Hillary Clinton Will Not Be Manterrupted

by Duchess Magazine
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When it was all over, the score went something like this:

Donald Trump: 40. Hillary Clinton: 1.

That was my rough calculation anyway, of the times that Mr. Trump interrupted Mrs. Clinton, and vice versa, during the first presidential debate on Monday night.

But to be honest, I lost track.

I noted Mr. Trump scoffing, “Who gave it that name?” as Mrs. Clinton criticized what she called the “Trump loophole” in his tax plan (“Mr. Trump, this is Secretary Clinton’s two minutes,” the moderator, Lester Holt, interjected); chiming in with a “That’s for sure” as Mrs. Clinton acknowledged making a mistake in using a private email server. There was an “ugh” when she criticized his depiction of the black community, and a repeated “Wrong!” as she described his support for the Iraq war (a description that was not, in fact, wrong).

At the 26-minute mark, the website Vox posted a graphic showing that Mr. Trump had interrupted Mrs. Clinton a whopping 25 times. Shortly thereafter, The Huffington Post proclaimed, “This is what manterrupting looks like.”

There was a time, not so long ago, when Kanye West was the most famous manterrupter — man-interrupting a woman, of course — of our era. You may recall, back in 2009, when he jumped onstage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, grabbed the microphone, and declared, “Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!” Whether or not you agreed with his musical assessment then, what was clear last night was that Mr. Trump stole Mr. West’s interruption crown.

To anyone who has observed Mr. Trump speak, it shouldn’t have been surprising: Shouting, talking over, bulldozing, mansplaining — these are Mr. Trump’s linguistic trademarks. Yet to the rest of us, or at least the 51 percent of us who are women, Mr. Trump’s behavior was also painfully familiar, reminiscent of the types of dismissals so many of us deal with every day.

“To the men amazed Clinton hasn’t snapped: Every woman you know has learned to do this. This is our life in society,” one woman mused to her 300 Twitter followers the night of the debate. By morning, she’d been retweeted more than 7,000 times.

Women don’t imagine this behavior.

Women are in fact twice as likely to be interrupted as men are — by both men and women — and more so if they are a member of a minority group. And you know that old trope about the “chatty” female? It’s not true. It’s actually men who talk more than women: 75 percent more in male-dominated groups like legislatures (and, one might presume, politics).


People reacting to the debate at a watch party in Rosemont, Penn. Credit Mark Makela for The New York Times
Mrs. Clinton has lots of experience in speaking in crowds of men, but for the rest of us, it can be tricky: Women are less likely to speak up, and less likely to be heard, in groups that are mostly men — which is why gender equality in places where people are required to speak is so important. That might explain why even the women of the Obama White House have employed a method they call “amplification”: making sure at meetings that other women are present, then repeating one another’s ideas — with credit to the author. With this method, not only are they less likely to be interrupted, they’re also less likely to have their ideas stolen; in mixed settings, research has shown, women are less likely to have their own ideas attributed to them — in many cases because male credit is simply inferred.

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This is subtle sexism. It is the kind of behavior that may not be malicious, or even conscious; it is bias exhibited by well-intentioned voters, Bernie Sanders-supporting progressives and even feminists. Individually, the things — interruptions, being condescended to, losing credit for your ideas — may not seem like that big a deal. But they add up.

Subtle sexism is everywhere in this election, and not just from Mr. Trump. It’s in the way we question whether Mrs. Clinton is trustworthy, even though she’s been rated by PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checkers, as much more honest than her opponent.

It’s in our scrutiny of her qualifications, despite an abundance of evidence showing she is, in fact, the most qualified candidate, and research showing that women must be twice as qualified to be perceived as once as good, and more so if they are from minority groups.

Subtle sexism is calling Mrs. Clinton “shrill” — a term that’s used twice as frequently to describe women by the media, according to the linguist Nic Subtirelu — or its being suggested by journalists (or the chairman of the Republican National Committee, for that matter) that she should “smile!”

Subtle sexism is the fact that — while, indeed, Hillary Clinton has made mistakes — we judge mistakes more harshly in women, and remember those mistakes longer. It’s that she must strike a near-impossible balance between niceness and authority — a glimmer of weakness, and she doesn’t have the “stamina”; but too much harshness and she’s “cold,” “aloof,” “robotic,” scolded by a man who is all but frothing at the mouth for not having the right “temperament.” It’s saying that she wasn’t being “nice.” (Since when has “niceness” been a qualification for a presidential candidate?) It’s saying she doesn’t “look” presidential, which might as well mean male.

The root of subtle sexism is not all Mr. Trump, or anyone else, for that matter. It’s culture: for hundreds of years, men’s voices have been the ones to take charge. As early as middle school, boys are eight times as likely as girls to call out answers in classroom discussions, while girls are taught to raise their hands and wait their turn. That dynamic plays out in movies and on television, where male actors engage in more disruptive speech, and take up twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers (they’re also more likely to play characters who have jobs in fields like science, law or politics).

Which means perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that, according to a recent study by a Vanderbilt professor, the average person finds it easier to pair words like “president” and “executive” with male names and pictures, while words like “assistant” and “aide” cause us to think instinctively female. Or that, according to another study, conducted during the primaries, support for Mrs. Clinton drops eight points when voters are reminded of her gender.

You’ll notice: Mrs. Clinton didn’t snap at Mr. Trump when he interrupted her last night. Rather than engage in the Trump game of verbal chicken, she stood back, calmly, collectedly, and let him self-destruct. It’s safe to assume it’s a tool she’s had six decades to perfect.

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