The mostly male pundit class panned Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) angry exchange with former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg at the close of Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Nevada. I think female viewers saw it very differently.

For the men, Klobuchar’s barely concealed rage was a big negative. They opined that she had lost her cool, that Buttigieg had gotten under her skin. Her response to his attack that she was unqualified to be president because she had momentarily forgotten the name of Mexico’s president — “Are you trying to say that I’m dumb?” — was viewed as weak. And her final gibe — “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete” was called over-the-top.

Women in my Twitter feed, however, saw their clashes very differently. To them, Buttigieg is an archetype: the barely competent “boy wonder” who skates to promotions on his confidence and ties with the male boss while the woman does the hard work. “Every woman in corporate America has had a male coworker who went to an elite school, doesn’t produce much and keeps getting promoted anyway,” one woman wrote. “You’ve never been a far more experienced and qualified woman passed over by a less experienced mediocre man,” wrote another. “[Klobuchar’s anger] resonates with a lot of women.”

In the Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, the six participating candidates went after health care, climate change, wealth inequality — and each other. (The Washington Post)

I’ll bet it does. I’ve worked with a lot of professional women in my career, and I don’t know one who hasn’t experienced this. The guy talks over her in meetings, and she gets blamed when she talks back. She does what the men seem to want, works hard and stays calm, and the guy grabs her idea and pushes it as his own. There’s a reason that women see workplace discrimination as a much bigger problem than men do.

Klobuchar’s clashes with Buttigieg, then, can be exactly what she needs to catapult her into the top tier. Her comebacks are spicy enough, and her emotion is raw enough to get shown on television or mentioned by reporters, ensuring wide exposure. And her intensity immediately resonates with women in the audience. Klobuchar’s widely praised New Hampshire debate closing statement rested on the repetition that she “knows” people who are struggling and will fight for them. Every woman who has ever had to compete with a Pete Buttigieg at work now knows that Klobuchar knows them because she is them.

Many people will say she should go back to the “Minnesota nice” persona that she has perfected over the years. They’re wrong. Klobuchar has two weeks to climb over Buttigieg, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and former vice president Joe Biden and make herself the candidate of the Democratic center. She won’t get there by playing nice. She needs to ride this for all that it’s worth.

That means letting passionate Amy loose and running the risk that angry Amy sometimes appears. Forget all the tired old stories of how she was mean to her staff. Men have been mean to their staffs for centuries. Does anyone think Steve Jobs was less qualified to run Apple because he was domineering and dismissive in meetings? Quite the contrary. Klobuchar needs to take the risk that some men, comfortable in their sexism, will be turned off and let women and more modern men see she has what it takes.

None of her male competitors could effectively parry those thrusts. The fact that Bloomberg has signed nondisclosure agreements with female co-workers over their claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination prevents him from complaining about the uppity woman. Biden’s history of handsiness with women in public would surely come up if he tried to take her on. That leaves Buttigieg, and all he can do is respond with his memorized lines and mannered mansplaining. His defense simply intensifies the impact of Klobuchar’s attack.

There’s an easy response to every man who says this will backfire: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” The Democratic primary electorate contains many more women than men, and many of those women are Democrats precisely because they believe that party fights for and represents the aspirations of ambitious, self-assured women. They liked Hillary Clinton because they saw themselves in her. They’ll like Klobuchar for the same reason if she gives them the chance.

Millions of women would love to see platitudinous Pete knocked off his privileged perch. C’mon, Amy, lean in. Make fetch happen.

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