During the presidential debate, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton. A lot. It may be more accurate to call it interjecting, but that’s neither here nor there. What it was not was Trump allowing Clinton to speak without his speaking. To my ears, it was rude.
Perhaps it’s my experience from the courtroom, from oral argument, but each side gets its time to speak unmolested by the other. When it’s done, then it’s the other side’s opportunity to respond. It’s not merely a matter of courtesy, or an unholy love of order, but effectiveness. Interruptions are negative distractions, reflecting poorly on the person doing the interrupting. Do they lack impulse control? Can they not control themselves long enough to let someone else speak? Are they so narcissistic that other people’s speech is inconsequential in comparison to their need to speak, whenever they feel the urge? YMMV, but that’s mine.
But in satisfaction of its obsessive/compulsive needs, the New York Times published an op-ed explaining that this wasn’t merely interruption, but “manterruption.” Jessica Bennett employs the word she coined:
At the 26-minute mark, the website Vox posted a graphic showing that Mr. Trump had interrupted Mrs. Clinton a whopping 25 times. Shortly thereafter, The Huffington Post proclaimed, “This is what manterrupting looks like.”
While others may use the word, Bennett owns it.
Manterrupting, defined by journalist and author Feminist Fight Club Jessica Bennett as “unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man,” is a phenomenon that many professional women are (unfortunately) familiar with.
A 2014 study found that women are significantly more likely to be interrupted than men are, and research has shown that when women do speak up, their words are given less weight and treated as less valid than men’s. This phenomenon is especially problematic in fields ― like politics ― which are dominated by men’s voices just by virtue of the numbers.
By this definition, Trump’s interruptions weren’t a matter of Trump being Trump, but Trump being a man.
To anyone who has observed Mr. Trump speak, it shouldn’t have been surprising: Shouting, talking over, bulldozing, mansplaining — these are Mr. Trump’s linguistic trademarks. Yet to the rest of us, or at least the 51 percent of us who are women, Mr. Trump’s behavior was also painfully familiar, reminiscent of the types of dismissals so many of us deal with every day.
Manterrupting. Mansplaining. Mansitting. Putting “man” before otherwise pedestrian words turns them from everyday, unremarkable things to offenses against women. To the feeble-minded, using these words is good enough to overcome whatever part of the everyday, unremarkable things harshed their feelz. But when someone is running for president of the United States, one does not get to take comfort in the palliative of the feeble-minded.
There is not now, nor has there ever been, a good reason why a woman has not run for president. Women have led other nations, not because of gender but because of the belief of their electorate in their competency. From Golda Meir to Margaret Thatcher, from Angela Merkel to Theresa May, women have proven to be the equal to men. That women can lead is not a question. They can.
On the one hand, if a candidate can scrape up some votes from the unduly emotional or the intellectually challenged by use of disingenuous cheap tricks like appealing to genitalia, who can blame them for doing so? The person with the most votes wins, regardless of how they got them. There is no shortage of stupid people out there, willing to use their franchise for reasons having no bearing on competency. No reason to neglect whatever ploy wins them over. Both candidates play to the stupid who might be won over for the wrong reasons.
On the other hand, when this sort of nonsense appears in the New York Times as if it’s a legitimate argument, “manterrupting,” then it deserves scrutiny. If Hillary Clinton is to assert herself as qualified to lead a nation, as the better option than her opponent, then she can’t complain of “manterrupting.” Equals don’t whine and use gender as an excuse or a pejorative.
Will Hillary Clinton complain, after losing in negotiations with Putin,* that he “manterrupted” her?
If Clinton didn’t like being interrupted, and there is little reason why she wouldn’t, then she needs to deal with it straight up. Smack him for it. Beat his sorry butt into the ground. Expose his rudeness and lack of impulse control for what it is. But do not rationalize it afterward as “manterrupting.” If that’s the case, then she is not up to the task of being a leader because of her gender, her inability to overcome an interruption because she’s a woman.
Bennett uses Clinton’s interruption as a lead-in to how the phenomenon of “manterrupting” happens to all women.
This is subtle sexism. It is the kind of behavior that may not be malicious, or even conscious; it is bias exhibited by well-intentioned voters, Bernie Sanders-supporting progressives and even feminists. Individually, the things — interruptions, being condescended to, losing credit for your ideas — may not seem like that big a deal. But they add up.
This is the argument, and it fails. If a woman doesn’t like being “manterrupted,” don’t be manterrupted. Raising the excuse of “subtle sexism” whenever the world doesn’t revolve around the way women prefer to do things is unavailing. Ironically, people like Bennett rely on “women are different” to make the argument that women are equal. Which is it? You can’t have special rules to compel men to behave like women so that women won’t be able to enjoy their comfort zone of passivity. If a women wants to get into the ring with a man as an equal, and she should, she can’t call time out whenever he throws a punch, and demand he stop “manpunching” her.
Subtle sexism is the fact that — while, indeed, Hillary Clinton has made mistakes — we judge mistakes more harshly in women, and remember those mistakes longer. It’s that she must strike a near-impossible balance between niceness and authority — a glimmer of weakness, and she doesn’t have the “stamina”; but too much harshness and she’s “cold,” “aloof,” “robotic,” scolded by a man who is all but frothing at the mouth for not having the right “temperament.” It’s saying that she wasn’t being “nice.” (Since when has “niceness” been a qualification for a presidential candidate?) It’s saying she doesn’t “look” presidential, which might as well mean male.
Women prefer to be “nice”? If you say so, but then, don’t complain if nice doesn’t work. That’s a choice. If you want to be equal, and you should, then be equal. Putting the word “man” in front of another person’s choice of conduct doesn’t excuse its outcome. Making excuses for the female candidate serves only to inform people that she isn’t up to the task.
Equals don’t complain. Equals go toe to toe. It’s time to put the whining to rest and let the candidates demonstrate who is best qualified to be president. And if she can’t manage it because he’s “manterrupting,” then she has no business in the ring. Win because you deserve to win, not because the male “cheated” by being male. Women are up to the task. Bennett’s claim, that women are too dainty and nice to compete as equals, is sexist. Or you can dismiss me as a misogynist doing some “mansplaining.”
*Actual interview in the future:
New York Times Reporter: How did the negotiations go, President Clinton?
HRC: Well, they were going great, but then he started manterrupting me, so I ended up giving him the Ukraine and Cleveland.
New York Times Reporter: That’s so unfair!