted she gave Pence more time to talk and did not offer equal time to Harris. It is true that Pence took the extra time while talking over Page. Nonetheless, Charity-Hudley explained, this was a typical example of anti-Blackness when white women are the arbiters of rules that benefit white men and short change Black women—not uncommon in academia and other organizations. Charity-Hudley notes that a white ally would have advocated for Harris to finish speaking when interrupted and would have ensured, as the arbiter of the debate rules, that Harris got equal time to make her points when Pence took more than his share of time. But Page did not do that for Harris. This is how white women, of which I am one, collude in reinforcing the racial hierarchy at work in our society. We can do better than this. We can be better allies.


Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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