For a realm like political arena traditionally designed for men, a lot is stacked against women seeking for office. Many work to deepen their voice (Margaret Tetcher being the well-known example amongst a few); work on the issues of posture and gestures so they are more suited to the public’s likings for masculinity in politics; and still struggle with the issue of likability both when we are too tough and when we are too soft (Hilary Clinton is our last example). If we want a decent shot at the next generation being gender-equal—that women are not held to higher standards when seeking the same office as men—we need to ensure that the political arena itself turns more feminine, women-friendly, as to familiarize the public with women’s tonalities, women’s voices, women’s gestures, women’s issues, and women’s representations. Most basically, if the government does not represent the body of the governed, is that true democracy?
But voting for a woman because she is a woman is not the case we make for Kamala Harris. The Vice Presidential Debate on the 7th of October was a relief for most, considering the debacle played out on a national stage during the first presidential debate, largely thanks to the constant interruptions by Mr. President that made any basic discussion simply impossible. While Vice President Pence struggled to resist his entitlements to space and time, he overall put the debate back into the realm of normal, and this allowed for political pundits to engage in substantive analysis on who won the debate.
But for many feminists, the victor of the vice presidential debate is clear—for meaningful reasons. Senator Kamala Harris dealt with multiple times, on a national stage, what women everywhere risk facing by men every day by entering men’s arenas: mansplaining, interrupting, and seizing of unearned time and space. Kamala Harris’s responses to such behaviors served as guidelines for many young women to see and emulate: “I am speaking. (smile)” “I’m not going to be lectured by Mr. Vice President on issues around law enforcement. (briefly lists her time as a prosecutor having closely worked with law enforcement)” When the table felt unequal in terms of the time allowed to speak for each, she demanded: “I’d like just as much time to respond.”
Some say that she should have been tougher and more frequent with her interjections; and that so might have discouraged Pence from linger-speaking. That is an unfair habit of us that ever solidifies odds already stacked against women fighting to thrive in arenas traditionally male. It was not up to her to change Vice President Pence’s debate behaviors. He acted in accordance to what he felt entitled to doing, what he felt he could to do in that moment, and what he felt was in his political interest. When we look to the woman competitor to provide moral guidance for his own behaviors (and hold her responsible when he fails to behave maturely), it not only unfairly disadvantages women (how can she ever win?), but it also disservices the man. It robs him of an opportunity to develop a strong sense of identity based on moral character, based on self-reflection around habits developed upon male entitlements—to space, to office, to time, and to expertise.
A case for Kamala Harris as she tries to break glass ceiling in politics is beyond just the fact that she is a woman. If that were the case, a lot more women would have been on the side of Sarah Palin when she ran as John McCain’s Vice President. It is that Kamala Harris represents women. She is not only qualified but as we have seen last night, well-versed in women’s issues, women’s troubles, and women’s common obstacles as we try to make our well-deserving advancements in the men’s world.
Joe Biden must win. But more importantly, Kamala Harris must win—for women and for a fair shot at our next generation of gender equality.