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Are Women Candidates Held To A Different Standard Than Men?09:44
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have been the only women on stage for several recent Democratic debates.

In South Carolina, interruptions, accusations and contentious back-and-forths defined Tuesday night's Democratic primary debate as much as policy discussion. Warren and Klobuchar have been characterized by some on social media as aggressive and angry — but Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sherry Turkle says that’s because they’re women.

“If women had been alone on that stage, it would have been disqualifying for all of them,” she says. “If that had been Klobuchar, Warren and [Kamala] Harris screaming at each other, that would be the end of the careers of those three women.”

Turkle studies how women candidates are perceived, and whether they're held to a different standard.

Interview Highlights

On the perception that Warren sounded angry

“I was on Twitter during the debate and there were a lot of things like, ‘I'm done. I've had enough. She's gone.’ … I would say it made some men uncomfortable. That if you actually look at what she's saying and her tone of voice, it's extremely controlled, but it's controlled the way a prosecutor is controlled. I mean, she is prosecuting a case. But listen to what [Michael] Bloomberg said about her last night. ‘Nothing is enough for her.’”

On Warren and Bloomberg’s back-and-forth about allegations that he told a young employee to “kill it” when he learned the woman was pregnant

“When he says nothing is enough for her, that language is as though he's talking about placating an angry spouse. But I find that kind of language and talking about women's anger in this contest is widely used as though nothing will be enough for her. And it's that ‘kill it’ moment which really froze the debate because it's really the most radical thing that happened. And it continued on in her interview with [MSNBC’s] Chris Matthews, where Chris Matthews kept saying, ‘You believe he's lying just to protect himself? Why would he do that? You think he's that kind of person?’ ”

“She may have made a mistake because people weren't familiar enough with the incident, whereas when she was talking about the [nondisclosure agreements], they were more familiar with the story … But I think that somebody like Bloomberg has a hard time even feeling that he's done something wrong because this whole discussion has taken place, if it took place, in an atmosphere where it's being discussed in a kind of ‘as if land’ in their heads.”

On how none of the women candidates are portraying themselves as mothers like Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin did during their runs for office

“As a matter of fact, Amy Klobuchar almost had a death-defying, killing-her-candidacy moment when it came out that she ate her food with a comb. People went berserk because on an airplane when they didn't give her an implement, she ate her food with a pocket comb. I mean, a mom would tear that pocket comb out of a child's hand and say, never do that.

“All of the women who ran: Kamala Harris, [Kirsten] Gillibrand, none of them really came out, you know, with their maternal bona fides being put forward first. Look at how Hillary Clinton came back in the primaries last time. She cried. After New Hampshire, and she broke down in tears that people were willing to take a second look at her. So it was a completely different kind of candidate, a completely different kind of vibration. So I think we're seeing a revolution in how women are allowing themselves to appear on the national stage. And I think that people are actually having a hard time with it, a very hard time with it.”

On Klobuchar’s food-related comments

“I think Amy Klobuchar is trying to have it both ways. She signals this kind of down-home folksiness not just by talking about her kind of third way, but by making these gestures toward cooking and food and hot dishes and a kind of homeliness. On the other hand. she has been you could argue that her style of attacking Buttigieg showed a kind of unbridled hostility.”

On Klobuchar’s statement that a woman can’t get on a debate stage with as little experience in politics as Pete Buttigieg

“She actually called it out, but she actually had the bravery to say to Pete, 'Are you making fun of me? 'Are you talking down to me?' These gender things have been very raw and discussed and very out there.”


Correction: In the audio version of this story, a quote referring to Elizabeth Warren — "Her righteous but naked aggression made some women uncomfortable" — was attributed to Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post. In fact, Julie Wittes Schlack of WBUR wrote the quote in a recent article. We regret the error. 


Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKennaAllison Hagan and Lynsey Jeffery adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on February 26, 2020.

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