Saturday, May 25Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

The role gender and race are playing in the American election

Wednesday 7th October aired the second live debate in the US presidential election campaign. This time it was the Vice-Presidential debate: Kamala Harris versus Mike Pence. If elected, Harris would be the first female and the first African American Vice President, perhaps setting the stage for her to then run for president in 2024 and 2028. This alone shows the steps that the USA is gradually taking to becoming a more equal society in terms of race and gender. This is a turning point in America.

However, the debate was full of constant interruptions. Not unusual if following the format of last week’s debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden; the latter eventually breaking and going as far to tell Trump to “shut up, man” after Trump reportedly made 71 interruptions. The frustration felt by Harris can be seen clearly in those instances that Pence felt the point she was making was not worthy of letting her finish, a feeling that many women would relate to. This did not stop her from actually making sure that she got her point across and responded at one point saying “Mr Vice-President, I’m speaking…” a poignant moment in the debate: a woman standing up against a man that was trying, ineffectively, to silence her voice. This did not occur just once but it was reported that she responded to an interruption on three different occasions, with 16 interruptions by him and only nine by her in total. 

Women and even some men across the country took to social media to share their support for her. Being talked over or struggling to make an impression is a commonality shared by most women g. This is not only a feminist issue but a race issue. Women of colour are even less likely to be listened to, with their ideas being passed over by their male white counterparts. The election campaign in America is proving to the world that they are nowhere near where they claim to be on women’s issues and equality. 

It has been suggested that gender plays a more important role than first assumed and a more dangerous one, as it is subconscious. It has been so ingrained in society that a woman’s voice is not as loud and as important as a man’s, so it’s often silenced. 

During the 2008 election campaign, Michelle Obama had to overcome the stereotype of an angry black woman that is so often used, and this can also be seen in Kamala Harris’s approach to the debate. Harris was trying to not fall into a stereotype while simultaneously making sure that she was not appearing as a pushover:a tight rope that is walked by so many on a daily basis. he harsh reality of being consistently stereotyped based on your gender and race is bleeding into the campaign; and like in 2008 is shining a light on the lack of progress. 

 As the campaign reaches the final few weeks, it’s interesting to note how Harris and Pence are portrayed in the media and what positive qualities are actually highlighted. Kamala Harris is a landmark nomination and if elected the USA would have made another step in the right direction of equality, the first African American nomination. From Shirley Chisholm being the first African American nominated into Congress in 1968 and then later being the first African American to run for a major party presidential nomination to Kamala Harris in 2020, it’s hard to see much progress being made for women of colour. However, the fact is that they keep trying and no matter how many interruptions there may be, at the end of the day they are not going anywhere and the goal of equality is that much closer.