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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We must kritik the current gender bias in debate.