Literature Reflecting Sexism & Reclaiming Power

(Namely in the Workforce and Debate Community)

By Anonymous

TW: mention of rape culture, but no descriptions

Unkind remarks, aggressive questioning, and harassment are familiar experiences to young women in the speech and debate community. The difficulty of coping with these incidents can feel immense and even suffocating in the face of male competitors. As friends or family may attempt to comfort us, the lack of change within our community leaves feelings of animosity and disappointment. While typical debate literature is limited to articles, case breakdowns, and Google Docs, novels and gender studies books stand out as reassuring and encouraging expressions of empowerment. Notably, The Genius of Women, The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One, Eloquent Rage, and SHOUT remind young women of their undying power and how to reclaim their voice.

With a bright blue cover, Janice Kaplan’s The Genius of Women is an inspiring piece, highlighting the overlooked female geniuses of our history. Janice Kaplan’s writing discusses the obstacles these women overcame in a time where their voice was drowned out by male figures. This book is not limited to a historical text, as The Genius of Women also notes the underestimated power of today’s leading female figures from Tina Fey to the founders of the #MeToo movement. From her engaging tone to the well-research anecdotes of our forgotten historical figures, The Genius of Women encourages young women to follow in the footsteps of the women who fought for our right to enter the debate and political world.

For those not looking for an academic or journalistic piece, The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One is an expressive tribute to fiery women fighting against the patriarchy. For the loud girls, for the ones who inherited their mother’s rage, and for the ones who walk into debate rounds with a bright red lipstick, Amanda Lovelace’s poetry book was carefully crafted for you. Rather than give a preachy or academic analysis of our harsh workforce expectations and male-dominated discussions, The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One offers a dramatic and spirited battle cry. With its crimson writing, this book vividly describes bedroom-eyed dragons we have all witnessed in our heated debate rounds and the pink ribbons our tournament dress codes have used to tie us in a confining, controlled box. The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One is a bold narrative, reminding us we are not alone in our experiences.

Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage has been doused in praise. From being labeled a “national treasure” and called “compassionate” by critics, this particular book emphasizes the importance of anger and how it manifests itself into passion and drive. Even as the book’s opening chapter states, “This is a book for women who expect to be taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously,”...”These women want to change things but don’t know where to begin.” To clarify, this is not a self-help book, but centers around Black feminism and harnessing one’s underlying powers. Through her personal narrative and cultural criticism, Brittney Cooper calls for accountability, improved female friendships, and owning one’s identity, all of which will be essential to making the speech and debate world a safer place.

While Laurie Halse Anderson is most well-known for her 1999 book, Speak, the 2019 release of SHOUT is equally powerful. In her collection of beautifully written poems, Laurie Halse Anderson advocates for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. As our debate rounds reek of misogyny and racism, sexual abuse also plagues relationships between debaters and the community. SHOUT demands attention as it explores the complexity of rape culture from childhood to womanhood. As the introduction of the book notes, “This is the story of a girl who lost her voice and wrote herself a new one.” SHOUT offers graceful descriptions of life and authentic representation of personal struggles following personal, traumatic events. Moreover, SHOUT is recommended to readers who want to reclaim their sense of skill or spirit.

Debate and speech students are invited to read these books but remain cautious of any explicit content. Hopefully, through these pieces, the harm inflicted by questionable coaches and hostile competitors is mitigated. SHOUT and The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One are far more visual with their narratives and poems, but remain influential and moving in their advocacy for women. These books are not solutions to the struggles students undergo in this community but represent a collective goal to combat sexism from our regular practices to the most elite tournaments.


Note: The Beyond Resolved blog reflects the ideas of individual authors and not necessarily of the organization as a whole.

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