Words matter

Senator Kamala Harris derided as ‘hysterical’ by male cable pundit for grilling Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris. (YouTube).

Was it sharp-elbowed partisan criticism, or was it flagrant sexism? During an appearance on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show Tuesday night, a male pundit, discussing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions on alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, described U.S. Senator Kamala Harris’ tough queries as “hysterical.” That male pundit was none other than Jason Miller, formerly the communications adviser for the Trump campaign.

Of course, Miller didn’t get off scot-free after making the comment. USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers took issue with Miller’s assessment and challenged him to give a tangible example that demonstrated Harris acting in a hysterical manner. Miller, flailing, was unable to do so.

“I think she asked a lot of questions, actually,” Powers said. “She was very dogged, there’s no question, but I wouldn’t say she was any more dogged than [Democratic Senator from Oregon] Ron Wyden.” Miller stuck to his assessment, and Powers reiterated her point that Harris and Wyden questioned Sessions with the same zeal, but Miller would only refer to Harris as having been hysterical.

“It’s just women that usually are called hysterical,” Powers concluded. Watch the tense segment below.

Another point Miller brought up was that “this was the second hearing in a row” in which Harris subjected a witness to a tough line of questioning. In fact, it’s the second hearing in a row where she was repeatedly interrupted for trying to get witness to answer, and not dodge, her questions. A similar scenario played out last week during the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. CNN put together some highlights of her being cut off by the committee chairman.

At one point during the exchange, Sessions got testy and said to Harris, “I’m not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous.” Watch that back-and-forth below.

As The Washington Post notes, Harris has established an impeccable record as a public prosecutor. Over two terms as San Francisco’s first female district attorney and as California’s first female attorney general, she established a reputation for being a tough and fair law enforcer. Now that she’s ascended to the U.S. Senate, those same qualities are being criticized by male colleagues and cable TV pundits.

Why? Thousands of years of sexism. The word “hysterical,” as The Huffington Post points out, has a deeply sexist history. It was coined by Hippocrates and its root word, from the Greek “hystera,” means uterus. More recently, Sigmund Freud declared that hysteria was a “disease” that could only afflict women. It’s also one of the top five words women most dislike being used to described them, a study found last year.

Words matter.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.


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