The Feminist Kritik (Part 2)

Part 2

by Joan Reardon, Grace Haddad, Alexis Santor, Carley Francis,

with technical assistance from Jen Gonda,

Cardinal Mooney High School (Youngstown)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Part 2 of a two-part series. Part 1 was published on May 6, 2017.  You can read Part 1 here.

The first step to identify or support an issue is to gather data, and this was precisely what the analyzers were attempting to do by evaluating 333 ballots. There definitely are limitations to this study because the research team was comprised entirely of women, and each round was looked at only once. It is suggested that another debate team interested in this issue evaluate the ballots following the steps outlined above to see if the results correlate. In doing so, the issue of female debater perception can be analyzed by more debaters in an attempt to problem-solve this situation.

“Based on the study that my team, coach, and I have conducted and submitted, we have found that women are at a disadvantage in debate.  More often than not, women are told they are rude and aggressive when they articulate, while men are applauded for their dominance.  As a 4-year public-forum debater, I have come to realize that these barriers are a real problem that inhibit women from progressing further in debate (or even that cause them to quit altogether and thus not actualize the benefits of debate at all).

 “Our study is not the first to describe this phenomenon.  Daniel Tartakovsky of the Victory Briefs Institute performed a similar study to ours based on National Circuit rounds of Lincoln-Douglas debate.  In his study, he found that males are 12 percent more likely to win elimination rounds than are females; and males are substantially more likely to win preliminary rounds when compared with females.

“It is suggested that another debate team interested in this issue evaluate the ballots following the steps outlined above to see if the results correlate.”

“With one of the mission statements of the OHSSL being ‘to encourage students to develop better understanding and tolerance among students of different schools and communities,’ and ‘to stimulate interest in the solving of social problems and develop well balanced personalities in competitive situations’—I think it is important not only for other [Ohio] debaters to realize this gender-disparity, but also coaches, parents, and judges.

By sharing this message, we hope to bring awareness to this social issue (the way in which female debaters are judged, compared to male debaters), and we aim to reiterate the mission of the Ohio High School Speech League.

Malala Yousafzai put it perfectly when she said, ‘I raise up my voice, not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…. [W]e cannot succeed when half of us are held back.’ ”


The results of the 2017 OHSSL State Tournament confirm the bias and results presented.

Only two women were represented in the top 16 teams in Public Forum Debate, and only one in the top eight. Women who are drawn to debate need to be supported, fostered, and rewarded for their efforts. They need to be aware of the glass ceiling, but be undeterred in their attempt to break it. But most important: judges, coaches, teammates, and tournament organizers need to be cognizant that these biases exist and are continuing to be perpetuated.

“Before every round, my partner Grace reminds me that I have to be nice, no matter what. If the competitor interrupts me, gives me the hand, laughs, scoffs, or shushes me (all of which have happened during a round), I am obligated to smile, wait, and then speak once my competitor is done. I cannot say, ‘Excuse me, may I please finish speaking,’ or ‘Please stop interrupting me,’ or any other variation of the phrase—as I risk losing the round based on my perceived rudeness.

“I will be the first to admit that Grace is much better at following the ‘kindness code’ than I am. I sometimes forget her advice to be nice during crossfires, to smile when requesting prep time, and, of course, to sound as kind as possible when describing a rather dismal political situation. I know that when it comes to debating as a female, kindness is key.

However, kindness can only take a debater so far. I have always known that, no matter what I do, I will not make it past quarterfinals.

“Women who are drawn to debate need . . . to be aware of the glass ceiling, but be undeterred in their attempt to break it.”

As I watch break rounds, I see male debaters use broad gestures, poke fun at their opponents, and speak over their opponent during crossfire. Basically, debaters who make it to high-level break rounds are dominant, passionate, and loud: all characteristics that female debaters are not supposed to possess.

“When a female debater is dominant, they are called ‘rude.’ When they are passionate, she is called ‘emotional.’ When she is loud, she is called ‘boisterous.’

“Female debaters are held to an impossible standard. We must be nice, as Grace always suggests, yet we cannot win the tournament unless we are aggressive. However, when we are aggressive, we lose the round because we are ‘being rude.’

“I hope that, one day, female debaters will be judged less by how they say something, and more by what they are saying, but until then female debaters competing in Ohio will have to continue to smile, get interrupted, and be satisfied competing in accordance with the kindness code.”


As every great debate alumnus knows, the good fight is not complete when you finish that last tournament. Debate ignites the fight for justice and fuels passion with evidence. Minds are forever changed with the ability to critique arguments, analyze empirics, and craft new ideas.

So while the season may be over, we will continue to explore the data. If you are interested in joining the research team, please email

We must kritik the current gender bias in debate.

The Feminist Kritik

by Joan Reardon, Grace Haddad, Alexis Santor, Carley Francis,

with technical assistance from Jen Gonda,

Cardinal Mooney High School (Youngstown)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Part 1 of a two-part series, with Part 2 scheduled for publication next week.


by Rich Kawolics, Chair of the OHSSL Board of Directors

Is there gender bias in debate judging?

Why are male debaters and extempers so much more successful in competition than their female peers? Those of us who coach girls in debate and analytical speaking have long been perplexed by the apparent disparity in success between male and female participants in these events.

We have been concerned that as many as 80 percent of the top places in Policy, Public Forum, Lincoln Douglas, and Extemporaneous Speaking at major tournaments have gone to male competitors, while the number of female competitors in these events seemingly has plummeted. We have shared story after story of our female debaters being criticized for being too aggressive while their male competitors are praised for the same behaviors. But until now, we have had very little data on which to base our concern, and we have certainly had no idea what to do about it.

But now, Coach Jen Gonda and four of her debaters from Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown have taken the first step in putting hard data around perceptions of gender disparity in debate. By carefully analyzing published debate ballots, they have found startling and concerning evidence that female debaters are subject to judges’ criticism for assertiveness far more frequently than are male debaters.

“Coach Jen Gonda and four of her debaters…have taken the first step in putting hard data around perceptions of gender disparity in debate.”

Moreover, they also find that male debaters often are encouraged to be more assertive, while female debaters only rarely receive the same encouragement. Any of us involved in teaching and coaching debate and extemp should be concerned by these findings.

Jen’s (and her team’s) study is not comprehensive, and it is far from conclusive in demonstrating a causal link between gender bias and competitive success. However, it does present a crucial first step in documenting and understanding how gender perceptions and stereotypes may be impacting our female students. If gender bias is diminishing female students’ interest in debate, and if those female students are giving up because they believe the deck is stacked against them, then all of us have a problem.

I commend Jen and her students for their work in bringing this issue to light, and I hope that their work will spur further research into the issue of gender bias in speech and debate so that, ultimately, all of our students can be treated fairly and equitably.


The Feminist Kritik

Part 1

For female debaters, the situation described by sophomore Alexis Santor is all too familiar.

“Being a woman in Public Forum Debate is difficult. I love debating, but I am held to a separate standard than my fellow male debaters. My partner is male and when we are in especially heated rounds, he is complimented for his ‘dominance’ and praised for being assertive, whereas I am critiqued on being ‘rude’ or too aggressive. Once a comment on my ballot said, ‘Alexis, stop being so aggressive, it comes off as rude.’

“The (male) judge failed to comment about how many times I was interrupted, or the behavior of any other debaters in the room, all of whom were male; nor did the judge offer any constructive advice on how to better myself as a debater. My behavior in the round was no different from that of my male competitors or my partner, yet I alone was called rude. That was not the first time I had been singled out on a ballot.” Continue reading The Feminist Kritik

Fixing Congressional Debate

By Tyler R. Parsons

Vermilion H.S. (CLE) Assistant Coach and Experienced Congressional Debate Parliamentarian

Congressional Debate is an event which I love very much; I competed in it for four years, have judged it for three years, and have coached it for one year.  It has positively affected my life and the lives of many others who have competed in the event.  However, because I love Congressional Debate, I’ve come to realize that it is a flawed event and in need of an intervention.

Through my own analysis of the situation (and vibrant discussions with other Parliamentarians), I have come to the conclusion that Congressional Debate needs a comprehensive, foundational overhaul—specifically regarding the legislation, the scoring system (base), and how speeches/speakers themselves are judged.  Only through rebuilding this flawed foundation will the event operate effectively and generate truly great debate. Continue reading Fixing Congressional Debate