In a highly polarized culture, the minimal presence of women in positions of power does not act alone in amplifying the opinions of male peers. During all three of the presidential debates, many took to the internet to communicate shock and intrigue with the amount of times Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton, as well as her calm and composed way of responding to it. From debate to the classroom, “manterruption” in our culture reflects a much bigger issue with gender in leadership roles and the art of argumentation.
Calculations from media outlets of the amount of times Trump interrupted Clinton range from 3 to 51, while Clinton interrupted Trump between 0 to 17 times. While interruption generally suggests nerve on the interrupters part despite their sex, Trump’s interruptions adds to a legacy of men overshadowing women’s time on the floor as a way to assert dominance and superiority. Ellie Grossman ’17 says, “When you’re someone like Trump who just just refuses to budge on his convictions,…that appeals to a lot of people, just the fact that he’s so weirdly firm and so strong on those issues that it makes him look strong to people who might not care as much about the nuances of his arguments.”
Being on the USA Debate Team, Grossman weighed in on the second debate in a Hollywood Reporter interview she was interviewed for alongside two of her teammates. On the dynamic between candidates, Grossman says, “I think that a lot of young women sees themselves reflected in Hillary and see how some male opponents act reflected in Trump even if how they act generally different than what you’d agree with or what we believe in just because that power dynamic and that standard that he’s held to is similar to competitive debate.”
As a result, confidence levels for women are often lowered by interruption. Being a new representative on Forum, Hannah Klein ‘17 has had to get used to being confident in sharing her ideas with a like minded group of people. As a senior, she finds that if she had represented her class as a ninth grader, it would have been much different. Klein says,“To that freshman representative who really hasn’t had the time to develop that confidence yet or really to anyone…what you have to say is valuable. If you know that and you present that…it comes across and people will respect you more. But you have to realize that first.”
Being confident in yourself is a good and useful message to young women, but watching the debates, it is discouraging to see Clinton’s poignancy obscured by Trump’s assertive demeanor. Especially in the second debate, in which the physical set-up of the floor allowed for the taller Trump to look down on Clinton. Assistant debate coach Sandy Berkowitz incorporates meaningful techniques into training female debaters so that they are not overshadowed by their opponent’s size or manner. As a tactic, Berkowitz says, “We talk about the idea that, as a woman, you can take a step to the side. And so, when they look, now they’re looking at you this way. Even though you’re much shorter, there is distance…”
The debates have served as a reminder of the basic flaws in the social acceptance of female and male conduct in a professional or argumentative environment. As Grossman says, “In general, I think, just because women are forced to meet a higher standard, they’re generally expected to be more knowledgeable. And I think that also resonates with, obviously not all women, but a lot of women who will have watched the debates.”