Was the VP Debate Just Another Example of Systemic Sexism?

Was it because they thought Mike Pence so thoroughly prevailed over Kamala Harris in the Vice Presidential debate this week that, instead of focusing on the issues, some of the liberal media turned their attention to Pence’s supposed “mansplaining” and sexism toward Harris?

On CNN, commentator Van Jones called Pence the “mansplainer-in-chief.” Anti-Trump conservative pundit S.E. Cupp said that although she had formerly respected Mike Pence, “Tonight he made my skin crawl,” particularly with “the constant interruptions, the mansplaining, the condescending to both of the women.” Even a BBC headline asked, “Did gender play a role in the interruptions?” Twitter also lit up with various commentators breathless over Pence’s “mansplaining,” interrupting, and otherwise daring to disagree forcefully with Harris or get her to answer questions she would prefer dodge.

So what is “mansplaining”? Even the definitions differ, with Merriam-Webster refusing to formally define but suggesting the phenomenon is “what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.” Urban Dictionary more amusingly describes it as “Stating accurate, verifiable facts. Especially when these facts are inconvenient to the feminist worldview, or contradict feminist talking points.” In other words, it’s a loaded term, that can be used to describe a real phenomenon, certainly, but is also wide open to being used to dodge the point. It can be (and often is) used as an ad hominem attack, meant to call the speaker’s very person into question rather than answer his questions.

If Pence was really guilty of such overt sexism, surely we would see that reflected in the speaking times—surely he spoke far more than Harris. But even CNN’s official speaking time tally gives Pence and Harris almost exactly equal time—only three seconds apart. So why is the liberal media so upset over the (admittedly many) times that Pence went over his allotted time, or the few times he tried to interrupt Harris?

For one thing, Harris failed to argue back. She coopted the Obama method of using narrative vs. facts, telling stories of her childhood and warning Americans that if “You have a preexisting condition, they’re coming for you. If you love someone with a preexisting condition, they’re coming for you.” She repeatedly seemed unable to counter the Vice President’s evidence regarding her voting record, particularly when it came to the Green New Deal. She insisted on simply repeating the same accusations against the President verbatim, particularly concerning COVID-19, instead of actually trying to dismantle Pence’s response. And she repeatedly refused to reassure the American public that the Biden ticket had plans to alter the structure of the Supreme Court by adding more seats. In short, she seemed clueless—shaking her head in mock shock at Pence’s arguments, smiling with a look of disdain when she didn’t like what he was saying, and once or twice even grasping for words in trying to answer his questions. (To Senator Harris’s disdainful looks, Megyn Kelly amusingly quipped on Twitter, “Take it like a woman. Don’t make faces.”)

So instead of responding to the arguments, a portion of the liberal media clung to identity politics. Pence wasn’t “debating.” He was “mansplaining.” And Harris wasn’t clueless, or quietly trying to simply play it safe, she was a victim of sexism. In the argument of Van Jones, she was “walking that tightrope” that women of color had to navigate, being assertive but not too assertive. It wasn’t her fault; it was the system’s. She did a great job navigating an unjust system. And a man trying to debate a woman on a national stage should apparently not actually debate, but rather politely shut up.

So desperate were the media for anything else to talk about that even the fly that infamously landed on Pence became a pretty huge Internet topic, while other stories speculated on whether Pence’s slightly discolored eye could be a symptom of COVID-19.

Nothing to see here, America! Just another annoying day of sexism, racism, mansplaining, and insects. Let’s move on, please.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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