Analysis: He said, she said, he interrupted. How this election has illuminated decades of workplace sexism
Personalities may have overshadowed policy during this presidential campaign, but one issue has dominated virtually every news cycle:
He said, she said, he interrupted.
Whether she wins the White House or not, Hillary Clinton has already changed American discourse. If it has done nothing else, her historic campaign has illuminated the belittlement, condescension and hostility that women have endured for decades in workplaces across the country.
From the moment in the Democratic debates when Bernie Sanders snapped at Clinton, “Let me finish,” to the recent sight of Newt Gingrich accusing Megyn Kelly of being “fascinated with sex,” this campaign has been the embodiment of a growing awareness of the subtle — and not so subtle — sexism women face.
Documented in numerous studies and over countless commiserative glasses of post-work wine, such experiences have spawned at least three neologisms (“mansplain,” “manologue,” “manterruption”), an entire cottage industry around the empowerment of working women and even an app.
But this election put what once seemed anecdotal or academic starkly on display on television and in easily shareable YouTube clips. Along with post-debate fact-checking came an actual tally of how many more times Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton than vice versa (51 versus 17, according to an analysis by the news website Vox).
It is an issue that crosses political lines; even as memes circulated of Trump yelling “wrong” repeatedly while Clinton spoke during the debates, Republican analyst Ana Navarro shot to fame by refusing to be shushed when she quoted the exact wording of the now infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump is heard making lewd remarks about women.
And Fox News’ Kelly has been at the center of it all from the beginning.
And there was the star-making viral moment on election night in 2012 when Fox News called Ohio -- and thus the election -- for President Obama, sending Republican operative Karl Rove into an on-air meltdown of denial. With the poise of a White House tour guide, Kelly walked across the Fox News studio to interview the network’s statisticians to confirm the results.
Viewed in hindsight, the clip plays like a teaser for the 2016 election, when fulminating men have repeatedly lost their cool, talked over and interrupted women who have (mostly) kept their cool and stuck to the facts, dismantling the notion that women are dictated by emotions.
Kelly also reportedly played a pivotal role in the well-documented behind-the-scenes drama at Fox News over its chief, encouraging other women to speak out against Roger Ailes, who was ousted in July following multiple charges of sexual harassment.
She also clashed with prominent Trump booster Sean Hannity, who took to Twitter -- the second-most public venue after live television -- to accuse her, with scant evidence, of being a Clinton supporter. (Note: He was the one to pick the fight; she was the one who made nice in a subsequent tweet.)
Then last week, during her prime-time show “The Kelly File,” Trump supporter Newt Gingrich responded to a question about sexual assault allegations against the Republican nominee by claiming that Kelly was “fascinated with sex.”
Without turning a hair, Kelly calmly explained that she was, instead, obsessed with the safety of American women.
These gendered confrontations have been replayed to the point of ubiquity, analyzed by the numbers and illustrated with snazzy graphics.
— Meredith Blake
“I think your defensiveness on this may speak volumes, sir,” she said, ending the segment by suggesting Gingrich work on his anger issues.
Not surprisingly, the exchange went viral.
For his part, Trump has seemed to go out of his way to make gender an issue of the campaign, questioning whether Clinton has the “look” or “stamina” of a president, talking over her repeatedly and standing strangely close to her during the second debate.
More than once he has complained that Clinton was allowed to talk for longer periods, though reviews of debate footage revealed that he usually edged her out by a minute or two.
At one point, Trump griped that between Clinton, Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, the second debate was “one on three.” (In fact, he spoke about a minute longer than Clinton.) Meanwhile, Raddatz and Cooper repeatedly had to remind Trump to let Clinton finish speaking.
It is not the first time the camera has caught men verbally bulldozing women. Who could forget Kanye “Imma Let You Finish” West hijacking Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMAs, or Joe Scarborough’s interruptions of his “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, too numerous to recount here?
And as the Washington Post reported last month, female staffers within the Obama administration who felt their voices were being ignored finally adopted a policy of giving credit to each other’s contributions, to force some gender parity.
But just as the “Access Hollywood” tape confirmed women’s worst fears about closed-door conversations between men, the election coverage has been a showcase for age-old frustrations about being shouted down or disregarded by colleagues, which is why so many clips have gone viral.
There was the spectacle of former presidential candidate Ben Carson asking MSNBC producers to cut off host Katty Kay’s microphone during a discussion of Trump’s alleged groping habit.
Or Trump executive Michael Cohen repeatedly barking “says who?” at CNN’s Brianna Keilar, when she noted his candidate was lagging in the polls.
Increasingly the pushback has become just as noticeable, and as bipartisan.
CNN contributor Navarro, once a relatively obscure Republican strategist, has broken out this election season by giving voice to the disgust felt by women of all political stripes.
On “Fox & Friends,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway -- a woman dubbed the “Trump Whisperer” for her ability to rein in the volatile candidate, and brought onboard the flagging campaign after two bombastic male campaign managers got the boot -- criticized Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine for interrupting debate moderator Elaine Quijano.
And lest we forget, it was former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson — hardly anyone’s idea of a feminist agitator — who first went public with allegations against Ailes, opening the door for others to do the same.
As Wonder Woman celebrates her 75th anniversary, the battle of the sexes is also playing out in pop culture. “Good Girls Revolt,” which premiered Friday on Amazon, is a fictionalized series about the gender discrimination lawsuit filed by female employees of Newsweek magazine in 1970. At the time, women toiled invisibly as fact-checkers and researchers, and only men received bylines.
And next week comes “The Crown,” Netflix’s scripted series about young Queen Elizabeth II. It follows the newly-crowned monarch, who ascended to the throne at the age of 25. As she fights to find her voice she pushes back, ever so slightly, against powerful older men, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Her job as sovereign requires a more extreme version of what so many women, both world-famous and obscure, have learned to do: keep calm, carry on — and fight back when called for.
The times have changed, but not as much as we might think.
Follow me @MeredithBlake
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