Following the vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris on Wednesday, a dialogue on “mansplaining” has stirred in the media. Meanwhile, the public is battling a pandemic, a struggling economy, and perpetual riots.
It’s easy to distract yourself with these secondary conversations. It is also true that most women have at some point been interrupted by smug and condescending men.
However, that was not the case between Pence and Harris. Pence spoke to Harris exactly how he spoke to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in 2016. Naturally, debates involve interruptions and explanations. The burden is on Pence’s critics to prove he approached the match-up with Harris differently than he would approach one with a man. Even if he did, the matter is still relatively trivial compared to policy issues on the table right now.
Martha Raddatz of all people said it best. Responding to George Stephanopoulos’s suggestion that Pence was “mansplaining,” she said, “Kamala Harris is a vice-presidential candidate. She should be able to stand up for herself … A man can interrupt another vice presidential candidate.”
When we treat political coverage like a sport, as much of the media does, the mansplaining debate is intriguing because it’s easier than policy. This situation is a useful case study in how poorly the media covers politics. It has done so in ways that long predate the rise of Donald Trump.
Journalists have different priorities and backgrounds than their audiences, which elevates those priorities above the priorities of the general public, and sucks the rest of us into these ridiculous conversations. The level of groupthink incentivized by Twitter exacerbates this problem greatly.
Harris was fine. Men interrupt and are condescending to each other in debates. They can do the same to women. The question is hardly worth spilling so much ink over, but here we are, in the middle of a pandemic and recession, squabbling over “mansplaining” while rioters shatter storefronts and a winter of growing economic uncertainty looms.