Last week, it happened again. In the midst of Attorney General Jeff Sessions testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Committee Member and Senator Kamala Harris fired a series of rapid questions to Attorney General Sessions to answer. Unlike any of her male colleagues, she was interrupted and chided to let Sessions answer her question.
A couple of weeks before, I was catching up on the news through my Twitter feed to see what was trending. Hillary Clinton was. Why? Because she had made a speech and heads were literally spinning. Many tweets were not discussing the merits of her comments, but groaning that she was speaking at all. Some have called it “Hillary Derangement Syndrome,” basically known as anytime she says something people lose their collective minds.
But I’ve seen this is actually a disturbing trend, not just with Senator Harris or Secretary Clinton but anytime any woman with an unapologetic opinion speaks up.
I was reminded of myself in high school. a kid who read a lot and liked to contribute in class. I guess I did it one too many times because one day every time I volunteered an answer (correct, by the way) one of the boys in class would sigh really loudly. He did it enough times to get the side eye from the teacher. At the time, I felt sheepish and hesitated; I realize now, that was the entire point.
When Hillary Clinton went to speak at her alma mater Wellesley College’s graduation, The New Republic stepped in it in a tweet previewing an article that read: “The Democratic Party needs to be elevating its younger rising stars. Hillary Clinton should get out of the way.” OK, so if we’re applying the cone of silence to elder statesmen and women in the Democratic Party, has anyone asked Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden to do the same?
Last week, US Senator Kamala Harris was silenced by her Republican colleague, Senator Burr on the Senate Intelligence Committee. She was asking US Deputy AG Rod Rosentein a question and then interrupting him before he finished or so Senator Burr explained. Burr had not surprisingly (for women who’ve had this experienced) interrupted Senator Harris when she was asking the question. Perhaps Burr though the line of questioning was too aggressive or not appropriate? Senator Wyden of Oregon asked Rosenstein the same questions later, in the same tone and Burr did not interrupt him. Something Wyden himself pointed out on Twitter later
Remember Elizabeth Warren, on the Senate floor when protesting Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as Attorney General? As Warren read from Coretta Scott King’s letter from 1986 objecting to Sessions when he was up for a judgeship, she was gaveled and “censored” by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for speaking poorly of a fellow colleague. Yet when Warren’s male colleagues got up to read from that same letter, McConnell somehow resisted the urge.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, who has taken on a whole new level of visibility since the 2016 election due to her no-nonsense sharp rebuke of Trump and the House GOP, has more than once been attacked on Twitter for speaking her mind.
Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly remarking on an eloquent statement from Water said: “I didn’t hear a word [Waters] said” because he was too busy looking at her “James Brown wig.” After blowback, not only from viewers but a from female Fox News anchor who was sitting with O’Reilly, he apologized. But the point was made: Even though she was a long-serving Congressional leader, her opinion, her very identity as a woman, was not worth acknowledging.
To be clear, I don’t suggest that anyone should hesitate to challenge Maxine Waters, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren or any woman if she has an opinion with which you disagree. This is America, the First Amendment is still a thing – for now anyway ― and people can disagree with each other vociferously, especially if said opinion is laced with “alternative facts.”
What I am saying is flipping out on Twitter, TV or any social media outlet when a woman speaks out, saying “go away” or making fun of someone’s hair or gaveling her into silence only makes you look like the sexist chump you will likely spend a lot of time saying you are not. Why not just address why you disagree with what that person says rather than who she is.
And yes, that applies to women who do it to other women, too.
But what can the country expect in the era of the Donald Trump presidency?
During the 2016 campaign, Trump never found an insult he didn’t like to toss at someone with whom he had a disagreement. It’s what many Trump’s supporters said they liked about him. He was “authentic,” they said. Now he is our President, who despite his detractors is championed by supporters to “let Trump be Trump” while Hillary Clinton is verbally flogged for speaking without name calling or swearing. The irony and double standard should not be lost on anyone.
Hillary Clinton will be 70 years old in October. She was the first female partner in her law firm, a first lady of a state, a first lady of our nation. She was a U.S. Senator, and a U.S. Secretary of State, praised for her accomplishments and collegiality, even from those on the other side of the aisle.
She was the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party. You can disagree with her about anything and everything ― and oh the line is long for those who do. But if anyone has earned her right and paid the price to speak her mind, Hillary Clinton has.
Nobody puts Hillary in the corner, nor Kamala, Maxine, or Elizabeth. And let their confidence in the face of hostility be a reminder to other women never to let anyone do the same to you.