The Winner of the Vice Presidential Debate? Kamala’s Faces.

The Democratic nominee’s expressions told a story all women will recognize

Jessica Valenti
Published in
3 min readOct 8, 2020
Photos: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

There is a face that women make when men talk over them or say something ridiculous — a face we rely on when we can’t interrupt those men because doing so would label us angry or aggressive. It’s a look women know and exchange with each other often. It says, “I know you think you’re smarter than I am, and you are wrong.”

Sen. Kamala Harris made various iterations of that face throughout the vice presidential debate on Wednesday night, and those pointed looks did as much to win her the debate as her words.

Harris had a tough needle to thread: She knows that female politicians, Black women especially, are judged as unlikeable if they come across as publicly combative. But she also needed to press Vice President Mike Pence on the White House’s Covid-19 response, the rising tide of racism emboldened by the president, and Donald Trump’s unfitness for office. It was a tightrope act, and she pulled it off by letting her expressions do some of the heavy lifting for her.

When Pence lied about the administration’s record or claimed that she and Joe Biden were “playing politics with people’s lives” (a bold claim from the leader of a task force that watched as over 200,000 Americans died), she just looked at him with bemused incredulity. And when Pence interrupted her, she reclaimed her time with a calm and strong “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking” and never stopped smiling.

Each face she made was perfectly toned and timed and treated Pence with the response that he deserved: speaking and looking at him like a toddler who needs to be taught why you can’t do bad things. Patient, if a little put out. Smarter than him but willing to explain.

What other reaction is there to a man who claims to be a leader but still refuses to be alone in the same room with a woman who isn’t his wife and who…



Jessica Valenti
Writer for

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.