Becoming Aware

by Sara Catherine Cook

There are some things that we are just used to. It’s considered “normal” for me to go to school, to eat during the day, even to think “woah I probably shouldn’t walk down that dark alley”. This is because from the moment we enter this world the people around us condition us never to question these things, to accept them as “normal”.

In a similar way, we are conditioned in the way we think about gender; today in my art class at school, my art teacher needed someone to move a table. She immediately asked the two boys in our class to do it, as it’s seen as pretty normal for men do the heavy lifting. To be completely fair, I’m not disputing the fact that they were stronger than the three girls in the class; all of us are definitely not queens of the benchpress. And I’m definitely not trying to call out my art teacher; she’s a wonderful wonderful lady. But it’s the subtle ways like these that we are conditioned to associate certain behaviors with gender, and often that means we don’t notice issues around us unless they become extreme.

This time of year is almost nostalgic for me because it was actually January last year when I finally recognized a lot of the issues I saw in debate as gender-based. When I finally realized it, it all seemed so simple: a lot of issues in debate are felt by many, but often times disproportionately affect female presenting/identifying and non-binary people. It’s easier for guys to get opportunities, get recognized for success, even to make friends in the activity, as the population is overwhelmingly male. Look at tournament stats or other blog posts on this website if you want more warranting behind this claim. And there are a lot of efforts to correct this: camp scholarships for femxles in debate, the Public Forum Gender Empowerment Facebook Group, womxn’s invitationals, and hopefully this very website. But, the thing that’s hard to address is the disproportionate rate of attrition. For the most part, the only people really experiencing the efforts to fix the debate community are the ones who stick with it, often through toxicity, elitism, race based discrimination, and gender based discrimination (implicit or explicit), long enough to find these solutions.  

But, even more so, many don’t necessarily attribute the toxicity to gender based discrimination right away, meaning their reason for quitting is probably along of the lines of just thinking the activity is “not for them”. Ever since starting Beyond Resolved, I’ve heard from so many female presenting/identifying or non-binary people in the community who did not even realize before seeing the website or TOC Octas (it’s on youtube! recommend watching it if you have not!) that issues they are experiencing are widespread. It’s almost like my experience: being just so accustomed to the same treatment that you don’t realize that something should be different. I had no clue that people calling your wins “luck” or discrediting it was a disproportionately femxle issue, or that it was often the womxn at tournaments who didn’t see as many debate friends, or clump up to talk in-between rounds. And it’s not always easy to ascribe things to discrimination; i’m definitely not one who likes to think bad things that happen are due to sexism, or one who wants to mistakenly call them that.

It’s almost weird to me that most people I know have had some sort of “awakening” about issues in the debate community, as they have definitely existed for quite some time, longer than we have all been part of the community. But, the fact is that we need to make sexism in debate seem more abnormal, to point issues out as something that we can fix within our own communities, with a little more “girl’s club” energy, or access to resources.

I used to be afraid of novices seeing our website, as I thought that them reading about issues in the community would make them want to quit. I think now I disagree; the earlier we identify the problem, the earlier we can recognize the solution, the positivity, when we see it. It’s the elimination of the “oh maybe we did get lucky”, the “oh maybe we aren’t good enough for them to be friends with us”, or the “oh maybe I should just suck it up and wear makeup at the next tournament”. It’s the realization that no one deserves anything but support in this activity that empowers us to lift up other people. So, that’s what we should do. Point out the disparities, and point out the solutions.

Before I “sign off” this blog post, I want to let all of you know that as I am graduating, I probably will be passing down the “directing” position of the website to someone who will still be very closely connected to the debate community. (I do intend to stay connected to the community, but obviously I won’t be competing anyone). Before I leave, I want the chance to talk to as many of you as possible about your experiences in debate, and ideas you have for the future of the website/organization. Please reach out to me on Facebook (Beyond Resolved, Sara Catherine Cook), Instagram (@beyondresolved, @saracatcook), or sign up for a time to Skype me on this website I want to hear from you/let’s be friends!

Tons of love for all of you,

Sara Catherine

(note: the term girl’s club is not meant to be exclusive, just to mirror the phrase “boy’s club” often ascribed to the debate atmosphere)

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