by Alexis Mark
The Debate Reddit™ is an integral part of the debate community and often times a representation of its views. Scroll through the reddit, and you will see posts ranging from legitimate argument ideas to memes. Though most posts are written by individuals, one post that all debaters can contribute to is the superlatives post– a post in which debaters vote for each other to win legitimate categories, such as “best PFer,” and less serious categories like “Best Should-Be Couple.” Because the superlatives are so widely contributed to by the community, their results demonstrate some of the problematic ways that the debate community views female debaters.
Women won a total of eight superlatives– “best dressed,” “best freshman” (shout out to Beyond Resolved’s Zara Chapple!), “shortest PFer,” “most attractive PFer,” “most dateable,” “nicest debaters,” “best womance” (a category in which only girls were in the running), and “best girl-girl team” (another category in which only girls were in the running). Even the number of superlatives won by women is problematic– only eight out of a total of sixty that debaters could win. However, there were even larger issues with the types of superlatives that women won. Instead of winning categories like the aforementioned “best PFer” or “best second speaker,” women mainly won categories relating to looks and personality. Only two of the categories that women won related to their skills as debaters– “best freshman” and “best girl-girl team.” Women only won one category relating to their skills as debaters when males were in the running.
This reveals two critical issues with how we view women in debate.
First, we mainly judge women in regard to superficial qualities, not their intelligence and skill. As Dori recently wrote, we view some debaters as “‘god-like,” but they are almost all men. An example of this phenomenon is “GDS” — good debater syndrome — a term that debaters use when they believe that someone’s debating ability makes them more attractive. Though women won the superlative for “most attractive,” no women were listed at all for the “most GDS” superlative. Idolization is bad in and of itself, but it is even worse in this case because we only idolize male debaters for their abilities. This signals that we believe female debaters’ accomplishments to be less impressive and that women are less deserving of recognition– when we do idolize women, it’s for their looks, not their successes.
Second, when women are recognized, we feel the need to single them out. When women finally won a superlative relating to their skills as debaters, it was not in a category that included everyone, but rather “best girl-girl team.” Pointing this out is not meant to diminish the accomplishments of girl-girl partnerships, but rather to recognize the importance of the fact that there was no superlative for “best guy-guy team.” When we talk about males, we simply say that they are the “best.” Though it is harder to do well as a girl-girl team on the circuit, singling girls out only exacerbates the issues with how women are viewed in the debate space. When talking about male debaters, we say, “He’s good.” When talking about female debaters, we usually say, “She’s a good girl debater.” This rhetoric isn’t meant to be harmful in most cases but implies that a good female debater is worse than a good male debater. By separating the achievements of female debaters, we are in a sense saying that they aren’t good enough to be compared to males. The phrase, “She’s a good girl debater,” isn’t too far from the phrase, “She’s good for a girl” (though the latter is obviously much more problematic).
In order for women to be viewed equally in the community in terms of their debating abilities, we need to recognize their achievements, but not place these achievements in separate categories. When a girl-girl or girl-guy team wins a tournament, don’t say, “She’s a good girl debater.” Just say, “She’s a good debater” (if she won a tournament this is definitely true). Though “GDS,” or the trend of idolizing “good” older debaters, probably isn’t great, if we are going to do this, let’s recognize that female debaters are also worthy of idolization. I refuse to accept that women get less recognition because they are somehow worse and less deserving. Female debaters have successes, win tournaments, and are good at this activity. This is an issue with how the debate community views women in debate, and a shift in this view is necessary in order for women to achieve the recognition that they deserve.