Marginalization of Women in Debate

“The debate world is a microcosm of the ‘real’ world,” said my debate partner this year, Kitt K. Nepotism influences how far one gets in a debate tournament just as it influences how far one rises in his/her career. Chauvinism is the attitude of the day. Sexual discrimination doesn’t exist per se, but manifests itself through the marginalization of a woman’s opinions.

For instance, Daerielle C. thought of a debate case where the U.S. government will allow federal funds to subsidize religious as well as secular child care centers. She suggests this to our egotistical assistant debate coach, Robert M. “Maybe,” he says. But, Daerielle can tell from his nonverbal behaviors that he doesn’t like the idea. Being the constructive coach Rob is, he doesn’t articulate why the case is a bad idea. Lo, and behold! Rob’s old protege, Matt D., comes along. Daerielle repeats the case idea to Mister Matt.

“Oh, you mean the recent Bush proposal where he only funds secular child care centers?” Matt says. “Include religious ones, huh? What a great idea!” Without even acknowledging that the idea was Daerielle’s in the first place, Rob turns to Matt and says, “Yeah, I think that is a great idea.”

That scene by itself might speak only to the amount of respect that Rob has for Daerielle. Maybe Rob just doesn’t think Daerielle is smart enough to come up with a case on her own? (That alternative is just as bad.) Yet, if one combines that scene with his self-disclosed chauvinism, belief that the woman’s role in debate is to appeal to female judges and make the team look P.C., and his general outlook of women as whiny, clingy, sexual objects, then he clearly marginalizes women.

From Rob, we see a general pattern with the male membership in debate. He and his cronies talk and drink together. Women are invited into their social circle not for the purpose of interaction, but intercourse. The men who are married are not exempt: they can fantasize intercourse with these women, or live vicariously through the stories of their playboy pals. Nevertheless, the women who enter the circle cannot but feel harassed. They are not accepted as people, but as objects. Ironically, the tournament actually held a conference, Gender in Debate. Thus, the marginalization of women in debate is widespread enough for such a forum.

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