The final question of Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate threw the candidates for a loop and inadvertently exposed a double standard.
Moderator Judy Woodruff closed the debate “in the spirit of the season,” asking the candidates if there was a fellow candidate for whom they’d like to buy a gift or from whom they’d like to ask forgiveness.
Businessman Andrew Yang, the first candidate onstage, seemed as flummoxed by the question as viewers did.
“Wow, gosh,” he said, laughing, before answering that he’d give each of the other candidates a copy of his book.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg similarly plugged his book, before adding: “We know what a gift it would be to the future, and the country, for literally anybody up here to become president of the United States compared to what we’ve got.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden used the moment to compare himself to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), asserting that he, too, takes many selfies on the campaign trail. He went on to note how he can provide inspiration to people, and give the gift of “making their lives better.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also plugged his “four books” and said the gift he would give is his campaign’s “vision.”
And billionaire Tom Steyer said he would give the “gift of teamwork.”
Notably, the only candidates who responded by asking for forgiveness were the only two women onstage, Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“I know that sometimes, I get really worked up, and sometimes I get a little hot. I don’t really mean to,” Warren said.
Klobuchar similarly asked for forgiveness “any time any of you get mad at me because I can be blunt.”
Many observers pointed out the double standard in these responses, given how women in power have traditionally been unfairly scrutinized for their demeanor and often forced to apologize for appearing too “emotional,” or “angry,” or “shrill.”
Women’s anger is often seen as a liability rather than a strength, and they are often put into an impossible situation, a double bind: Show emotion, and you’re deemed “too emotional,” or don’t show emotion, and you’re deemed “too cold” and “aloof” and “not likable.”