"Will you shut up, man?"
It was Joe Biden's standout line during Tuesday night's presidential debate, one President Donald Trump's female challenger four years ago could never dream of delivering.
"I so feel for Hillary right now because I’m positive she wanted to say that and couldn’t," tweeted feminist author Jill Filipovic during the debate.
"You have no idea," Clinton replied.
When Trump called Clinton a "nasty" woman while she talked about Social Security during the third presidential debate in October 2016, she ignored him, finishing her answer without acknowledging the insult. Clinton knew the unspoken rules for women, and while she tried her best to follow them, she was often caught between the expectations of her gender and the qualities people tend to associate with leadership.
Words that Clinton could never utter, Biden's campaign will now use on T-shirts.
"Whether you're a woman, a person of color or someone from an identity that's in any other way marginalized, it's difficult to see yourself in the position of these leaders, because they're operating in a world that you're not permitted to operate in," said Laura Palumbo of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. "The double standards are very clear in that behaviors that are admired and respected in certain individuals are exactly what others have to be intentional in avoiding in order to be taken seriously."
'It was painful. And triggering': Psychologists say debate could be traumatizing
Many people called Tuesday night's debate, which was rife with insults and interruptions, a devastating example of the state of American politics. But it was something else, too: a confrontation that could take place only between two white men.
Double standards: 'You can't be angry'
No female challenger would ever have told Trump to shut up. Even if she wanted to.
The stereotypical idea of a woman is kind, gentle, moral and compassionate. But stereotypical notions of leadership – toughness, assertiveness, the ability to "take charge" – are typically associated with men. For women to rise to leadership positions, they must retain their stereotypical femininity while also exhibiting characteristics we associate with men. The problem is that once women start exhibiting those stereotypical male traits, they are seen as less feminine and ultimately less likable.
"There's no language that women are allowed to speak to stand up for themselves," said Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies at UCLA. "So clearly it would have been ridiculous for her to go: 'Come on, man. This is unpresidential.' It's not just that we're barred from the boardrooms and the golf clubs, we're not even entitled to use the same language. It wouldn't work at all. And clearly you can't be angry, you can't be aggressive."
Research from the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation shows that women in politics have to be likable to get a person's vote, but men don't need to be liked to be elected. Qualities such as ambition and assertiveness, which are lauded in male leaders, are the very things that make women less likable, and therefore less electable.
After Sen. Kamala Harris challenged Biden over his past opposition to federal busing policy in a Democratic primary debate in June 2019, some Biden allies later suggested she was too ambitious to be his vice president, a charge gender experts say would never have been levied against a man.
And it's not just gender identity that comes into play on the debate stage and in voters' choices.
"Double standards and stereotypes play out whenever diverse identities come together. Is a woman 'emotional,' or a black man 'angry,' while a white male is 'passionate'?" Harvard Business Review wrote in 2019.
A performance of masculinity
Men are frequently called upon to perform their masculinity – in the military, in fraternities, in politics, in relationships – and gender experts say Tuesday's debate was no exception.
"It was an exercise in masculine dominance," said CJ Pascoe, a professor at the University of Oregon and author of "Exploring Masculinities." "Trump walked in and said, 'The rules don't apply to me. The moderator can't tell me what to do. Biden can't tell me what to do. Tradition can't tell me what to do.' ... I think what Trump has been able to do is embody this sort of culturally valued form of masculinity that is authoritative. There are people who listen to him and find that sort of masculine charisma intoxicating regardless of the content that follows."
During the debate, Trump questioned Biden’s intellect and bragged about the size of his rallies. He attacked Biden's son Hunter, who has struggled with addiction.
But gender experts say Tuesday's debate also underscored the limitations of masculinity. Experts say that because of his gender and his race, Biden is likely used to being treated with respect. Trump's behavior appeared to throw him, in part because he had a limited number of of acceptable masculine responses to deal with Trump's behavior, experts say.
"We tend to talk about toxic masculinity as bad for women. And I think that part of the message that hasn't gotten across is a recognition of how bad toxic masculinity is for men," Williams said. "So Biden was completely caught in a double bind where he had been goaded beforehand about being 'Sleepy Joe,' and so he knew he had to in some way come out swinging. But his two choices were to look like a woman, effeminate, totally unacceptable, or to be as low as Trump would go, which also doesn't look very good."
Biden did, however, call Trump a "clown," a liar, and the "worst president" in American history.
A year after the election, in her book about her time on the campaign trail, Clinton said that her "skin crawled" as Trump loomed behind her during the debate, but she kept her cool because of "a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off."
She envisioned, in a different world, what she might have said instead: "Back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women, but you can't intimidate me.'"
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump-Biden debate shows double standards of sexism, toxic masculinity