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Women recognize Harris

“I am speaking.”

Far calmer and more professional than “Will you shut up, man?” yet yielding some of the same criticism for Kamala Harris that the latter statement did for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden when he, too, searched for the right way to halt an interrupter in his tracks.

Reaction to Harris is telling. And, please understand, I am not getting into policy and ideology here — if you disagreed with what Harris had to say, and do not plan to support the Biden/Harris ticket, fine. That has nothing to do with the way she chose to handle something women have dealt with for decades, as they clawed their way toward being treated in a professional setting exactly as their male counterparts have come to expect they will be treated.

(I will say, I thought briefly of poor Ross Perot, who way back in 1992 kept having to say “Can I finish? Let me finish!” during his debate. Reaction to that was mostly giggling. We thought it was adorable, not rude or impudent.)

How many women, watching the vice presidential debate Wednesday evening, felt their own professional struggles well up in their minds as they watched both a female candidate and female moderator be talked over, interrupted and ignored; and then, in the moderator’s case, be told by the man on stage that she could “Yes. Please go ahead” and do her job?

How many of us have experienced the interruption by a male colleague that amounted to nothing more than condescending talking-over until the point we were trying to make has been successfully pushed to the side? How many of us have tried to impose order, follow the rules or keep things moving along as they should, only to be shouted down and ignored?

And, let’s be honest with ourselves, how many of us have lowered our heads and shut our mouths, or come up with a response that amounted to choosing honey over vinegar, because we fooled ourselves into believing we were picking our battles? After all, it’s better to keep them happy, and just get the job done, right?

Well, let’s look at that response for a moment. When did we convince ourselves that to calmly answer in a way that men speak to each other all the time was “vinegar” to be avoided? Why did we never have the courage to simply say “I am speaking?”

That’s what I wonder when I see the reaction to Harris, particularly from some strong, intelligent women I know could have gone much further in their careers had they been men (and, frankly, from some who are still holding on to a much more traditional view of a woman’s “place.”) Is their distaste with Harris’s response to being interrupted and talked over a result of resentment? Are they deep down bothered that they were never able to summon such a response and therefore feel comforted in labeling it inappropriate or rude, now?

If you are going to criticize her, do it because you disagree with her plans, her policy proposals, her record. Do not do it because she refused to be disregarded or bullied into not answering questions.

When discussions like this one come up, I think immediately of my niece. She is strong, smart and, should she so choose, could lead us all one day. I can see her right now, jutting her little chin out and saying to anyone who dared try to silence her “I am speaking.”

But I can’t tell you how much I hope she won’t have to; that she will not have to worry about how to play the game, pick her battles or fly under the radar. I hope that along with the disappearance of the idea that women are weaker, less capable, less thoughtful, less in control of their emotions … simply “less,” that WHEN my niece is regarded in her chosen workplace in precisely the same manner as her male colleagues, there will also be a civility that seems almost unimaginable now.

It is possible, particularly if we get rid of the pathetic high school mentality that because something bad happened to me when I was coming up through the ranks, I want to make sure it happens to the next generation.

We should want better than that, folks. We should BE better than that.

And now, (I mean this as nod to one of my new favorite characters in the Star Wars universe, and not as a foot-stamping exit), “I have spoken.”

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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