California Senator Kamala Harris dominated on the second night of the first Democratic debate of 2020 presidential candidates according to many people who viewed the event. Harris—born in Oakland, California to a Tamil Indian mother and Jamaican father—is a former district attorney and state Attorney General.
Making her case was a skill Harris excelled at to rise to the level of success she did.
But Harris is still a woman and a person of color. And some people have outdated expectations for how women, especially women of color, are allowed to act and speak.
The tone policing of women of color is so pervasive that numerous sociological and psychological studies and articles have been completed on the subject.
So when political analyst Stuart Rothenberg's reaction to what many hailed as an exemplary performance was to ask...
"Is Harris being too aggressive?"
Is Harris being too aggressive?— Stuart Rothenberg (@Stuart Rothenberg) 1561687674.0
...people were not surprised.
But they were also not happy. And they let Rothenberg know.
@StuPolitics NO— Kate Eads (@Kate Eads) 1561687698.0
@StuPolitics (would you ask that about a male debatee?)— Kate Eads (@Kate Eads) 1561687744.0
@KateEads @StuPolitics No, but he will probably comment on what she's wearing next.— Ann (@Ann) 1561688556.0
@bluemoonghetto @KateEads @StuPolitics right after he admonishes her for not smiling enough. #DonkeyOfTheDay… https://t.co/U7VegwL9VT— J. McCavendish (@J. McCavendish) 1561689157.0
Women definitely could relate to the situation.
Competent women who speak their mind often get labeled "aggressive" when their male counterparts are praised as being "assertive" and "ambitious" or a "go-getter" when displaying identical behavior.
@StuPolitics Not at all. Forceful, but not forced. She knows how to choose her moments. (And I say this as someone who is undecided.)— Paul Begala (@Paul Begala) 1561689218.0
@PaulBegala @StuPolitics It drives me crazy when someone who is not a POC asks if a woman of color is being too agg… https://t.co/QahOpXYvAV— Barbara Wiggins (@Barbara Wiggins) 1561692771.0
@dyeamans @dallascowgurl95 @PaulBegala @StuPolitics I saw so many tweets last night describing Warren as “shrill.”… https://t.co/BL0L0OKOYq— Kris Troske (@Kris Troske) 1561698716.0
@krist117 @dyeamans @dallascowgurl95 @PaulBegala @StuPolitics The fact she had definite things to say and disagreed… https://t.co/cXYQdvzU37— Jeannine Sparkes (@Jeannine Sparkes) 1561721402.0
The same reaction came from women over and over.
@StuPolitics Too aggressive?I want her dealing with the Republicans and Russia!— Trump's not my Pres (@Trump's not my Pres) 1561688357.0
@Nysteveo2AOLcom @StuPolitics Why do we only ask that question of women?— Lori The Witness Has Spoken (@Lori The Witness Has Spoken) 1561688489.0
@sclly21 @Nysteveo2AOLcom @StuPolitics Exactly— Yankee Girl (@Yankee Girl) 1561689111.0
People called Rothenberg's hot take sexist.
@StuPolitics Is Stu being too sexist?— The Hoarse Whisperer (@The Hoarse Whisperer) 1561692762.0
@HoarseWisperer @StuPolitics Yes, yes he is.— Your Outer Voice (@Your Outer Voice) 1561711541.0
Women were not appreciative of Rothenberg's impression or characterization of Harris.
@brooklynmarie @StuPolitics Bout 90% chance he deletes that under heavy fire— Adam Schiavone (@Adam Schiavone) 1561688332.0
@brooklynmarie @AdamSchiavone @StuPolitics Yes, thanks old white guy— Babel (@Babel) 1561690339.0
People advised Rothenberg to delete his post.
@StuPolitics delete this then go sit in the corner and think about what you did— Molly Knight (@Molly Knight) 1561691206.0
@molly_knight @StuPolitics https://t.co/4jPptWP48R— Molly (@Molly) 1561691402.0
Several women shared the criticisms they often face, regarding whether they smile enough, their perceived tone or their clothing.
@StuPolitics I'm worried more that all the men aren't smiling more. And they seem a bit shrill.— Blahblah, something holiday, Cipher (@Blahblah, something holiday, Cipher) 1561688885.0
@snarkylicious @StuPolitics And their fashion sense! Abysmal.— Kris Troske (@Kris Troske) 1561698816.0
However one woman fell into that same trap of judging Harris on her appearance over her words.
@TrinityResists @StuPolitics This🔺is the amount of makeup she should be wearing. Too much tonight.— Oothoon13 (@Oothoon13) 1561702896.0
But she was quickly checked for it.
@oothoon13 @StuPolitics What color was Biden’s tie? …or Andrew Yang & Eric Swalwell? What color were their suits? D… https://t.co/44bXChu371— Trinity Resists (@Trinity Resists) 1561703419.0
@CindisPLace @KIKI_SRQUS @oothoon13 @StuPolitics Drudge Report: Yang was the winner of tonight’s debate, Williamson… https://t.co/gAbmHTnW6o— Trinity Resists (@Trinity Resists) 1561705851.0
And even those who agreed that Harris was aggressive rather than knowledgable or assertive, thought the inclusion of "too" was inappropriate for the job Harris is seeking.
@StuPolitics No, Kamala Harris is not to aggressive we need a fierce aggressive fighter for America. She would so d… https://t.co/pxzTkFA5EU— ★TheEliasRework★🇺🇸 🏳️🌈 (@★TheEliasRework★🇺🇸 🏳️🌈) 1561689886.0
@StuPolitics Really? Did you just freaking ask that question. She’s running for PRESIDENT OF THE USA! I want her to be a badass.— Carole L. Evans (@Carole L. Evans) 1561688442.0
At the end of the night, Rothenberg declared Harris and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg the big winners.
Solid night for Mayor Pete and Harris. Biden OK. Sanders OK, if you already liked Sanders. Bennet OK, but not enough.— Stuart Rothenberg (@Stuart Rothenberg) 1561690824.0
The political analyst has yet to respond to the backlash over his characterization of Harris as aggressive.
To learn more about sexism, the project Everyday Sexism was established. After the success of the project, the book Everyday Sexism: The Project that Inspired a Worldwide Movement, available here, was created as a companion to the original project.
"The Everyday Sexism Project was founded by writer and activist Laura Bates in April 2012. It began life as a website where people could share their experiences of daily, normalized sexism, from street harassment to workplace discrimination to sexual assault and rape."
The book Underserved Women of Color, Voice, and Resistance: Claiming a Seat at the Table, available here, can help allies understand daily life for women of color and advocate for them to be heard without the traditional judgments and obstacles they face.
"Women of color face unique social challenges that exist at the intersections of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. While some challenges are common to women of color, others reflect the distinct journey each woman makes as she negotiates her identity within her family, professional circle, social and romantic relationships, and community. The editors have constructed a rich collection of voices in this work exploring the politics of women of color across various social contexts."