Like most women, the Vice-Presidential debate evoked strong feelings for me. Watching Mike Pence repeatedly go over his allotted time and interrupt Kamala Harris enraged me. Watching the moderator allow him to do so enraged me even further. And hearing the moderator unfairly try to get Harris to stick to her time almost made me lose my mind.
The debate ended with me frustrated that Pence got so much more speaking time, and my mind started spinning with the imbalance of it all.
But remarkably, it turned out that the two of them had almost identical speaking time:
- 36 minutes and 27 seconds for Pence
- 36 minutes and 24 seconds for Harris
This took a bit of time for me to digest – was it possible that Pence didn’t steamroll her as much as I thought? Could I have unfairly focused on his interruptions more so than I did hers? And if the speaking times didn’t lie, why had I initially been so convinced that Harris had spoken less?
Then it dawned on it – she demanded her speaking time; and quite literally at one point, by pointedly saying to the (useless) moderator: “I’d like equal time.” In another instance, she had to point out to the moderator that Pence had interrupted her time, and she therefore wanted an opportunity to finish her response.
This was an all-too-real illustration of what goes on everyday in every workplace – an end result appears to be equal between men and women, and people overlook what it took for that equality to happen. We often don’t consider the behind-the-scenes behaviour, where women are forced to advocate for themselves and demand equality when others, be it a manager or a moderator, are willing to favour men.
Sure, a woman can become a CEO; but people often forget that in order for that to have happened, she likely had to work longer hours, make more sacrifices in her personal life than the men in her position, and fight for opportunities that would have otherwise defaulted to her male colleagues. And for every Kamala Harris telling Mike Pence that she’s still speaking, there’s another 10 women being interrupted in meetings, with the meeting organizers allowing it to happen.
The speaking times here serve as a cautionary tale of how anecdotal evidence can be used to dismiss actual inequities: “See, men don’t constantly interrupt women, Mike and Kamala had equal speaking time!”, “How can you say Black women are marginalized? Oprah and Michelle Obama are two of the most powerful figures in the world!”
Yes, all of the above are true. But snippets of anecdotes, which only show the end result, do a disservice to the journey that those women had to take to get to that point. More crucially, such ill-informed arguments do a disservice to the greater segment of women who put in every effort, only to continue to be overlooked. These kinds of arguments effectively say to such women, “If you’re not successful, it’s because of you. You’re not trying hard enough, because [insert the one rare example of a successful woman] proves that you can do it IF YOU SIMPLY PUT YOUR MIND TO IT.” Eye roll.
I’m glad that Harris advocated for herself. I’m glad that she set an example of how women can demand equality without being aggressive or argumentative, and I enjoyed her demonstration of two simple, powerful words: I’m speaking. But perversely, she almost made it look too effortless, too easy.
The unfortunate reality is that those without a nuanced understanding of how things played out during the debate may have been left with the impression that Harris was treated just as fairly as her male counterpart. That simply was not the case; if there was any equality, it was only because Harris forced it.
It’s certainly a starting point, but in a world when women have to demand fairness, even from the very people responsible for ensuring it, we still have a long way to go.