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BUSH: She's speaking... and I'm still learning
FROM THE EDITOR

BUSH: She's speaking... and I'm still learning

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Wake up calls are almost never appreciated.

You need them if you don't want to miss appointments. You also need them when you think you know something that you don't really know.

After watching Wednesday night's Vice Presidential debate I received a loud and clear wake-up call. It was a pretty unique stage for a debate at that level. A female moderator and a female candidate shared the stage with a male incumbent. 

Watching the debate, I thought both sides did a pretty good job. Vice President Mike Pence wanted to do anything but answer coronavirus questions for obvious reasons. Kamala Harris had no interest in discussing the potential of stacking the Supreme Court and a few other touchy issues. No one wanted to talk about the fly that decided to land on Pence's hair.

She landed punches. He landed punches. I thought it would be a really close decision when polls were reported. I even predicted 45 percent to both sides and 10 percent undecided. Then the instant poll was released and it showed those who responded believed Harris won handily. I was pretty shocked. She did well, but I hadn't seen it as a huge win.

There may have been a reason for that. When the poll was broken down, men were split 48-46, almost as I had expected. But among women, Harris had won in a significant landslide according the the CNN-SRSS poll. 

Being a man, I hadn't heard Pence say anything overtly sexist or condescending. Harris had handled herself well and cut anything that started that direction early.

But as I read more reactions on social media, it became obvious what the problem was. It wasn't just what Pence said - there would be no quotes to run in a newspaper to back this up - it was what he did. Pence continued to speak as the moderator tried to politely cut him off. He continued to speak as Harris tried to answer. He didn't say anything wrong but he said everything wrong.

Ignoring a woman who was running the event was something that many women who had been in that situation had experienced. They didn't need him to insult anyone with words. He did it in action. It wasn't something you heard and thought about. It was something many women felt.

When Harris stopped a Pence interruption to tell him simply, "I'm speaking" the moment meant something to a lot of women. Many professional women have had men explain their positions to them and take credit for ideas. Women often say men in meetings speak over them.

Pence touched those frayed nerves Wednesday night with a lot of women in the first poll.

It made me think about myself and how I handle women who work in the newsroom. As an older editor, I try to be very conscious of making sure I hear people equally. I'm not sure that was always true when I was younger and still felt like I had more to prove. As a young editor, I was always trying to impress people. As an older editor I realize more of the responsibility that comes with the position than the authority. 

I can't say that I have any clear memories of "mansplaining" something to a reporter or talking over a female employee to share my incredible wisdom. But I bet some of my former employees have a list. I hope if they do, it is short.

There are rarely moments in a vice presidential debate that decide an election. At best, there is a memorable sound bite. Wednesday night's debate will forever be known for the rogue fly that landed on Pence's hair. 

Since the content of the debate won't make a difference in the election anyway, maybe we can use it to teach an unrelated lesson. Women can learn from their representation as a candidate and the moderator that they belong in those conversations. Men can learn the same lesson. Women can feel free to see themselves as equals. Men can see the same thing.

If we get that out of Wednesday night, maybe the fly won't be the big winner.

Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal. Reach him at kent.bush@lee.net

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