For her CAP project on mitigating sexism in debate, Rachel H. ’19 recently hosted a female-only debate tournament at Westridge. The tournament was designed to create a space free of the sexism encountered by Rachel and many girls and femme-identifying students in competitive programs. Eight novice and middle school teams from local schools participated in the round-robin tournament and the hour-long forum that followed. During the forum, people shared a wide range of experiences with sexism in the debate space, including facing “mansplaining” in cross-examination, being pushed out of co-ed debate teams, and receiving judges’ comments on appearance or attire.
Several participants reached out to Rachel after the tournament to express their appreciation and to share that they were planning on quitting their male-dominated debate teams only to be inspired to stay on the team by this experience.
“I, along with almost every female debater, can relate to receiving ballot comments that call me everything from ‘shrill’ to ‘too submissive’ to ‘ugly’ to ‘attractive’ and everything in between,” said Rachel. “I've also had male opponents disregard arguments about feminism as me ‘just being angry,’ and judges have often agreed with them.”
While the participants loved the idea of an all-female tournament, Rachel received backlash from the debate community when she posted about the tournament on Reddit. “We faced a great deal of comments about how the tournament was sexist toward men or entrenching sexist stereotypes,” said Rachel. “Ironically, many of those who messaged us saying that sexism no longer exists were extraordinarily sexist in their comments.”
“It stunned me that every student had different and unique stories, yet all of them with the same underlying themes: being pushed out of a space that has long been made comfortable for men at the expense of womxn,” said Westridge Debate Coach Gia Karpouzis. “I was so grateful to give these students a chance to speak. I know that every womxn who participated will enter her next debate space remembering the testimonies given and will remember that she is not alone.”