by Ruby Marsh
My partner and I are, at best, moderately decent at debate. I say that not to be self-pitiful, but because that’s something I’m genuinely proud of, or at least, I wish I could be. We are never going to win the TOC or be the most talented team in the country, and that is totally okay. That doesn’t mean that we are untalented or undeserving of respect in the debate community. Most importantly, it doesn’t mean we are undeserving of role models who actually represent us.
There are a ton of incredible, talented womxn in debate who I look up to, and don’t get me wrong, I am immensely grateful for all of them. However, most of them don’t represent goals that are attainable for me. Men get respect for just doing decently, guy-guy teams become popular (see Yukiho’s article) by doing pretty well at one tournament or being in a well known prep group. That means that there are guy-guy teams who are considered good, but not necessarily TOC-winning teams, who serve as role models for younger guy-guy teams. I want that. Girls (and non-binary people) in debate are held to an entirely different standard. Basically the only way to become known in the debate community as a womxn is to be really hot and have people talk about that (gross) or to be absolutely amazing. Rabhya and Elisa (Walt Whitman MM) were a really excellent team doing very well even before they made it to finals at TOC. That was the first time I had heard of them. I look up to them and Anika Sridhar and womxn like them who have done so well, obviously, but I want role models who are like me. I want people to understand and demonstrate that womxn deserve respect and praise even if they don’t win the TOC or final at every tournament.
I get it. There is a hype-culture surrounding certain debaters who are really good and really popular. But those aren’t the only good teams. There are girl-girl (and non-binary) teams who do just as well, yet get no recognition whatsoever because the standard is so much higher for them.
It happens within partnerships too. We tend to have a mindset that girls (often first speakers) are weaker in the partnership, because they are less “perceptually dominant.” That means that when guy-girl partnerships are very balanced, it is all too often that the guy is told they are amazing at debate while the girl isn’t. My friends, a guy girl team, both of whom are equally talented, have people come up to them and look at the male second speaker only to say, “oh, you’re the really good one.” Because they aren’t the best team in the country and she isn’t really really intensely carrying him, no one even bothers to acknowledge that she is literally amazing.
The standard of perfection held to non-males in debate means that we lose out on opportunities for role models and lack the privilege of being represented within the well respected debate community. Moreover, it means that there are tons of females on guy-girl teams who are getting no recognition for pulling half, if not more, of the weight in the partnership.
We need to stop holding girls and non-binary people to such a higher standard of perfection. Yes, it is a problem in the world overall, but the male dominance and the disrespect for womxn in the so-called “woke” debate community only magnifies the unreasonable standards and the marginalization of womxn who deserve to be active members of the community and have their voices heard.
So girls: you don’t have to win TOC to earn respect. We need to stand with each other and support girls for having the courage to stay in this activity and go to tournaments, an accomplishment in and of itself, and celebrate girls for achievements that don’t seem as “monumental,” like their first time breaking, even if it’s just at a local, or going 4-3 at TOC. By creating networks like Beyond Resolved and by forging connections between non-male debaters who experience sexism, we can work to promote more female role models, even if the overall debate community proves continuously unwilling to so. Because we all deserve that representation.
Editor’s Note: Multiple people have reached out to me and expressed that this post might (unintentionally) discredit the success of very successful femxle teams. I just want to clarify that the point of the post is that we should be celebrating MORE femxle teams. While there is room for multiple if not a dozen guy-guy teams to be praised in the debate community, often it seems like only the incredibly successful girl girl teams get recognition. I think the point Ruby is making is that we should celebrate more femxles in debate so that younger femxles don’t feel like they have to always win, or be the best team in the country, etc. to get the recognition they deserve. Sorry for any confusion about this post.