Ladies and Gentlemen, She's Speaking

“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”

Senator Kamala Harris did not let Vice President Mike Pence interrupt her at the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7, 2020. “I’m speaking,” she repeated. The debate was relatively civil, especially in comparison to the previous debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden; however, Pence’s continuous interruptions as Harris was speaking are considered as a way to assert dominance and take control of the debate.

We’ve all been guilty of interrupting someone as they are speaking. Think back on a time when you cut off someone mid-sentence. What were you trying to do? You were probably trying to make your voice heard instead of the other person’s. You were probably trying to get them to stop talking, so you can dominate the conversation. Whether we like it or not, power dynamics always play a role in our relationships to other people.

According to Forbes, Deborah Tannen, a gender communication expert and a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, found that men often speak to obtain power and status, while women, on the other hand, speak to form connections.

According to TIME, Pence interrupted Harris twice as many times as she interrupted him. He interrupted her about 10 times, while she only interrupted him five times. Not only did he interrupt his opposer, but he also cut off Susan Page, the moderator. Also, Pence got to speak for a total of 38 minutes, while Harris only had 35, according to CBS News.

A 2014 study defined gendered language as words or speech patterns that are used differently by men and women. The study found that men were more likely to interrupt a woman as she is talking, and women also interrupt other women, as seen through Harris’ attempt to talk over Page even when her time to speak was finished. Another study from 2017 found that female Supreme Court justices get interrupted more by male Supreme Court justices. Needless to say, women are more often silenced than men are.

Conversations - or debates, in the case of Harris and Pence - are structured the same way every time. One person gets a chance to speak, and when the speaker is finished, the other person gets a turn to say something. However, in almost every political debate, each person attempts to make their voice heard by speaking over the other. The act of stripping someone of their turn to talk is like taking away their power.

Harris immediately shut down Pence’s attempt to silence her, and her actions are considered bold and strong by most women who know what it’s like to be talked over. Social media flooded with memes and support for Harris.

Actress Uzo Aduba tweeted, “‘I’m speaking. I’M speaking.’ I hope every little girl heard that. #VPDebate.”

Women speak less, are often ignored, and have their ideas stolen or criticized more harshly. They are taught to speak up and be heard, but how can women be heard if no one is listening? If you notice she’s speaking, - she being anyone who has ever been silenced, - let her finish. She probably has something really important to say. You wouldn’t want to miss it.