Why All-Womxn Debate Tournaments are Important (but Mostly an I-Love-Debate Story)

by Yukiho Semimoto

It’s crazy to think that I’m already in my fourth year of debate. There have been so many moments during these years when I wanted to throw up a middle finger at the activity, leave, quit, and call it a day (which I know a lot of you have felt the same way before). And about two months ago, dramatic me was ready to leave, or at least take a well-deserved couple-month break, for what was probably the twelfth time– as I couldn’t force myself to get over the aspects of debate that crushed me. I hated my irrational anxiety in elim rounds, I hated that I wasn’t proud of my voice, I hated feeling like I was overreacting to constant interactions with rude opponents. And I hated all of my self-doubt and all the toxicity that I had put myself through in the past three years.  I just wanted to feel like a boppy child in an activity and a place that I loved because generally

I am that.

I knew that as long as I loved the activity with a burning desire, I would be able to keep on enjoying it. But the reality was, I was four years into an activity without explicitly knowing why I loved the activity that I chose as a little clueless eighth grader.

And I really needed my reason to stay. I couldn’t keep on doing an activity just because I felt obligated to, nor could I keep on refusing to take a couple-month break for the purpose of not letting Kelly (my amazing wholesome literally deserves-the-world partner) down for those couple months. But me forcing myself to go through the rounds and late-night case writing that I no longer enjoyed, or the practices that I left halfway anyways, let her down more. I was, to be quite frank with myself, uncommitted. And she deserved better.

And in the midst of all these emotions, I forgot to remind myself that I deserved better too. I deserved to not cry almost every weekend because of how awful I would feel at tournaments. I deserved to do this activity and be happy doing it.

I am forever grateful for the amazing friends, coaches, and role models in this activity that helped me regain my love for this activity. The turning point of my 12th and worst debate burnout was during the weekend of the All-Womxn Westfield-NYCUDL Round Robin, where I was reminded of how truly amazing this activity can be.

Talking to all the girls at that tournament that had very similar team experiences as mine assured me that, maybe, I wasn’t alone with how isolated I have felt within my own team. It assured me that my experiences and my frustrations that exist within this exclusive activity was legitimate, and reminded me that I shouldn’t push down my frustrations by labeling it as an overreaction.  

And debating the 6 rounds at the tournament assured me that I can be happy in this activity. I forgot about my frustrations of hitting condescending guy-guy teams that would often break me down at tournaments. I forgot about my self-doubt regarding my capabilities without snarky remarks from opponents and judges that, to be quite honest, hurt — a lot. I forgot about my desire to earn the respect from my opponents, judges, teammates, and the circuit, that I so craved all the time.

Thus, the anxiety that overwhelmed me in a majority of my rounds slowly slipped away because I felt so supported by the amazing girls and womxn around me. And as my anxiety started to disappear, I was able to articulate what I wanted to, focus on the round instead of calming my irrational fears, I was able to feel proud. It was exhilarating.

Looking back, it’s still hard to articulate why I love debate. And I think, that, frankly, is okay. I was so focused on finding a specific reason to stay and overwhelmed myself with that goal that I forgot to take a step back, breathe, and enjoy the activity for what it is.

I love debate. I acknowledge that I won’t necessarily love every second of it. But there is so much good that this activity has given me. Debate has given me an amazing support system of amazing souls that I would never trade for the world — I am so forever thankful for the people that I have met. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not just the people that I love, the activity itself has taught me so much too. It has taught me so much about the world (yes this is a cliche reason), our country, the economy (lol barely). And beyond the benefits of the hours of research, I have learned the importance of compromise as well as the beauty of thinking outside of my own brain. I have learned that there is a delicate balance between being confident in my own thought and accepting that there always exists another side to the story, another side to the resolution, just like there always exists a reason to vote for my opponents, no matter how much I think that I deserve to win. And it’s just so fun: to think about arguments, to understand the world, to understand the many perceptions that people can have of the world.

And debate has taught me to be patient with myself. A lot of my frustrations regarding this activity stems from not being able to feel proud of how much I’ve grown in the past three years of my career. I struggle in convincing myself that I am good enough as a debater, or that I ever will be, and I crave to be just as good as all the souls around me.  I’ve finally accepted that even though I have so much to learn and work on as a debater, I’m already proud of how much I’ve grown. I don’t ever need to be the standard of perfect that I so crave to be.

And I sure don’t need one specific reason to stay. I just need to know that this activity is one that in the long term, will be worth it– and that I will be happy doing it.

Everyone deserves to have their own version of a turning point in their debate-breakdown or burndown that I was so fortunate to have had through my experience at the all-womxn tournament, as everyone in this activity deserves to feel like they belong, and be happy doing it.

Not only is having a tournament for the sole purpose of empowering womxn a reminder that womxn in debate matter, it is also a reminder, for people like me, that our frustrations of the exclusive nature of this activity are legitimate and deserves to be heard.

It is a reminder that this beloved activity of ours does not always have to be solely about competition, or the numbers of ballots and elim-wins that ultimately become the sole measure in how much a debater is perceived to be worth. Because debate is first and foremost, an educational activity, and it’s important to step back from focusing solely on competition that can breed a toxic an uninviting atmosphere and instead focus on making sure that everyone can obtain the same educational benefits from this amazing activity.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that all-womxn tournaments are the ultimate and only solution to the problems that womxn in debate often experience. But they are, indeed, a nice place for womxn in debate to catch their breath in a marathon of toxicity. However, it is also through the ability of individuals like you to continuously support womxn in debate that can truly help one find, or regain their love for an activity that has so much to offer. We must remember — that even though debate is a great place to pursue competitive goals like winning rounds and gold trophies, this activity is also one that can be so much more than that.  It is a place to learn, to speak out, to feel heard, to meet wonderful role models and peers, and to have fun.

And here are some thank you’s, because I would not be happy with where I am today without the countless souls that have helped me find my place in this activity —

To everyone that made the All-Womxn RR possible, to NYCUDL and Westfield, [to Amisha Mehta, to all the amazing judges from that weekend, to all the amazing womxn that I met] : thank you so much.

To all the supportive debaters on the circuit — from everyone that has done something as simple as hyping me up or making me smile, to my best friends that have been here with me through the ups and downs: thank you so so so much.

To Ozan, Caspar, and Brian– the coaches that I have been so incredibly lucky to have. Thank you for your patience and always willing to believe in me regardless of my constant self-doubt and anxiety regarding debate.

To all the womxn in debate– Thank you. Thank you for maintaining amazing perseverance within this activity– regardless of the often toxic environment in debate, and thank you for constantly reminding me of what it’s like to be a bada$$ womxn in debate, for reminding me to be unapologetically confident.



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