ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Constant interruption. A condescending tone. Eye-rolling.
For many women, the presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a case study in deja vu. For more than 90 minutes on a national stage, they said Tuesday, Trump subjected the first female presidential candidate from a major party to indignities they experience from men daily, in the workplace and beyond.
Tweeted Chicago-based writer Britt Julious: “Thoughts & prayers to every woman watching the #debates & getting painful flashbacks to dudes talking over them at work, school, home, etc.”
“The sad thing,” said Christina Emery, an author from Swansea, Illinois, “is that I’m so used to men interrupting women — especially when they want to change the subject — that I didn’t pay much attention to Trump’s behavior. I was focused on Clinton and how she handled herself.”
In the course of the debate, Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times, while she interrupted him 17 times.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communication who is director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said Trump’s frequent interruptions of Clinton conformed with research concluding that men in group meetings interrupt women more than vice versa.
“The question for the audience — did they interpret that as an attempt of a male candidate to disadvantage a female candidate,” said Jamieson. “If so, that hurts Donald Trump.”
Speaking on her campaign plane, Clinton said Trump’s “demeanor, his temperament, his behavior on the stage could be seen by everybody and people could draw their own conclusions.”
Asked about the interruptions and whether Trump might change his style in the next debate, his spokeswoman Hope Hicks praised his showing.
“Mr. Trump gave a stellar performance and showed a comprehensive understanding of the issues voters are most interested in including trade, economic development, and job creation,” she wrote in an email.
The exchanges between the candidates underscored how different they are. Unlike previous presidential debates, where there has been a thin veneer of respectful discourse between two men, this was a stark conversational divide.
And, some said, a gender divide, one that’s all too familiar to women.
“It’s frustrating in women’s lives,” said Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University who has written several books about how conversation affects relationships. “And to see it up there in a dramatic way, it’s a little bit of PTSD. You’re seeing the things you suffered from. It brings it back.”
Clinton’s deportment is of a piece with her experience as a Washington insider, first lady, and former secretary of state.
But Trump, whose roots are in reality TV and the male-dominated construction world, has always had an in-your-face style — and not just with women, as others pointed out on Tuesday. At debates during the Republican primaries, Trump was far from mannerly in his treatment of his opponents, male and female.
Jessica Light, a sophomore at the University of Toledo from Berea, Ohio, said Trump’s interruptions didn’t bother her: “She was being harsh and he was just standing up for himself,” she said.
Others found his behavior at the debate to be unnerving.
“Many women watching Trump’s treatment of Clinton feel a sickening sense of familiarity with patronizing behavior directed at them during every work day,” said Dr. Janet Scarborough Civitelli, a vocational psychologist in Austin, Texas. “Women become exhausted by the experience that no matter how much they accomplish or how hard they work, a man with a fraction of their knowledge and achievements stands ready to critique them.”
Trump reminded Deborah Calvanicoweinstein, a homemaker in Madison, Wisconsin, of the car repairmen who talk down to her, but not to her husband.
“I’ve felt it,” she said. “Even if I did know more than the person I was speaking with. I hope the (presidential) race exposes how sexism is still alive.”
Some said Trump was condescending from the start of the debate.
“In all fairness to Secretary Clinton — yes, is that OK?” Trump said. Clinton smiled and nodded. “Good. I want you to be very happy. It’s very important to me.”
At a debate watch party in St. Petersburg at The Queenshead bar, that remark was met with groans in the audience.
“I think she looked great when she talked, and I think she looked even better when he talked,” said Trish Collins of St. Petersburg.
For others, like author Tyler King of Orlando, the debate marked a moment when a highly visible woman turned a spotlight on something that’s been happening for eons.
“Even if we don’t say it out loud, we share those looks across the conference table. We see it. And little by little, more women are reaching the limits of their patience and speaking out,” she said.