The Trap of Awareness

by Riya Bindlish

Sexism in debate is an issue that has recently been brought to light by several. Through strong womxn taking a stand and voicing their concerns, the issue has been established. And desperate cries for action are being voiced everyday.

But what action?

The immediate “solution” everyone points out is awareness.

This is a necessity, I agree. But it is imperative to point out that this should be a starting point, rather than the finish. Because although awareness is necessary to initiate a conversation, that awareness needs to turn into something else. It’s kind of like working out- after a while, doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t change anything. In other words, just because you have identified the problem doesn’t mean you have shaved off a pound.

Right now, we are most definitely in the awareness stage. However, awareness often gets equated with promotion, and in especially in terms of social issues, I don’t believe they mean the same thing.

Promotion is garnering attention to an event or a cause, but awareness requires more. Awareness requires virtue. Awareness requires diligence. Awareness requires passion. And I know that seems vague, so I’ll dig deeper into what I mean.

By integrity, I mean you need to be promoting this awareness in your new environments continuously. It is one thing to post on social media to promote gender equality, and quite a different thing to call a friend out for being sexist. You can post as much as you want about the perils of sexism in debate, but if you aren’t willing to take action when it is most needed, you are doing nothing.In fact, you are exacerbating the problem, while creating a facade of awareness to hide under.  It is much harder to call out those closest to us, but it is more crucial. Majority of us would agree that sexism is a problem in debate; there has been quite a bit of discussion about it. The key question to ask yourself what the result of that discussion is.

The real world implications are our only indication of change; in other words, actions speak louder than words.

And as simple as I make it sound, I realize how difficult it is. Being a part of a primarily male dominant team or being one of the only girls on your team who is provoked by a lack of equality can make it terrifying to speak up. As a womxn, I think that is one of the hardest things you can do. It is those moments where it is hardest to speak up that have the potential to make the most change.

I’m guilty of this myself. I distinctly remember talking to a camp friend when he blatantly made the assertion that he believed he felt disadvantaged being a male in cross ex or with a female judge. He believed that female judges tended to side with females debaters more, or that any rude remark he made in cross-ex would be seen as him oppressing a woman debater. While I did point out that his logic was flawed, I don’t believe that I truly got through to him because I didn’t make him realize how serious this issue was to me and to all womxn debaters.

I think when we think of awareness we think of quantity. How many people can we persuade? How many viewers can this post get?

And to some level, quantity is needed. As Beyond Resolved grows, more people are reading the blog, and more people become more aware.

But this sparks a misconception that action that needs to be BIG, or it is worthless. But the reality is with several social issues being promoted on social media,, it is imperative to take part in several smaller actions.

I personally believe the best way to combat sexism is to change mindsets, and the best way to do that is through one-on one interactions; they are one of the best mechanisms for discourse. Being aware, sharing your story, and explaining your ideals is what encourages others to rethink their own beliefs and actions.

Kelly Zheng pointed out that, “When you talk to a guy about how this affects you, I think it really hits them…because now they know someone who was personally hurt by this and make an active effort to be aware of their actions.”

The intimacy and honesty that comes out of these imperative conversations can make all the difference.

Hebron Daniel, a male undergraduate student at Duke University who competed in Public Forum all four years of high school, expands on this, writing, “Making us aware of these subtleties are paramount to solving the issue of exclusion in debate. Talking with the female debaters on your team about these subtleties and what you can do as a male debater to correct them is most effective.”

But it can’t always be girls initiating that conversation. Yes, we as females have a responsibility to let others know what the problem is, but also how to fix it, because ultimately only we know what makes us feel included and safe. However, it is also the responsibility of other members in the community to reach out to see what they can do to help- in other words, the effort needs to be reciprocal.

Bigger doesn’t always equal better. Don’t use awareness as an umbrella, use it as a launching pad.

While other solutions are badly needed, the first step is to fix our perception on what it means to be aware. Because we are slowly falling into the scapegoat of slacktivism- promoting things meaninglessly without truly changing anything.

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