The women in the Democratic primary debates will make history. Here’s how moderators can do the same.

Barbara Lee | Jun 24, 2019


There have been more than 170 Democratic and Republican presidential primary debates broadcast since the first radio debate in 1948; in that time, only five women have ever participated. On Wednesday and Thursday, in the first Democratic debate of the 2020 primary season, six women — Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Kamala Harris of California; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; and the author Marianne Williamson — will more than double the number of women who have participated in this country’s presidential debates.

Americans who tune in to the two-night debate will see something else unprecedented: multiple women candidates appearing on the debate stage at the same time. Research has shown that critical mass makes a difference in being taken seriously: Two or more women or minority candidates have a better shot at getting hired than one alone.

This week’s debates, then, are more than a milestone; they’re the start of leveling a historically uneven playing field.

It is worth noting that black women blazed this trail: In 1972, the “unbought, unbossed” Rep. Shirley Chisholm, D-N.Y., became the first woman to appear in a presidential debate. As with everything she accomplished in her career, Chisholm got herself there by sheer force of will, filing a complaint with the FCC after she had been excluded from the first three debates.

It was 30 years until another pioneering black woman, Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., made it onto the debate stage in 2004. Just three women have followed her: Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., in 2012; Carly Fiorina in 2016; and Hilary Clinton, as a senator from New York in 2008 and as former secretary of state in 2016.

While these women made important inroads, it was clear they were doing so on men’s turf.

To read my full article, visit NBC News THINK:
The women in the Democratic primary debates will make history. Here’s how moderators can do the same.

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