by Yukiho Semimoto
It is absolutely undeniable that there exists a “worship culture” in debate, where every single year without fail, the community zeroes in on one or two teams to celebritize and call ‘gods’. Obviously, taken at its best, the worship culture is a well-intended norm with the purpose of appreciating role models in the community. Realistically, however, it is a toxic culture produced by the boys club in debate that categorizes a group of males as unbeatable and godly — resulting in the mass production of fan pages and anonymous reddit accounts furiously typing the same school codes on the posts that read: “Who is going to win the TOC? NATS? [insert name of prestigious tournament]??” Not only is the mindset of categorizing debaters as gods problematic on its own [as explained by this post], the worship culture is frustratingly indicative of the norm in our community to underappreciate bombass women in debate.
This isn’t to say that our norm in our community is to explicitly and entirely disrespect the success of women. A norm much like the worship culture is often a result of one’s subconscious thoughts — not one’s blatantly sexist attitude. The community doesn’t mean to underappreciate the success of women. Whether it is due to implicit biases such as perceiving a male voice as relatively more persuasive or a boys’ club mentality where it is simply much easier to overhype the people within closer groups, the norm’s propagation is unintentional.
And women are respected every year (shoutout to the wholesome ppl in the community!!!).
Yet, it is still evident that the respect given to women is never the same, seen from the results of the 2018 PF Superlatives [read about it in Alexa’s post], to the r/debate tournament “Threat Lists” that overwhelmingly places male-male teams as the top tier 1 threats, to the mere fact that the norm for “gods” are male-male teams idolized by other men in debate.
This trend is overwhelmingly justified by the sad reality that the majority of later outrounds at tournaments are filled with men. Yes– the lack of women’s success comparative to men in debate could be a factor as to why the current worship culture exists. This is indicative of another crucial problem that exists in our community: the inherent lack of women in debate. Whether it be due to the implicit exclusion that exists through the boy’s club environment of debate or the explicit exclusion from judge rfd’s and remarks from the community, it is apparent that the status quo discourages women from staying and falling in love with the activity.
Problematically, the lack of women in this activity isn’t a justification, or rather, shouldn’t be a justification for the worship culture as it isn’t the whole reason as to why this norm exists. Indeed, the fact that amazing female debaters exist and still aren’t appreciated to the extent of their male counterparts, is an indication that the culture of underappreciation remains rampant in the community. The reality is that in a world where 50% of the total participants of both TOC and NATs finals are women, 100% of the Superlative first placers in categories relating to skill are men, and 100% of the “gods” for the past few years on the circuit have been male-male teams.
Not only is this culture a problem in itself as it leads to an underappreciation for the amazing women in debate [They’re badass. Seriously], it has further consequences regarding the messages it sends to the people in the community. The message is that debate is an activity for boys, where only boys can succeed and only boys can be gods. The message is that girls will never receive the same recognition from the community for their skills. And as the community furthers this narrative, it leaves the impression towards younger girls in debate that they can’t get to the top one day. That they are not welcome to succeed in this activity. That the role models that they are supposed to have, the role models that the rest of their team and the community pushes them to have, are different and don’t have to worry about the same issues that they do.
These messages that the worship culture sends are ones that our community should frankly never stand for.
However, the message that the community can and should stand for is the message sent by the powerful voices of women in debate, seen by the recent rise in discourse about inclusivity in debate. This message is loud, clear, and beautifully summarized by Dori’s post: “girls can be good too”.
The message that I’m here to deliver today is what we, as a community, can do to combat the effects of the boys club mentality that is so prevalent within our community’s worship culture.
While it is important to recognize the exclusive norm of the community, it is even more important to take the extra step to self-reflect on and self-correct behaviors that push women out of this activity.
The worship culture is a small, but nevertheless crucial, part of a bigger problem. As easy as it is to perceive the worship culture as a norm set in stone, it doesn’t have to be — and it is up to all of us to reject the status quo and push for change.