Ha! If reading the title made you go ‘I knew there was proof of this!’, well history seems to think so too. We’re not talking, however, of debating about who will do the dishes, or who gets more of the blanket at night. We’re talking about politics! Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that he has chosen Senator Kamala Harris of California to be his vice-presidential running mate. While the choice invited consent, history has pointed out how men, oftentimes find it hard to debate with women. You can only guess why.
Joe Biden chooses Kamala Harris
With Biden’s announcement, Harris, 55, became the first Black woman on a major presidential ticket in US history. This African-American is by no way a stranger to the political pitch. Harris ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and attracted national attention, however she ended her campaign on December 3, 2019, citing a lack of funds. She was quoted saying, “I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life. My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue."
“I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign,” Harris said in a video explaining her decision to drop out. “And as the campaign has gone on, it has become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete. In good faith, I can’t tell you, my supporters and volunteers, that I have a path forward if I don’t believe I do.”
Harris, who has thus been battle-tested by the rigours of the political world, will now be endorsing Biden.
Biden took to Twitter to announce this major news!
Biden’s choice invites applause
In the past few months, America has seen her fair share of protests over racial injustice and police brutality. Against the backdrop of the #BlackLivesMovement, expectations from Biden to select a woman of colour as his running mate, were only increasing. Thus, when this presidential candidate picked Harris - an African-American, he was met with applause and agreement by the political field. Hillary Clinton said that Harris had proven herself as an incredible public servant.
Amongst advocates of this decision was Barack Obama, former President of the United States, who said Harris was more than prepared for the job!
Kamala Harris garnered attention when she questioned Attorney General William Barr about whether Trump or any one of the White House had directed him to investigate certain individuals. But Barr could not give Harris a definite answer and instead acted confused at the concept.
This forceful questioning by Harris, a former prosecutor, went viral on social media in the days after her exchange and now Americans see this as a reason why she will be a formidable opponent of both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
President Donald Trump, however, left no opportunity to be vocal about his displeasure on the matter. He called Harris the ‘most horrible’ member of the US Senate and said he was ‘surprised’ Joe Biden had picked her as his vice-presidential candidate. Meanwhile, people have been vocal about their amusement of Mike Pence debating with a woman!
Men find it hard to debate with women
While we still need to keep an eye on the dynamics between Biden and Harris, there is proof through the ages, that men don’t fare very well while debating with women. Is it because of our assumptions that women are just better at getting their point across, or that the feminine squad is habituated to winning arguments? Well, might be a possibility!
Through history, it has been a stark observation that men flounder or get hassled or simply just find it hard to debate with women. Could this be an emanating result of the fact that many voters do not like to see women candidates being attacked by their male counterparts? While there is no conclusive data to suggest this, analysts find this could be a reason. Since debates are often the only moments where candidates share the same physical space, gender dynamics can be more obvious!
“Nobody likes to see a man beating up a girl, and nobody likes to see a man invading a woman’s personal space,” says Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. “Debates are often the trickiest minefields for a male candidate running against a female opponent. You have to demonstrate that you’re respectful and not belittle or demean your candidate’s accomplishments or qualifications,” she said. That could just be the reason why men find it hard to debate with women!
Men have to tread carefully while debating with women
Well, the men certainly have got a lot to watch while they debate or speak to women. Not hurting the woman’s feelings, not coming off as patronizing, not passing any remarks that may cause eye rolls, and the list goes on. If you think this is an issue being blown out of proportion, there are instances which support these. In the 1984 Vice Presidential debates, the then-Vice President George H.W. Bush got in hot water for explaining foreign policy to his Senator Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice-presidential candidate for a major party. “Let me help you with the difference, Mrs Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon,” he said. Ferraro retorted: “I almost resent Vice President Bush your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.”
In a follow-up interview, Ferraro got vocal about her thoughts on this, saying that she had taken Bush’s remark as a sign that he ‘was kind of looking down his patrician nose at me’. “He made the mistake of trying to kind of look down on me and give me a little bit of a lesson,” she said. “And people did not like that in him.” It was mansplaining before that was even a thing.
Men also have to pay attention to how their actions are being interpreted. The last thing they’re looking for while running a campaign is their counterpart thinking their intentions are awry when they’re really not. For instance, in Hillary Clinton’s 2000 run for New York Senate, when Rep. Rick Lazio approached her lectern and demanded she sign a campaign pledge. Well, Clinton felt he had just gotten into her personal space, and she backed away from him as if physically threatened. “It felt too aggressive,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “I don’t know if it would have felt the same way if there were two men up there.” Many analysts say that Lazio lost the debate—and the election—at that moment.
Quick wit doesn’t pay off
There’s yet another incident. In 2007, Clinton ran for the Democratic nomination. All the primary candidates were asked to say one nice thing and one critical thing about the candidate standing next to them. Sen. John Edwards went with “Um, I’m not sure about that coat,” drawing attention to Clinton’s pink jacket in a row of dark suits. The moment was clearly intended as a joke, but the voters thought it sounded sexist. Barack Obama fell into the same trap later in that primary, when Clinton was asked about why voters don’t seem to like her. “You’re likeable enough, Hillary,” he interjected. It sounded condescending and dismissive and made voters like her more.
Even off-handed comments that might seem tame when directed at a male opponent can sound sexist when said to a female one. For example, the time when Sen. Bernie Sanders tried to fend off Clinton’s interruption during a Democratic primary debate with “excuse me, I’m talking,”. A simple statement made headlines the following day. Whether the comment was justified or not (she was, after all, interrupting) it still carried a whiff of sexism to many viewers.
Professional debaters agree to this bias. “There are situations where being a woman can be an advantage in a debate. If the public see male debaters being incredibly aggressive towards their female counterpart, they perceive it as if the female is being attacked, or sometimes even starting to cry. People tend to be sympathetic to the woman in the round.”
What’s the way ahead for men?
Should men then just sit back and let the anxiety of saying something wrong, get to them? Analysts say since the gender dynamic entails that male candidates have to avoid direct personal hits on their opponents, the most effective strategy is often to allow female opponents to make mistakes. Men could also do their homework as far as being up-to-the-mark with their political agenda and knowledge, advise some. However, this said, as well-prepared as someone might be, there are deal-breaking moments during a debate. Men need to watch out for these, and steer the conversation in such a way, so as to avoid falling into the trap.