Gender Disparity in Debate

The announcement of this year’s MBA Round Robin pool sparked a bit of controversy: only one woman will be attending the prestigious competition, and it is unclear whether others were invited and simply declined to attend. The nation’s top nine bid-getters are all male, only one woman has appeared in the final round of an octafinals tournament this year (and only one all of last season), and the overwhelming majority of participants in elimination rounds are men. Clearly there is some gender disparity in debate; now is an opportune moment to discuss the issues so that the community can properly guide its actions moving forward.

What do you think are some of the causes of the gender disparity in debate? What are some appropriate remedies the community could use for these problems? To what degree does gender disparity compare with issues such as resource disparities or minority representation in debate? Specifically, are affirmative action policies in round robin invites, camp hires, and coaching jobs appropriate solutions to these problems (if one accepts that there is a gender disparity)? Should more women-only debate options (such as policy’s Women’s Debate Institute) exist in the LD world?

  • Frank Blunt

    I’m 57, and have participated on the study and teaching of debate since tenth grade…
    over the decades when I organized a debate class or club it was a rare moment when a
    female showed up… once a few years ago my live-streaming hit 90 participants and less than five females. I went all of 2011 – 2013 holding bimonthly local classes and not one female ever signed up. it was surprising.

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  • I haven’t been involved in this discussion primarily because I dislike flamewars and have watched comments turn into just that. Moreover, I should note that I haven’t read every comment in detail and so I apologize if this issue has already been addressed.

    While I certainly do not mean to deny the presence of a gender disparity caused by discriminatory norms in debate (since I am fairly compelled by the arguments I have seen here that there is some disparity), I wonder how much of a role that discrimination plays in participation. I think the discussion about female role models is right on, however I would venture to take it a step further and look at the  forensics community as a whole. The statistics I would like to see is the ratio of male to female participation in forensics and how those statistics compare to the statistics put forward regarding female participation in debate. Although I believe I can pretty non-controversially say that the gender disparity problem is more pronounced on the circuit, I look to the example of the male-female ratios in my state (CO) as a point of examination.

    Although there are statistically fewer females that participate in debate in my state, I have also noticed a trend where a larger number of female participate in other forensics activities. I am not saying this means that females are best suited for activities other than debate, but rather that social pressures and expectations outside of the debate community can be responsible for lower levels of female participation in debate. I think there are a couple of potentially linked reasons for this:
    First, I am going to go out on a limb here and say, from my experience at a diverse, public high school school, that social pressures on girls tend to be more intense and rigid, especially during teenage years than the social pressures on boys. I also think its fair to say that competitive debate does not align with the social pressures that tend to be placed on girls during highschool which could, in part be responsible for the disparity as it seems, and I have talked to female competitors on my team and others from my state that share this view, that interpretive or speech events seem to have a greater perception of social acceptability for females than for males. While this may or may not be true, I have had female competitors express this perception to me. While I don’t think this means that the gender disparity in debate is inevitable, I do think such a problem is at least partially indicative of a greater cultural problem outside of the debate community.

    Second, I think the problem of gender disparity is a self-fulfilling prophecy that not only can serve to exacerbate social pressures, but explains the participation disparity between JV and varsity debate. If problems arise from female debaters feeling isolated in a male dominant activity, then the fact that the activity is male dominant becomes a deterrent for female competitors. This doesn’t represent a cultural problem within the debate community, but reflects the cyclical nature of the gender disparity. While I don’t deny that instances of blatant and even unintentional sexism can and do occur, I’m not sure its fair to attribute much significance to these events. How many deserving competitors have not qualified purely because they are female? Are we really prepared to say this number of deserving females that did not qualify is relatively greater than the number of unqualified deserving males? I certaintly don’t think we can attribute a 25-30% participation disparity to sexism or discrimination, either blatant or underlying.

    In short,
    Do I think there is a gender disparity? Yes.
    Is that disparity problematic? Absolutely.
    Is it due to sexism and discrimination? Probably not. Or at least not the majority of it.

    If we are going to work towards increased gender equality in the activity, the community needs to work to break down larger cultural barriers to debate, not just ones that may exist within the debate community and encourage and promote the health of institutions like the Women’s Debate Institute which, after having talking to friends who have been a part of it, seems to be not only  successful in coaching young debaters but in breaking down barriers that exist to females not only in the debate community, but in the high school community.

    As a final note, I do not, in any way, deny the legitimacy of the feelings and hardships expressed in the cosigned post below regarding experiences in debate and recognize hardships from having coached 8 female novices as a varsity member of their team and having worked with friends who are female debaters from different schools and backrounds. However I would suggest that many of these experiences are largely due to many of the problems I have outlines above. If someone disagrees with me, I would be willing to revise my views if presented compelling reasons to do so and will accept that I may be incorrect and mean no offense to anyone who may, in any way, be offended by the arguments I have laid out.

  • Rebar Niemi

    i think this discussion is proceeding in a productive fashion, but something about your posts maeshal is making me a little uncomfortable; they sound similar to the sentiment “you should be happy to be here,” particularly in talking about how going to camp is a privilege and greatly improves ones debating regardless of how one is treated at camp. maybe i’m reading too far into it, and i do think you make some moderately valid points regarding the exclusive nature of debate and how this is the community we all signed up for. personally, i don’t agree with this stance, but i recognize its validity. 

    i also think the problem is not inevitable, unless we are willing to excuse the behavior of people as being unchangeable and those people as being non-culpable for that behavior. i’m empathetic in the extreme to the notion that conditions and conditioning affect how one acts without any recourse to conscious choice, but i’m not willing to believe that people and culture is unchangeable – because people change and cultures change. ultimately, we are responsible for the culture we contribute to and exist within whether we want to accept that responsibility in greater or smaller amounts. 

    typically people like to accept the parts of their culture and personalities that are laudable and reject the ones that they don’t like. i think this kind of selective claiming of responsibility is… how do you say… not really responsibility at all. 

    i don’t necessarily think we need quotas or strict affirmative action, but i’ve been really intrigued to hear this whole discussion (even if it is repetitive in some sense) and while i was already personally committed to my own integrity (whatever that means), it has definitely reinforced to me that the main thing to do is like lexy and the acronym ladies say treat people maturely/with respect/with empathy/and recognize the shortcomings or successes of all involved with equal verve.

    i know that a lot of people on this thread don’t necessarily have obligations as educators, but i definitely do, and its important to me that i keep trying to live up to my own standards for behavior even if i sometimes fall short.

    HPYNWYR from teh NorWest

  • If girls leave debate because they are mature and seek more balanced lives than do boys, that is fine (though it may make one question the nature of an activity that requires monomania for success). The issue is that this makes it difficult for the remaining girls who share the boys’ goals. The problem may not be so much outright discrimination against female debaters as it is an environment that is unwelcoming, alienating, and sometimes hostile to them. The boys don’t have to be trying to drive the girls away in order for them to do so.

    It doesn’t really matter that boys tease each other, or that they do not intend to make girls uncomfortable. What matters is the way girls in debate experience their treatment. By analogy, consider what it must be like for African Americans who experience poor service in restaurants. They may simply have a terrible server, or they may be victims of discrimination. Regardless of the cause of the poor service, their minority status, past experience, and knowledge of history makes it hard for them to avoid experiencing the event as in some way racially driven.

    There are a number of ways to make debate more welcoming to girls. I will not provide an exhaustive list, but here are a few. First, be nice. Don’t use insults as a form of play, except with people to whom you are very close and have built a relationship of trust. If you are with a group of people who mostly know each other and there are one or two people you do not know, talk to them. Bring them into the conversation. If you are a teacher or lab leader, do not let your students choose their own partners for assignments, practice debates, or teams. Create an expectation that the girls will not always be paired together by making this the norm. Set clear standards of behavior and address breaches when they occur. Do not write them off as, “just kids being kids.” Happily, all of these actions should make debate more welcoming for everyone.

    Finally, consider the birthday party rule. Remember when you were choosing the list of invitees to your birthday party and there was one girl (or boy) you wanted to or had to invite (maybe it was your cousin)? Your parents probably told you, “You cannot invite just one girl/boy. S/he has to have friends to play with too.” The same advice applies to the world of debate. When hiring staff, selecting students for labs, and inviting debaters to round robins, endeavor to create an environment in which female debaters will find role models, friends, and community. Unless you know with certainty that a female debater is 100% okay with being the only girl in the room, try your darnedest to ensure that she’s not the only girl you invite.

  • Anonymous

    Ms. Green,

    Thanks for your substantive reply.  You are obviously more qualified in policy knowledge, but I checked the Wikipedia entry on TOC champions/finalists for policy and since 2005, there have been about 6 girls in the final round, which is an average of one per year.  That doesn’t seem nearly as bad as LD, but this is a small sample; where can we find the breakdown of speakers and elims for tournaments?  I agree with Mr. Socha that statistically examining the relative disparities in the 3 events will probably be most helpful for everyone.  (Note: Mr. Socha, most of what you articulated other than that was either already answered, or extremely unclear, or not something I stated, so I’m not going to waste my time addressing your post.  I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re not very good at debate.)  

    I think the example of asshole vs. bitch is quite helpful.  It seems unfair to say that a guy calling another guy an asshole is simply a ritual bonding activity, yet all these girls in this thread are asking to be included (“it would really mean a lot”), but when a guy calls a girl a “bitch” the way he would call a guy an “asshole”, there is now a particularly bad connotation.  I don’t point this out in the sense that guys should call girls “bitches”, but just that I’m not sure what should be done in response.  If guys bond with each other by saying mean things, like you say (and I’m inclined to agree), what should they do with girls to bond?  If it is different behavior, wouldn’t that just exacerbate the outsider-ness?  To bring up my examples, there was no other fat Jewish kid, or Pakistani from Iowa, or Southern boy from an unknown school in the room when the jokes were made.  

    Look, guys get along with guys differently than girls get along with girls; perhaps instead of constantly thinking of ways to stop guys from saying mean things to girls, or to not talk about sports and whatnot, why not come up with topics or actions that girls would really like (positively, not negatively)?  So far, it just seems the only request has been “say fewer derogatory remarks”.  Okay, well, that’s fair, but what would you rather be said?  Why has there been no attempt at really comprehensively finding a middle ground, not just pointing out bad ground?  To bring up your 75% male policy squad example, do you think comparatively, guys would have a good time on a policy squad of 75% females?  Or would a guy have a good time at a debate camp filled with girls?  Probably not.  But that is the way teams and camps are, so let’s try and figure out a compromise dynamic, not one of a police-state activity where we uphold a ridiculous pledge.  

    I haven’t posted in years, but I want to be honest in explaining why I felt compelled to contribute to this discussion: I find it highly troubling that girls from schools such as Walt Whitman, Hockaday, etc., some of the most established programs in LD, are writing a letter talking about how disenfranchised they feel AT DEBATE CAMP when guys laugh at working with them.  Are we really at a point where we believe calling a girl a “slut” or laughing at working with them offsets the advantage of going to debate camp?  How lucky are those girls to attend institutes that massively improve their debating skills?  How many kids from struggling schools or low socioeconomic statuses, let alone girls, would love to have the opportunities that these girls have?  Wouldn’t girls of other cross-sections that feel the same discrimination also feel incredibly insulted from this letter?  Am I crazy for pointing this out?  Can we at least take a second to realize this?

    I’m going to be upfront: I don’t think we are going to help girls by creating artificial acceptance with affirmative actions plans or embracing a pledge that requires people to STOP SAYING CHAUVINIST THINGS AND BOYCOTT CAMPS WITHOUT FEMALE INSTRUCTORS IN TOP LABS!!!!!  If the girls who wrote that letter feel as wronged as they say, and go to the schools that they do, I don’t see any harm or problem in them deciding to come together, create a gmail where they post flows, prep each other out, share arguments and cards, welcome other girls entering the activity, and give every asshole guy (sorry, had to use the word) a run for their money.  Isn’t that a much more empowering way to resolve this issue?  Sure they might get called “bitch” more, or a whole list of other bad words, but do bad words really offset the glory of the win?  This is a competitive activity, so why not keep that in mind when figuring out ways to help curtail the gender discrimination.  

    Also, I find it very funny that a guy named Flint Shartman has offered much more insight than other actual people on this thread.

    • Anonymous

      this post is right on.  I’m not saying that gender disparity isn’t a problem, but it’s obviously non-unique to LD.  This idea of championing the issue just reaffirms the bubble the national circuit is in.  To act as if debate is a petri dish for rectifying social ills and solving gender inequality is noble,  but impractical.  Given the progressive nature of the activity and those within it, I dont think gender bias exists any further than maybe a “name call” here or there (not trying to trivialize name-calling, but come on, as Maeshal pointed out, its  a bunch of rather asocial, nerdy, 16 yr olds who still believe in “kudies” interacting on 72 hr streaks).  I think in an activity like LD debate, people arent going out of their way to objectify or harm females, and I think anybody who has overheard a conversation between high school boys at their high school can attest to how the “real” world is comparatively more objectifying. 

      Sure, there are individual stories where girls drop out because of name-calling, but the same goes for boys.  And the idea that the majority of girls are leaving the activity because of the oppressive nature of it is way too out there for me to accept it.  Also, its undeniable that time put in correlates with success.  If girls generally are not as attracted to an activity where individuals go around bragging about their new piece of uniqueness evidence, drinking monster drinks every other minute, and checking fantasydebate every second, then naturally more of them will leave the activity, and those that remain will not be as willing to put as much time into it.  There are obviously many exceptions, and I do not want to deny the competitive nature of girls, but it goes beyond that.  Im not as willing to be as good at “Magic card duels” (as some kids at my high school still participate in :/) because I think it’s dumb.  That does not deny my competitive nature. 

      I think Maeshal also brings up another great point.  Debate is a bubble.  It reminds me of the progressives in the world who champion “the whales” and Darfur, but are ignorant of the homeless man one block away.  Gender disparity solutions are noble, but impractical.  How about focusing attention on other issues, like working with UDLs and “giving” the priveledge that is debate to the less fortunate, or just being nicer and relieve the stress at tournaments.  I cant believe theres actually discussion going on about how unfair it is that at $2500 camp sessions, boys prefer to work with boys, and how wrong that is.  Its refreshing how those in debate treat the activity as a petri dish for change, but honestly, it just collapses into individuals stroking their own egos, wearing armor that doesnt fit, and calling themselves knights.

      • On your last point – social issues aren’t mutually exclusive. How about we just save the whales, Darfur, debate, and the local homeless, instead of sacrificing one cause for the others?

        Your point about Darfur vs. the homeless is also interesting, because it suggests we should look to local issues first. I don’t really agree with that, but isn’t that what we’re doing when we analyze gender disparities in our own debate community?

        • Anonymous

          You’re reading too much into it.  My point is simply that the debate community tends to champion these sorts of issues from time to time, make no real change, and then return to a state of self-consuming ignorance.  Its not that these things are “mutually exclusive” or regional v. national.  Debaters live in a bubble, there’s worse things going on in the world, and this sort of discussion just becomes a matter of defending personal pride, making oneself seem important, noble, etc.

          • Seems like you’re saying that we shouldn’t do the right thing because there’s a chance that we’re just doing it to make ourselves look good. Even if I’d rather you do the right thing for the right reasons, I’d still like you to do the right thing. Additionally, I don’t think that focusing our discussions on social justice issues outside of debate is any less likely to involve folks pontificating to make themselves “seem important, noble, etc.” This argument is really just a justification for never talking about or doing something about injustice, because we might just be trying to make ourselves look good. I’d say that folks trying to make themselves look good is an inherent part of all human interaction. It’s probably, overall, a good thing that we care what others think of us.

          • Anonymous

             i dont necessarily disagree with you.  my problem is more of an observation/criticism of what these discussions generally devolve into in the past.  But even so, I guess i disagree with the idea that this is a problem (if it is a problem) that requires an institutionalized solution (i dont know if you are onboard with that sort of thing, though).  Like you have said, I recognize that we should all be nicer and more welcoming, but for me at least, it doesnt follow that we institute quotas/put pressure on camps to hire more females, etc.

    • In response to Maeshal’s observations about the number of women in finals at the TOC, I have crunched some numbers from the TOC over the past 3 years. I admit that these numbers are a bit suspect, as I do not know all of the debaters, and I had trouble identifying gender by debater name in some cases (how many of those listed as Alex were Alexanders, and how many Alexandras?). The numbers are small enough that this issue may seriously affect the results. I did the best I could without making a major project of this. Here is what I found:

      TOC LD
      Year     Total     # Women     % Women
      2009     75        17                23%
      2010     70        16                23%
      2011     77        16                21%

      TOC Policy

      Year     Total     # Women     % Women
      2009    134       39                29%
      2010    136       25                18%
      2011    142       25                18%

      TOC PF
      Year     Total     # Women     % Women
      2009    114       37                 32%
      2010    134       33                 25%
      2011    144       45                 31%

      • A little more on the numbers. This means that over the past three years, the field of debaters at the TOC in Policy and LD has averaged 22% female. In PF, the average was 29%.

      • Anonymous

        The stats you posted are actually pretty interesting: about the same amount of females are in each event. However, is there a variation in success rates? 

        We can look at this disparity question in two ways: 1) why are there not 50% guys and 50% girls at the TOC, or alternatively, 2) why is there not proportional representation of guys and girls in elimination rounds?  Quantity vs. quality, to put it simply. Quantity percentages are the same across the board for LD, PF, and CX, so if girls in elims is disproportionately worse in LD, then yes, we do have to look at the specific aspects of the event that may cause this difference. Is this really that controversial of a claim? I’m looking at the same numbers as everyone else. However, as has been said before, this is fairly unsophisticated number crunching, so I welcome anyone willing to do some in depth data gathering.

        Think about it like this: about 25% of participants in policy TOC are girls. At the same time, about 25% of finals participants are also girls (average of one per year, four people per finals round), so that mostly lines up in terms of quality. However, I don’t think the LD TOC semifinal percentages would be as flattering (although this may not be the case, at which point we would only have a quantity issue). 

        The quality disparity and the quantity disparity are distinct challenges, but of course closely intertwined. In terms of quantity, there is clearly a debate-wide concern (3 to 1 seems to be the general breakdown), but then my question is: if we enact measures that correct the quantity problem, but not the quality problem (I.e., we have 40% of participants at the TOC that are female, but the same amount of girls from the most prominent schools make it to semis due to no change in the best of the best), do we really fix the unfairness or just move around the inequality?

        • I think there is an issue of small sample size going on here. Two years ago (the last time there was a major on-line discussion of this issue) I crunched the numbers from the Berkeley tournament and found that girls made up a higher percentage of the JV LD pool than the Varsity LD pool. I also found that a far higher percentage of the girls competing made it to elims in JV than in Varsity. Unless anyone has archives from VBD and, that work is lost. If I have time, I’ll try to re-create it, though I would encourage anyone interested to do so. There are lots of old tournament packets available on-line.

          • The JV-Varsity disparity suggests that time commitment is a big factor, I think. It might be worth noting that many successful debaters move up to Varsity “early”. I’m not really sure if that would have any impact.

            It seems like if sexism were driving them away, it’d do it sooner, generally. This doesn’t mean that sexism doesn’t effect participation rates, but it probably doesn’t really impact the retention of those who’ve already participated.

          • That’s where we disagree. Much of the increased time commitment is spent in the company of other at camps and tournaments. I think that because these can be such lonely places for female debaters, it may be more difficult for them to make the time commitment. When a male debater goes off to camp, he is facing several weeks of camaraderie with a bunch of like minded guys. When a girl heads off to a top lab at a camp, she may be facing several weeks as the only (or close to the only) girl there. 

        • It’s worth pointing out that the ratio is not 25% throughout debate. It is 22% in Policy and LD, and 29% in PF. This actually represents a significant difference. PF seems to have nearly a third more female debaters than Policy or LD.

        • Dug up the 2009/10 Glenbrooks packets. The numbers are as follows:

          JVLD  100 entries, 37 women, 37% 
          8/16 in octos were women. Had they broken to doubles, 14/32 would have been women. Women were 50% of the to 16 and 44% of the top 32.

          VLD  184 entries, 57 women, 31%
          7/32 in doubles were women. That’s only 22%.

          The question remains, what drives these numbers? If it is simply a question of girls not wanting to commit the insane amounts of time needed to be competitive at the highest levels, that may be okay. But what if part of the reason they do not want to commit that kind of time is that the environment in which they would have to do so ranges from uncomfortable to hostile? What can we do to ensure that the young women who do want to invest that kind of time and effort are not driven away from the activity?

        • Paige helped me dig up the old Avi thread on VBD. Here is what I found with the numbers at Cal in 2010.

          “At Berkeley this year, women were approximately 46% of the JV entrants
          and 50% of the elimination round participants. Women made up 39% of the
          Varsity LD entrants and only 25% of the elimination round participants.
          Based on these numbers it appears that women do leave the activity at a
          greater rate than do men. The greater problem,however, appears to be
          that women win at a far lower rate than men at the Varsity level.”

          These results are strikingly similar to those from the 2009 Glenbrooks that I cover below.

    • I didn’t say what you claimed and you haven’t addressed my points anywhere. Reread my post.

  • Flint Shartman

    My name is Flint Shartman. 

    The things that most people have been pointing out as evidence of gender discrimination in debate do not seem to be problems unique to debate. If you are contending that the sizable gender disparity in LD right now can be primarily attributed to the kind of overt, blatantly discriminatory or sexist behavior that is being identified in this thread, then you need to justify why the discrimination problem is uniquely bad in debate. That’s common-sense. Seriously, use some common-sense people. Girls get called “sluts” because of their real or fabricated sexual activity in most high school environments. I’ve seen it happen in debate, sure, but I’ve seen it happen (sometimes in much more blatant ways) in activities that do not have the gender disparity problem that debate does. 

    The very fact that response to this discussion has overwhelming supported those who believe there is a systemic gender discrimination problem (dozens of likes for those who post anecdotal stories of discrimination or suggestions for affirmative action policies and only a handful of likes for the handful of people that display reasoned skepticism about what the vast majority is saying here) is convincing evidence that sexist, discriminatory behavior is both socially unacceptable and actively discouraged according to our community’s standards. There is, of course, a lot of sexist shit that happens behind closed doors and in private conversations. I get it, it’s obvious to everybody that even the people who act in a sexist manner won’t officially or publicly endorse sexist behavior. But let’s face it, most people from debate are somewhere between radical leftists and moderate liberals. And liberals of almost all kinds have a particular interest in rectifying the harms committed to all types of oppressed or marginalized classes of people. It is clearly socially unacceptable in debate culture to engage in sexist or discriminatory behavior. The fact that people still engage in such behavior does not prove that it is not socially unacceptable. I think the vast majority of guys that have ever called a girl “bitch” or “slut” in debate know that it isn’t exactly tactful conduct, and they definitely wouldn’t want very many people in the community to know that they were being sexist or discriminatory. If you press people, no one is really ready to defend that girls who are sexually active to a moderate or high degree should be labeled as “sluts” or whatever, or that girls who are aggressive in round are “bitches”. 

    What I’m getting at is that I find it hard to believe that the sizable gender disparity is primarily the result of gender discrimination. There doesn’t seem to be a problem in LD that is rampant enough to explain the sizable disparity when the problems people are pointing out are completely non-unique to debate. It has already been mentioned that there are sizable gender disparities in many other activities. 

    No one in this discussion has said that we should encourage–no fuck that–no one has said that we shouldn’t proactively discourage sexist or discriminatory behavior. It’s trivially obvious that we should discourage sexism. If you call some girl a bitch or a slut in front of me when I’m judging you, I’m going to drop you. That’s not because I really think women need to participate more in debate, or because I signed some asinine contract, it’s because you can’t just do rude and hateful things in front of me even if you’re winning the flow. The same would apply to racist behavior or any instances of extreme rudeness or hateful comments.  If you’re at debate camp and someone does something very mean or sexist or whatever to you, inform your lab leaders or some adult at the camp. I highly doubt that anyone will take such things very lightly if you do. If I heard tell of some of the instances of sexism being discussed here, I would take it seriously and I would report to the higher ups on staff. And I think the same goes for virtually everyone I’ve worked with at debate camps. It isn’t the most socially appealing option because nobody likes a tattle-tale but if you don’t report these things, you have no right to complain about them. An avenue of recourse is openly available to you and the security of your social standing isn’t a good excuse for not exploiting it if you truly proclaim to care about solving the gender problems in debate. If you think that the boys in your lab are only prepping with each other, then you should approach them and ask to work with them. If they say, “sorry this is a no girls allowed club” or “no, girls are overly emotional and not as rational as men” or something (both of which seem very unlikely possibilities), you should tell your lab leaders. Trust me, they won’t tolerate that kind of behavior. You can’t just say there is some sort of systemic gender problem because you failed to overcome the frequent tendency of people to associate more with people of their own gender. If you approach someone and ask to work with them, and they refuse because you are a girl, then there is a gender discrimination problem.You have two ways of dealing with that: A. Tell an adult who can exercise authority and do something about the problem from the top-down B. Exact revenge on them via brutal asswhoopings in round. (If you feel left out or uncomfortable because you don’t have much to say about tennis shoes or sports games, that’s partially your fault. Try to talk to boys about something you know more about. Boys, especially boys in debate, are not solely interested in characteristically ‘boyish’ things. Lab leaders and those with authority should actively try to get boys and girls to work with each other.) Of course, we should all do what we can to make the activity a welcoming environment for both boys and girls. That doesn’t mean we should do it by all means possible.

    Anyone who knows anything about the way that camps are run knows that camps try very hard to hire as many qualified women as possible. If those women did well enough, you can guarantee they’ll be teaching a very high lab. The people that teach top lab are people who have done extremely well at debating (or in other cases, people who have done extremely well at coaching successful debaters). We have all already acknowledged that there aren’t a lot of girls doing extremely well in debate. Those that do get to teach really high labs. Catherine Tarsney and Becca Traber teach the best kids when they teach at camp because they were phenomenally successful. If you think there is something wrong with the way that camps are placing their female lab leaders then you just disagree with the idea that the people teaching the best kids should be those who are really successful at debate. It’s true that some people who were really good debaters aren’t good instructors but the practice of putting toc-winners and people who win tons of octos bids in top lab positions isn’t a terribly discriminatory policy or something. How well you did is a damn good indicator of how capable you are of teaching kids how to do well. Camps want to attract the most talented kids. They attract those kids by trying to hire the people who are best at debate and by putting the people had the most success in their best labs. If you think that is a bad idea or you can’t understand why camps do that, you are either being obtuse or you are in the grip of a very naive ideology. Camps are already trying very hard to hire as many qualified women as possible. Camps already have a “quota” to some degree. I’m not saying camps ever hire women just because they are women, but many times equally qualified men don’t get to teach at debate camps because camps make it a priority to hire as many women as reasonably possible. But if you think camp-hires shouldn’t be primarily focused on how successful their instructors were at debating, and that they should institute some type of 50-50 quota for men and women, then you are suggesting a very extreme affirmative action policy. I don’t know that anyone is actually endorsing such a thing here. It’s very unclear what people are actually saying when they say “camps should hire more females” because no one seems to be saying that camps should hire a female over a male if she is less qualified to teach there, but at the same time many people are acting like there is some huge problem with camp hiring policies when the fact is that camps already try really hard to hire and promote the qualified female candidates available to them.

    • Open question to everybody: do you think the current system, where gender is given some weight in hiring, albeit without “quotas”, should be eliminated in favor of purely gender-neutral hiring?

      • My opinion tends to generate backlash, but I think no. Entirely gender neutral hiring is both impossible and undesirable. Other factors (such as intelligence, topic knowledge, and social skills) should be given (much) more weight than gender, but that doesn’t mean gender should be given no weight. It makes a good tie breaker in close decisions.

        Also: yuck. I meant to like Lexy’s comment and accidentally liked Flint’s instead. My bad.

        • Flint Shartman

          What was so “yuck” about my post? I’m not sure you’ve disagreed with anything I said, and yet you find it important to note that you didn’t mean to like my post. Maybe you should articulate what was wrong with what I said instead of rudely acting like I’ve said something repulsive. If I’ve said something that you find repulsive, let me know what it is so I can stop doing such awful things in the future.

          • Yeah, I edited that almost as soon as I put it up; I’m sorta surprised you even saw it.
            It was inappropriate.

  • Before I go any further, let me say that regardless of whether gender norms result from nature or nurture, I am aware that large numbers of women and men do not share the attributes commonly ascribed to their gender. When second wave feminists talk about feminine ways of knowing/communicating/caring/etc., I feel strangely left out. I am a linear thinker, blunt speaker, and not a fan of consensus based decision making. I am not patient, I don’t wear makeup, and I am not one for hugs (just ask Sarah!). Given this, I’d appreciate it if you would cut me some slack when I write (below) about some of the things that I believe drive women out of debate. I know that these things are not true of all women; they are generally not true of me.

    Mike Bietz offered me an interesting theory on this subject a couple of years back. He told me that he thought that girls tended to drop out of debate at the highest levels more than boys because they are more sensible and mature than boys of the same age. The amount of work needed to go from being a competitive regional debater to a top national debater is substantial. Doing that work tends to preclude involvement in other valuable activities (including just having a life). Most of the lasting benefits of debating (improved confidence, public speaking skills, ability to research) are achieved in the first couple of years of competition. The massive additional effort to be a top national circuit debater is probably out of proportion with the lasting benefits of competing at that level. Bietz’ theory is that girls are better at seeing this and making rational decisions about their priorities. There may be something to this theory, but we’d have to interview debaters who leave the activity in order to test it.

    I do think that the better gender balance in PF might support Mike’s theory. As yet, the highest reaches of PF do not require the single minded commitment required in LD or Policy (and let me make it clear that the gender imbalance is just as bad in Policy as it is in LD). Also, when LD was less technical and required less time commitment to succeed at the highest levels, it had a better gender balance (I have no data to support this, but I have been involved with LD for every year of its existence, and I remember it having a lot more girls back in the day). We could probably gather data for this by looking at NFL and TOC entry lists over the years.

    If the problem is that girls make better life decisions than boys, there’s no problem, right? Wrong. It is important that girls who want to compete at the highest levels of the national circuit (I guess that would be the girls who share the immaturity and warped priorities of the boys) not be discouraged from doing so. The problem is that there are a number of factors that discourage their participation.

    One important factor is social. As LD competition has come to require more travel and more time at camp, debaters have had to spend a greater portion of their lives with other debaters. For girls who are most comfortable hanging out with other girls, rather than hanging out in groups that are predominately male, this is problematic. Most of my closest friends are men, but I do not think that this is the case for most women. I expect that for many female debaters, spending the summer at camp surrounded by boys and without much female company is a bummer. I see this problem on my own team when we designate a work room during breaks between Policy rounds. My Policy squad is currently 75% male, and I know it is no fun at all to be one of a couple of girls in a room full of boys acting like jackasses and/or bros.

    Maeshal may be right that everyone gets teased, and I’m sure that there are boys who are absolutely shattered by teasing, but I do think that some teasing and name calling hurts female debaters more than male debaters. I think it can be extremely difficult when the person being teased feels like an outsider to begin with. For many male debaters, this teasing is a ritual bonding activity. It feels different when the person being teased is the only girl in the room.

    Due to gender role norms, there are insults that are especially hurtful for girls. Calling a boy a slut is seen as funny, but calling a girl a slut implies a very negative value judgement. While calling a guy an asshole may not be any better than calling a girl a bitch, I’d be willing to bet that female debaters are told (in the context of their debating) that they are being bitchy far more often than male debaters are told that they are being assholes. I’d also be willing to bet that in some cases when male debaters are told that they are assholes in cross-x, the tone of voice is one of admiration. I doubt that tone is ever used when a female debater is told that she is being a bitch.

    While I don’t like strict quotas, I do think that we have to address the numbers problem. Female debaters shouldn’t have to be socially isolated. They need community, a peer group to hang with. As the number of girls debating at the highest level dwindles, the prospect of debating at that level grows less attractive or tolerable to other girls. It is incumbent upon coaches, tournament directors, and camp directors to make this activity welcoming to girls. That means making sure that they are present in reasonable numbers and discouraging behavior that is likely to make them uncomfortable. Sarah Sachs, Annie Zhu, Mollie Cowger, Sammi Cannold, Paige Mackenzie, Juliet Nelson, and Stephanie Franklin have taken an important step in voicing their concerns and in promising to support other girls who debate. We need to make sure that they (and others like them) are at our tournaments and camps as competitors, judges, and instructors.

    • Honestly, I don’t like the idea of quotas either. They’re excessively rigid and somewhat arbitrary. The only reason I’m willing to support them is that I just don’t see another way to address the numbers problem, given that camps already give some (although in my opinion, not enough) weight to gender. Do you have any thoughts on how to do so?

  • Dick Dickfats

    Why the fuck did my post get deleted? I thought this shit wasn’t censored. Which one of you motherfuckers did that?

  • Maeshal Abid

    Also, this could be a result of obliviousness, but when I debated, I never noticed particularly insidious or rude treatment towards girls, at least more than guys.  I find myself to be a pretty keen person, and can recall different insults for guys based on their voice cracking, or their race, or their religion, or their weight, or what have you.  I remember when Ari Parker was fat and was nicknamed the “Kosher Ball of Fury”.  I used to get a fair share of terrorist jokes, or people would make fun of Wade Houston for his Southern-ness.  I don’t mean to say that racism and fat jokes are good, but that they are inevitable, and to chalk them up to some systemic problem is short-sighted. 

    This is an activity full of high schoolers, where hormones are raging and people are made fun of for any reason that anyone can come up with, so creating comprehensive contracts on curtailing gender disparities is not going to stop some 16 year old a few years from now calling a girl a “slut”.  The best bet is to maintain focus on rewarding good debaters (regardless of race, gender, class, etc.), with the win and bad debaters with the loss.  I hope the marginalized girls can agree with me in thinking there is nothing better than holding the trophy while their bullies stand staring empty handed.  

  • Maeshal Abid

    I graduated in 2008 so perhaps I am washed up, but am I the only one who thinks LD has gotten much less cool?  I mean, most of what I have read in this thread is pure sophistry and chest-thumping (don’t get me started on the sheer stupidity and offensiveness of this “change the topic” movement either).  There’s a good chance a majority of what I say has already been said, but clearly no one listened if the discussion is going the way it is.  
    Do people actually think that after this giant dialogue there’s going to be some sudden change in perceptions of women in debate?  There’s going to be six, seven, maybe eight women at the MBA round robin next year?  This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for that, but that doing it through a twisted version of a “white man’s burden” is not going to help anyone.
    Look, to say there is a gender disparity in debate is incorrect.  Policy and PF have a fair share of very successful girls, so what could cause the problem to be in LD?  What are the distinctions between these events?  The first one that comes to mind is that LD is solo and the other two are partner events.  Maybe girls like to interact with a teammate and find the individual aspect to be detrimental to the development of social skills.  Maybe they see discussions like this happening and find it a huge waste of time and would rather do policy or PF.  Perhaps they don’t like the subject matter of LD, and would rather focus on being persuasive or looking at policy questions.  My point is that it seems counter-intuitive to automatically assume this knight in shining armor role for the damsels in distress of Lincoln-Douglas.  The other question to ask is this: are these incidents of chauvinism only found in LD?  Do girls in policy and PF not feel the same sexism and mockery?  If they do, are they just mentally tougher so they still win?  Are there fewer bigoted pigs in those activities?  Or what?  I don’t mean this offensively, but it would seem pretty odd if LD is the only activity that belittles women.  If it is the only activity, then this thread is pretty hapless from the getgo, due to the main participants being LDers.  I suppose it would also seem pretty ironic that the event centered around moral and ethical questions has this problem, but I don’t want to get too insulting.It’s nice and uplifting to see people this caring about an issue, but it does not matter how much anyone cares if there is 0 practicality in analyzing the problem.

    • I agree that there’s other factors than bias at work, but there’s obviously not “0 practicality in analyzing the problem” of gender disparities. I think that the most likely explanation is that there are four variables impacting the gender disparity in W/L records.

      1. Biology – this is extremely marginal and probably has about .5% impact, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Women and men have biologically different voices and brains and bodies. These differences are extremely slight, and so will have minimal competitive impact on the round. I know that it’s taboo to admit that biological factors can influence things at all, even marginally, but I don’t really care because I’m trying to undertake a comprehensive and honest analysis right here.

      Also, I don’t even think that the biological factors would necessarily result in discrimination against women. It’s entirely plausible that judges would be more slightly likely to vote for those of the opposite gender, or something. Again though, analyzing the specifics of biology doesn’t really do anything to improve debate because biology can’t realistically be changed, and quite probably shouldn’t be changed either.

      2. Luck – this is also inevitable. While luck might actually exist as a material property, it’s a logical consequence of the inevitability of uncertainty. Not all variables can be controlled or even known, therefore luck will result.

      3. Social factors – women might choose to do partner events because they’re more social than men, they might be quicker to compromise than men which hurts performance in a competitive atmosphere, obviously the specific nature of the social factors will vary depending upon the individual, but general trends can be accessed. Trying to force people to join debate when they don’t want to is bad, I don’t like the idea of addressing social factors.

      4. Bias – you seem to feel that the W/L record disparity is entirely a consequence of the three factors above. I disagree, as anecdotal evidence suggests that there’s at least some discrimination in debate. Assessing the extent of this problem might not be possible and macro level solutions might fail but we can certainly respond to bigotry when we see it.

      I agree that we need to avoid the knight in shining armor mindset, and I feel like that’s a big risk of these types of projects, but I don’t think the project is inextricably tied to that mindset. We can help women in debate without feeling that we’re superior or that these women are only ever victims, or that these women can help themselves.

      I also agree that we shouldn’t think this dialogue will automatically prompt change. Allowing this dialogue to placate us would be a mistake. However, this dialogue seems to me to be more likely to stimulate and reinforce the desire to fix these problems. Talking about gender helps me keep it in mind prepares me to act to combat bigotry. There’s a risk of placation, and for some this conversation is probably detrimental, but I’m personally more ready to fix problems if I’ve been reflecting on those problems recently.

      • Maeshal Abid

        My point is not that analyzing gender disparity problems in general has 0 practicality, but the ways in which people are attempting to approach it in this thread are completely unrealistic and therefore unhelpful.  Your entire post still fails to examine if there is a difference between LD and other debate activities, which is a fairly relevant premise to investigate.  I am not saying that we should refrain from responding to bigotry, or that discrimination can be attributed to a small set of variables, to be honest I’m not really sure how you got either of those conclusions from my posts.  

        I apologize if this comes off offensive, but I honestly mean it as positively as possible.  To simplify my position into a statement for marginalized girls: yes, you probably are a victim of discrimination, and no matter how long this thread is, or how many ideas are created for reducing the gender disparity, there will still be discrimination, but discrimination does not mean you are dumber than anyone.  If you really believe you are better than the people who make fun of you, it is up to you to show them.  If other girls quit, that is their decision, but it should not affect your desire to silence the critics.  If you can’t beat the naysayers now, in high school debate, you will probably have a lot of trouble beating the naysayers in college, or in the career world, or in countless other settings that have more pronounced and severe gender disparities.  

        • Maeshal Abid

          As far as my experiences go, Kendra Oyer was my lab leader in high school and probably one of the most brilliant instructors I have ever had, and I don’t think I ever came close to beating Becca Traber.  You might think I am falling into the criticism of “Look!  I can name good girls in debate!”, but I am acknowledging there is a problem, so I am not trying to sweep anything under the rug.   

          I agree we should not condone guys from calling girls sluts, but 16 year olds will be 16 year olds, and kids say/make mistakes (I’ve made quite a few), so to claim that these campaigns will help girls in debate seems unfair to women’s potential, that’s all.  

          • Dick Dickfats


        • You said that we shouldn’t attribute all aspects of gender disparity in debate to bias, and I agreed with that, and identified four factors which are the “root cause” of all disparities. Just because I’m not analyzing the problem in the same way you are doesn’t mean I’m not analyzing the problem. I can address gender disparities in LD debate without analyzing relative amounts of discrimination in other forms of debate.

          Also, I’m skeptical of your claim that policy and PF have significantly less bias than LD does. Can you warrant this, or could someone else do it for him? Even if they do have less bias, that doesn’t seem to effect whether or not we should discuss bias within LD debate. It’s obviously not logical to conclude that LD is inherently flawed as a consequence of it’s relatively larger gender disparities. LD may very well be more biased than PF, to assume it must not be seems odd to me.

          It’s unclear to me how your claim that the current discussion has “0 practicality” is proven anywhere within any of your comments. The only thing you talk about is that differences between LD and other forms of debate exist, and it’s unclear to me why that would result in “0 practicality” unless all disparities are a consequence of gender. You say you don’t defend this claim, but what claim do you defend? Why does the current discussion have “0 practicality”? What should we be doing instead?

  • Dick Dickfats

    (this post was edited for sick and perverted content.)

  • Hi


    preparing to post the petition online and begin soliciting signatures. Before I
    do so, I would like to make a final attempt to solicit any comments or
    suggestions regarding the terms of the proposal. By that, I do not mean
    criticisms of the idea of affirmative action or discussions of the nature of
    the problem per se. While those contributions are valuable, I want to focus on
    the narrower discussion regarding what a good proposal should look like,
    assuming that the problem merits affirmative action in some regard.


    I believe that affirmative action is justified for two reasons. First, women
    are underrepresented in debate at every level. Part of this has to do with a
    culture that at times can be hostile, disrespectful, and downright sexist. By
    increasing the number of women in position of power, I think we can empower
    women to shift the culture of debate in a positive direction. Second, many
    women in the activity have posted regarding the importance of role models,
    points of contact, and older friends who know what it’s like to be a woman in
    debate. Affirmative action policies will increase the retention of women in
    debate and create positive change for future generations. All in all,
    affirmative action will improve the position of women in debate.


    I’m looking for thoughts on the shape that affirmative action policy should
    take, as well as specific comments about other sections of the pledge,


    quotas the best way of bringing about affirmative action, or are hiring
    policies that make gender a plus without mandating that a specific percentage
    of women be hired preferable? Consider that many camps already do the latter,
    and that formalizing that requirement might not yield a substantial
    improvement, but that quotas are admittedly a rigid way of increasing female
    participation. I’ve used quotas in the section about camps, but preferences in
    the section about tournaments, except regarding round robins.

    the quotas too high? Too low?

    there other ways we can increase the prominence of women at camps and

    the requirements regarding discrimination, harassment, and derogatory speech
    sufficiently well-defined? Do they go too far?

    it make sense to have the pledge take effect when a critical mass of fifty
    people have signed? Should it be more? Less?


    new version of the petition is posted below. I appreciate any suggestions the
    community has to offer. Please try to keep the discussion on this specific post
    focused around that topic, and keep more general comments about the problem or
    affirmative action elsewhere in the thread. Again, if you prefer not to post
    publicly, please email me at jtlew3 AT gmail DOT com with suggestions. Thanks!






    the undersigned, PLEDGE to withhold my participation from institutions that
    perpetuate gender inequity in debate. I recognize that rectifying this problem
    will require positive action from all of us, and that silence is compliance
    with an unjust system.


    I WILL DO:


    I will:

    an active effort to promote an inclusive and respectful community with respect
    to everyone, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or
    political or religious belief.

    that I do not engage in sexual harassment, discrimination, or derogatory

    seen an instance of sexual harassment, discrimination, or derogatory speech,
    politely but firmly insist that the offending party refrain from further such


    I will ensure that rounds I judge are fair and respectful, and will use my
    ballot as a tool to sanction behavior that I feel is inappropriate with reduced
    speaker points or, if necessary, a loss.


    I will:

    to allow my student to participate at tournaments, if I have reason to believe
    that they have engaged in sexual harassment, discrimination, or derogatory
    speech, and will make meaningful attempts to investigate any credible
    allegations of such.

    active efforts to recruit new female debaters.

    meaningful attempts to hire women as assistant coaches.




    FIFTY people sign this pledge, I will to the best of my ability uphold the
    terms herein.


    I will refuse to attend, work at, or send a student to, a debate camp that does
    not make meaningful attempts to:

    at least one-third female instructors.

    at least three non-first year out female instructors, if the camp hires more
    than twenty instructors.

    at least one female instructor in the top lab.

    female instructors to teach a reasonable number of varsity, upper varsity, top,
    and camp-wide lectures.

    a clear policy regarding sexual harassment, discrimination, and derogatory
    speech for staff and students, with meaningful penalties for violation.

    one staff member as an ombudsman for all claims of sexual harassment,
    discrimination, and derogatory speech.


    I will refuse to attend, judge at, or send a student to, a tournament that does
    not make meaningful attempts to:

    qualified female judges.

    female over male judges for the purposes of MJP, especially in late outrounds,
    with the goal of having at least one female judge on every panel.

    the tournament is a round robin, or otherwise invites individual debaters, have
    a one-third female pool.

    a clear procedure for disqualification of judges and debaters who engage in
    sexual harassment, discrimination, and derogatory speech.

    a representative as an ombudsman for all claims of sexual harassment,
    discrimination, and derogatory speech.




    • Also, I’d like to draw the community’s attention to this comment on Nicholas Kristof’s facebook page (where there is currently a discussion going regarding gender in debate) which provides some interesting food for thought. To me, it suggests that disparities we see have nothing to do with inherent features of debate, but rather particular features of our community, which we have the power to change, and should.

      “I’m a college debater — debated with Harvard for my undergrad, and now with Sheffield in the UK as a grad student. Currently, I’m teaching debate in South Korea. And I can tell you, with all my experiences worldwide, it is VERY much an american thing that debaters are mostly male. Something is going on socially, it’s not the activity in and of itself.Look at Australia, for example. University debate is RIDICULOUSLY popular there, and they have a lot of very successful women. Why? Perhaps because they have an affirmative-action policy: in the 3-on-3 format, 1 of the 3 of each team must be a woman. Results from this include the fact that one of the top speakers and the World University Debating Championships a few years ago was an Australian woman.In the UK and the European league, gender is distributed pretty evenly. People don’t seem to think about it very much, which sort of goes hand and hand with how the europeans view gender overall. There’re female debaters who make the final rounds of tournaments and win tournaments, along with being highly ranked speakers, pretty often.With the middle and high school aged kids in Seoul I’m currently teaching, the top two debaters are girls. One of the most heartwarming things I’ve experienced here is how supportive of this their male classmates are. When we have in-class debates, the boys cheer on the girls and vote them best speakers almost every time.If even South Korea is ahead of the American leagues, there’s a problem. I said it throughout my debate career there, and I don’t think people listened very much, because after all, it’s the men who tend to be in charge and successful, and why would they want to change a formula and format that rewards them? Change can’t come unless the majority helps, and social change is hard to bring about anyway. But something drastic needs to happen in American debate, because we’re missing out on a lot of talent that could be coming from female debaters.” 

      The comments on his page (now numbering in the hundreds) indicate the importance of this discussion, and I think they provide some very interesting contributions. Check them out.

      • Is the general culture of SK sexist (against women)?
        If not, I think that’s the root cause of the difference.

        General unrelated note: I actually don’t think that sexism in debate is a consequence of dislike of women or a genuine belief that women are lesser than men. I think it’s instead a consequence of the desire to exercise control over another individual, and sexist behavior is a powerful mechanism for exerting this control.

    • I’ve given my thoughts on quotas elsewhere. I don’t understand why they’re more desirable than the more flexible and less discriminatory approach that says the best judges should be hired and the best debaters should be invited.

      Maybe it’s because of the accountability factor involved with a public declaration? I think there are more desirable ways to capture this accountability though. Specifically, I think individuals need to garner the resolve to call out sexist individuals and to point out their disgusting behavior to others. While this approach is simple, I think it’d also prove effective.

  • Anonymous

    To the debate community, 

    As a disclaimer: we understand that this post is long, but it also the opinion of seven female debaters in the activity; we sincerely hope that people read it through. We have made a diligent effort to keep this brief, so please bear with us.
    We are current girl debaters who have decided to post together because we believe that we all come from a similar point of view and can share our experiences together. In the past, the issue of women in debate has been discussed seriously for two weeks, and then mocked for the rest of the year. Although discussion has once again died down, we hope that, by writing this post together, people see how serious these issues are to us. We have heard the opinions of those who have graduated or quit. We think it is time to hear the thoughts of those who are still in the activity.

    First, we want to discuss our experiences at camp. Being outnumbered 4:1 in a lab is not especially hard – in top lab of VBI this year, four girls sat together almost exclusively the first week. When it was time to break up into drill groups, we would almost always end up partnering with each other. This didn’t really seem to bother us until a lab leader would say something like, “try to work with the girls, guys,” and the boys would start laughing. We felt like we were being treated like charity, and we didn’t see why everyone else found that funny.
    Being a competitive female in a male dominated debate camp can sometimes be very difficult. When we ask boys to be our partners in lab, we have to deal with the “girl likes boy” jokes for the rest of camp. Just like you, we want to work. Simple things like being teased for a nonexistent crush make it impossible to feel respected and focused. For the crushes that are real, people in debate adopt a disgusting paradox. If a girl likes a boy and he doesn’t like her back, she becomes the center of all jokes and punch lines. This can be upsetting and embarrassing. If a girl doesn’t like a boy back, she becomes a slut who is harassed from then on out. We are always the people they joke about, never him.

    These instances have not been experienced by all seven of us – some of us have had more positive experiences in the activity than others. However, we all believe that it is important to change the sexism that has affected female debaters generally. There are many stories and anecdotes we can tell, but we believe that it is more important to be proactive in making sure these situations don’t happen again. Sarah, Paige, Mollie, Annie, and Stephanie have all had the luxury of being on an all girls/female-dominated team with a female coach. They have had the privilege of female role models and teammates to go to when faced with problems regarding sexist behavior or otherwise. Unfortunately, there are only about seven female coaches and two schools in the community who can provide similar experiences.

    So, we, as active females on the circuit, want to express our commitment to current and future generations of women in debate. We are all girl debaters who want nothing more than to talk to and share our experiences with other girls. Rather than just being role models, we want to be friends – the important thing isn’t having people to look up to as competitive figure heads (e.g. oh, Catherine Tarsney won TOC so I know a girl can do it) but instead to just have people to talk to about the issues we have to deal with. Beyond just being available to talk to other girls, though, we also promise to
    A) defend other girls who are being attacked in conversation
    B) not talk about other girls behind their back
    C) call out people who are behaving offensively.
    Regardless of whether the debate over hiring more or less girls at debate camps is settled, we believe that it is important that girls have people they can talk to even outside of that setting. We want to be those girls and are 100% dedicated to forming that kind of network.

    We also realize that there are a lot of guys who have made a conscious effort to stop this kind of behavior and work hard to make the community a safe and enjoyable place for girls, and we want to say thank you – it has really helped us love debate and grow as debaters. However, we feel as though there are enough guys who engage in this type of detrimental behavior for us to speak up about it.

    There has also been a lot of discussion on this thread about numbers, and whether or not it makes sense for there to be less competitive success for girls. We don’t think that that is the point of this discussion –the problem is much larger than that. Guys just need to stop being sexist jerks. One might say that this isn’t a “systematic issue,” but we have witnessed it with our own eyes. We have witnessed girls quitting debate, leaving immediately after they graduate because they hated the community; we have witnessed girls recounting all of the horrible encounters they had both in and out of round with sexist behavior.

    Ultimately, we, like Catherine, believe that it is the small things that make girls less excluded from the activity. Male debaters have told us to our face that they know they are douchebags, but that they think that it’s funny to see girls overreact. This is NOT okay; guys should not get pleasure out of seeing girls upset and miserable.

    To every guy who has ever called a girl a slut, whore, or bitch; to every guy who has characterized girls as crazy and emotional; to every guy who has made a sexist joke or targeted a specific girl and laughed it off – what you do has real effects on us as current debaters. It has made some of us doubt continuing to stay in the activity and others have to witness girls, who are usually strong and aggressive, break down because of this very real sexism. We don’t ask for anything other than for you to realize that this is not okay. The next time you make a joke or a side comment, think about what you are about to say before you say it. It would make a world of difference.


    Sarah Sachs, Annie Zhu, Mollie Cowger, Sammi Cannold, Paige Mackenzie, Juliet Nelson, and Stephanie Franklin

    • Rebar Niemi

      hell yes/one fist in the air/+1/daps

    • Yes, yes, and yes. Also, I recognize that this discussion is specifically about gender, but the A, B, C points the girls listed above should apply to our behavior in general, not just when dealing with girls. Not to digress, but only if we hold each other and ourselves accountable for offensive and inappropriate behavior regarding gender, sexual orientation, social class, and even things as stupid as debate paradigm and program/school, can we create a safe community for all participants.

  • Provide me with two instances of qualified women judges being turned down for a less qualified male judge and I’ll concede that this makes sense. Otherwise you’re just making things up. Additionally, I find your claim that “if a camp could hire a male with 3 bids but poor people skills,  or a female with 0 bids but a decent amount of competitive success and great people skills, the woman should get the job” highly suspect. People skills are obviously a concern, but do they really outweigh tremendous amounts of competitive success? Hiring female judges at the expense of more qualified male judges is wrong for all of the reasons I described. The only standard we should have for camps is that they should hire the best judges available, regardless of gender, gender based quotas are thus a bad idea.

  • Posting here because reply threads on John/My posts are getting out of hand. 

    PROBLEM WITH FEMALE PARTICIPATION LEVELS: The truth about female participation
    in competitive forensics is that women make up the absolute majority of all
    people in competitive forensics, defined to include speech, debate, and
    simulated judicial/legislative settings. 
    The participation, however, is not evenly distributed across all levels
    and all events. Women comprise a much larger proportion of competitors at the
    lower levels (i.e. novice, JV, local) than the higher levels (varsity,
    national) of competition and participate more in the less extemporaneous and
    research-intensive events (i.e. interpretation, simulations, original speaking)
    than the more challenging events (i.e. extemporaneous speaking and debate).


    The fact that women
    comprise substantially less than half the population of TOC debaters should not
    come as a surprise to anyone, and there need be nothing wrong or discriminatory
    about debate for that disparity to exist. Gender disparities exist in a large
    number of fields, from participation in any given sport (or sports overall),
    preference for college majors and careers, sub-specialties in professional and
    academic fields (check the genders of economists studying history vs.
    theoretical econometrics in economics or those specializing in family vs.
    antitrust in law), etc.  What would be
    odd is if men and women participated in the same events at the same levels. For
    that reason, though I am not encouraging discrimination against women, I don’t
    think we should all be rushing to remedy this non-problem. If there are
    individuals engaging in immoral discriminatory actions, of course, we should sanction


    JOHN & FRITZ: I apologize for not responding to your
    posts. Due to the comment system placing them on a different page than it
    placed my original post and the other responses, I did not know your posts
    existed. I’m mostly responding to John, and I think Fritz’s concerns will
    largely be addressed along the way.


    OLD FOLKS: Career coaches have little to gain by getting
    involved in highly-charged conversations about equality in debate. If I’m one
    of the debate kingpins, I’m getting along pretty well with things as they are.
    If my views on change offend enough people, I may suffer the loss of a large
    portion of my social group. I may make a commitment I find costly to keep (or
    break). I may be trapped into defending my individual practices, which might
    well put my job in jeopardy. Or, I can wait for a bunch of kids to go away and
    leave me alone. It’s easy to offend people here, as I think is demonstrated by
    people taking my comments to disparage women. It appears that donating time and
    money to diversity efforts, engaging in empirical studies of discrimination in
    debate, and having students run gender praxis cases doesn’t buy much goodwill
    in interpretation. If I saw a post by a debater or coach that could be taken
    multiple ways, and one of those ways was offensive, I would assume they meant
    the other one – especially if the person had somehow managed to be something
    other than a pariah after more than a decade of involvement in debate.


    Also, I think debate is a very valuable and important “fun
    game,” but I’m not making a career out of it. I may judge a couple tournaments
    a year indefinitely as a way of giving back, or just open up the checkbook when
    a local team needs some entry fees, but my career is academic and legal
    research. I do debate for fun. I’ve lost money on my participation for the last
    several years.


    QUOTAS: Not in debate, they don’t. You could get every black
    debater qualified to the TOC over the past 9 years and you couldn’t
    proportionately staff camps without recycling them. This is sad, but I don’t
    think rampant racism in the national circuit debate community is likely the major
    problem.  The claim that women make up
    1/3 of the best instructors if gender is heavily weighted (presumably in favor
    of women) in the evaluation process is true by definition. Of course, if you
    weight any factor heavily enough in an evaluation process, assuming 1/3 of the
    people evaluated possess that factor, 1/3 of the best people according to evaluation process will have that factor.


    VALUE OF SKILL FOR CAMP INSTRUCTORS: Someone cannot convey
    knowledge they do not have or demonstrate a skill they do not have. Thus, skill
    in debate is important for instructor quality. I doubt that camps have good
    ways to discern instructor quality independent of success. There are regional
    diversity considerations, which are important for skill-based reasons (there is
    strong evidence that people from different regions debate differently, while
    there is only limited evidence that people of different sexes debate
    differently) as well as marketing reasons. The fact is that most 18 year olds
    are bad teachers, and all of them are relatively inexperienced teachers. There’s
    very little info about how they lead a class, and that info is unevenly
    dispersed (probably part of the reason different camps teach different people
    and there’s a preference for students who attended the camp in the past). Stuff
    like “person X is really bright and does a great job teaching Novices despite
    only earning 0/1/2 bids” is something a coach might know. Students of the
    well-connected might get camp opportunities they would otherwise be denied on
    the basis of that knowledge, though this entrenches a privilege at least as
    pernicious as the one it’s breaking down. “The
    best instructors are the ones who know debate well, are motivated to teach
    well, have a passion for the activity, can work well with other instructors,
    are willing to go the extra mile to help other students, and are willing to be
    patient, supportive, and kind when helping students who aren’t as skilled as
    they are.“ Sadly, knowledge of which student
    is most passionate or patient is not widely disseminated, and using this
    criterion is no more likely to privilege women than men.


    FEMALE SKILL VS. FEMALE SUCCESS: I grant that if there are
    reasons to believe that women are systematically caused to do less well than
    they otherwise would due to biases, then female success is not a good proxy for
    female skill. Actually, it is still a good proxy, but not as good a proxy as it
    would be if there weren’t such bias. After trying really, really hard to find
    evidence that this was the case (at least at the TOC), I couldn’t. Believe me,
    if I could have chosen my findings, there would have been lots of sex discrimination.
    That is a much sexier story to sell to publications. It’s possible both male
    and female judges undervalue female competitors, but that’s a different sexism
    story than anyone is telling here.  There
    are plenty of reasons given why there may be fewer female debaters at the top
    than there would otherwise be, but in-round discrimination just isn’t one that’s
    been justified. Whatever trials female debaters face, it appears reasonable to
    believe that judges are making skill-based decisions free of sex discrimination.


    is a great deal of relatively worthless speech. I don’t have a definition I
    prefer, and the lack of a brightline definition is not a problem for me because
    I advocate informal sanctions, which don’t need formal rules to implement. Still,
    kicking someone out of a tournament (formal response) for calling someone a
    name seems disproportionate. Shunning them, helping an opponent prep them out,
    confronting them, speaking to their coach and letting the coach deal with it as
    s/he sees fit (informal responses) seem better. They can be tailored to the
    offender in terms of culpability (e.g. generally good guy who says something
    unusual in anger or didn’t know something would be offensive to a given
    audience vs. asshole who engages in calculated insults to upset an opponent for
    a competitive advantage) and effectiveness in correcting behavior.  With that in mind, I think that just because
    insults are gendered doesn’t make use of a gendered insult sexist. I’m trying
    to remember the last time I heard a woman referred to as a wimp, asshole,
    douche (interestingly), bastard, etc. and coming up empty, but calling a guy
    one of these things doesn’t make one sexist. I’m not sure “bitch” is currently anything
    more than the female form of “asshole” or “bastard” in modern speech, but I’d
    be open to persuasion otherwise.


    DISCRIMINATION: Sex discrimination is bad. Discrimination
    based on political or religious belief can be good. I routinely discriminate
    against people who believe stupid things – calling idiocy “religion” doesn’t
    save it. If your pledge is limited to sex discrimination, then I have no
    objection to that portion of it. 

    • Chad, why are rigid, formal rules okay when they’re used to exclude women from camp teaching positions, but not when they’re used to punish debaters making sexist comments? Why does “wide dissemination” of information regarding the skill of a teacher matter at all in the hiring process? If the person in charge of hiring at a particular camp deems a female debater a good hire, that’s their prerogative. As far as privilege goes, I have a very hard time believing that students who do achieve the blockbuster TOC outrounds status you seem to think ought to be a bare minimum requirement aren’t far more privileged than some less successful debaters from smaller schools whom camp directors happen to like. 

      As far as insults go, I think that context is clearly important. It’s pretty easy (for me at least) to see whether a word like “bitch” is being used in a sexist way. But I think that you really underestimate the scope of sexist comments. It’s not just a few debaters calling women bitches. Tons of people have told stories of very, very overtly sexist comments that cast women as nothing more than sexual tools for men. These are obvious and obviously unacceptable. Even if you made one of these comments while you were pissed off, it’s hard to see why that excuses you for conduct that, as many female debaters here have testified, can threaten a debater’s participation in the activity. But beyond that, the double standard is problematic, too. Quite simply, men are rarely called “assholes” on ballots. Women frequently are called “bitches.” To me, that’s a problem.

      A final note: I think that your defense of gender disparity at the top ironically reveals the very problem you’re trying to deny. It’s true that there are a lot of girls in the “lower levels” of debate. There ARE a lot of girls who decide to try debate, go to a few local tournaments, stay a year or two, get exposed to the people in the activity, AND THEN QUIT. From posts like Chris Theis’ below, this seems to me to be indicative of men actively forcing women out of the activity, not simply a loss of interest. That’s bad. Even if women are somehow not “meant” for debate, if they want to compete, then it’s wrong for chauvinism to deny them that opportunity. 

      Finally, while I respect your years of experience and commitment to the activity and I want to assume good faith, I find it hard to construe your suggestion that women shy away from “challenging” (your word, not mine) activities as anything but offensive. 

      • WHY WOMEN LEAVE: I have no idea why women leave, but doubt it’s because women are disproportionately scared of a challenge.  Both men and women leave when they recognize they won’t be successful, and I consider it no more (or less) likely that women are systemically scared to take on challenges than men are disproportionately likely to overestimate their abilities. Neither has any female debater of mine offered sexist behavior by others as a reason for leaving debate, though they frequently give the same reasons men do (got bored, too much time, takes away from AP studies, etc.). I can only think of 2 instances of sexist behavior towards my debaters in 10 years (though I mostly work with guys). 

        RULES: Formal rules are costly regardless of the context. I think the presumption against formal rules is pretty strong, and is only overcome by a strong need to know standards of behavior and punishments in advance and discretion is likely to lead to bad decisions (e.g. criminal law, large workplaces). In essence, if you’re going to have a rule, then in order to get the benefits of a rule, it needs to be a clear one that people can conform their behavior to. “Don’t be sexist or you’re kicked out of the tournament,” is hardly a rule of this type. 
        REALLY BAD COMMENTS: OK. I grant that there is a set of comments that are absolutely inexcusable in a competitive educational environment (keeping in mind that this is a really high threshold for me). In that case, why do we need a sexism policy? Why a special ombudsman? I thought tournaments could always kick these people out, or at least “encourage” the coach to withdraw the student. Of course clear threats of rape or assault, sexual harassment, or other gross misbehavior should be punished. 

        Make people defend their individual decisions – camp hires, (not) kicking people out of tournaments, making sexist comments, etc. We can engage in moral judgment without a pledge, set of rules, or other legalistic framework for behavior. Just do what’s right. 

  • Anonymous

    On my team, I have tried to persuade girls to go to the dungeon (as we affectionately refer to the LD room) but they find the obsessive nature of the activity (round the clock research and all consuming schedule, etc) to prevent them from including LD in a longer list of activities. 

    As for being a director of debate who is relatively new on the scene it’s rather awkward for me. With the exception of a few months of policy debate my junior year (should the federal govt employ all employable united states citizens living in poverty-for anyone who can remember back that far), my experience with debate was rather limited. Trying to learn as much as I can in the last four years about debate (all formats), IEs, running a team, shrinking burgeoning egos (aka knocking heads together), etc has had it’s challenges and being a woman at this echelon in the community presents with similar difficulties to my sisters in round. I have had good support from my male counterparts via email, but when we are all in that room and it’s just me and maybe Lexy or Sharon, I always feel like i’ve stepped in something. It’s been hard breaking in/breaking ice/etc. 

    Getting respect in the community comes with time (like in any other cadre I’d imagine) but it’s chilly sometimes on the circuit for me and I have to will myself each year with a little pep talk: be outgoing and don’t be scared off, your kids deserve to have this program, these good ole boys love this game as much as you do so continue to shoulder in as best you can. Well that ought to do it for the coming year I’d imagine!

  • Anonymous

    I find it ironic that Fritz Pielstick continues to self-righteously lambast gender discrimination (i.e. name-calling females in the debate community,) yet on Lizzie Tao’s picture, he alluded to her being a ho. And well, I think we all know what a ho is. He rightfully deleted his comment on the picture, but ask those who had any activity with the photo – or Lizzie herself – and they’ll attest to his comment. “You’re a sick fuck Fritz I’m like 2 in this photo” –> Lizzie

    Anyways, I just think that instead of preaching against gender discrimination and problems in the “Debate community” on a website, I think we should actually censor our own bigoted behavior, ESPECIALLY on such a universal medium like Facebook. 

    • I meant it as a joke, obviously. I realized soon afterwards that it probably wasn’t appropriate, joke or not, deleted the comment, and then apologized. As far as I know, Lizzie wasn’t actually offended, but I apologized anyway. I Can’t say the same for a lot of people in this activity who say awful stuff (and actually mean it).
      If you read one of my earlier posts on this thread (buried in the depths of page 5 or whatever) I mentioned that I have said some pretty terrible stuff about people in this activity, both male and female. I think we all have. I feel remorseful about a lot of the things that I have said and realize that getting caught up in the heat of competition is not a sufficient excuse for being an asshole. That doesn’t mean that any of the arguments I made about how our actions have made debate less friendly for women are any less true. If you want to call me a hypocrite, that’s fine. I would appreciate it if you would at least (a) let everyone know who you are (I assume Victoria Bloom is not actually your name. I checked Lizzie’s list of Facebook friends. She doesn’t have any Facebook friends with that name) so that you can be held equally accountable for any of the stupid shit you have undoubtedly said during your involvement with this activity and (b) actually contribute something substantive and meaningful to the dialogue of this conversation.

      • I don’t know you personally, but I do know that you definitely haven’t yet “contribute[d] something substantive and meaningful to the dialogue of this conversation”. So yeah, I think it’s safe to “call [you] a hypocrite”.

        • Rebar Niemi

          thank you ryan socha (the subject not the object) for modeling proper ostracizing technique for all of us. 
          happy hannukah. 

          • Merry new year, I now feel like you weren’t trying to mock so much as act whimsically and then later defend yourself through mockery, so I now appreciate your comments.

            I just reread that and it doesn’t make much sense and I don’t want to rewrite it so feel free to ignore all but the “I now appreciate your comments” part.

  • Anonymous

    I find it ironic that Fritz Pielstick continues to self-righteously lambast gender discrimination (i.e. name-calling females in the debate community,) yet on Lizzie Tao’s picture, he alluded to her being a ho. And well, I think we all know what a ho is. He rightfully deleted his comment on the picture, but ask those who had any activity with the photo – or Lizzie herself – and they’ll attest to his comment. “You’re a sick fuck Fritz I’m like 2 in this photo” –> Lizzie

    Anyways, I just think that instead of preaching against gender discrimination and problems in the “Debate community” on a website, I think we should actually censor our own bigoted behavior, ESPECIALLY on such a universal medium like Facebook. 

  • Anonymous

    I find it ironic that Fritz Pielstick continues to self-righteously lambast gender discrimination (i.e. name-calling females in the debate community,) yet on Lizzie Tao’s picture, he alluded to her being a ho. And well, I think we all know what a ho is. He rightfully deleted his comment on the picture, but ask those who had any activity with the photo – or Lizzie herself – and they’ll attest to his comment. “You’re a sick fuck Fritz I’m like 2 in this photo” –> Lizzie

    Anyways, I just think that instead of preaching against gender discrimination and problems in the “Debate community” on a website, I think we should actually censor our own bigoted behavior, ESPECIALLY on such a universal medium like Facebook. 

  • Rebar Niemi

    this has turned into a very perplexing version of this conversation. also i hate this commenting layout.

  • This is similar to what Ellen said, but it just is not true that women make up a small proportion of outrounds simply because they make up a small proportion of the overall field. It is very odd to me that people keep asserting this fact without taking 20 minutes to open up some tournament packets and count. Statements to this end include: “I think that one of the main factors causing women to perform relatively worse is the low number of women within debate.””It is less likely that women will win debates if there are less women debating. This is the only argument I have ever advanced.” “If you look at most nat circuit tournaments from the past 3+ years, you’ll find that the percentage of women represented in outrounds given the total amount of female participants in the pool is almost always equal or higher to the respective male percentage.  Yes, more substantial statistical research should be conducted (again this is just my quick observation after skimming various tournament results packets on planetdebate/joy)”This really doesn’t require substantial statistical research, at least not to get a vague sense that women are underrepresented in outrounds. Your “quick observation” is dead wrong. As Ellen mentioned, she and I both did stat projects on the 2009-2010 season. Women made up 40.57% of the collective fields at octos bids, but only 29.3% of debaters in doubles were female. I was interested with whether this trend holds true this year, so I did some counting, and it does. For Greenhill, Valley, St. Mark’s, Bronx, Glenbrooks, and Apple Valley, 32.6% of the competitors were female while only 24% of those who reached doubles were female. Here are the tournament-specific numbers for this year, the format being “number of females/number of competitors overall = percentage of females.”GREENHILLPrelims: 36/108 = 33.3%Doubles: 6/32 = 18.75%ST. MARKSPrelims: 31/98 = 31.6%Doubles: 7/32 = 21.9%APPLE VALLEYPrelims: 51/155 = 32.9%Doubles: 8/32 = 25%GLENBROOKSPrelims: 51/159 = 32.1%Doubles: 6/32 = 18.75%BRONXPrelims: 53/169 = 31.4%Doubles: 8/32 = 25%VALLEYPrelims: 40/114 = 35.1%Doubles: 11/32 = 34.4%For the 2009-2010 numbers, I did some (admittedly amateur) statistical analysis. For this year, these are just raw numbers, I didn’t perform any tests. It still seems pretty obvious that female debaters just don’t win as much as male debaters. Yes, there are fewer women debating. But even taking that into account, the fact that there is a smaller percentage of females in outrounds than in prelims means women win less. The most interesting thing about these numbers to me, actually, is that there seem to be substantially fewer women (relative to the number of men) competing at these tournaments than in the 09-10 season. That can’t be a good sign.Women do win less than men, and not just because there are fewer of them. If you deny the influence of bias (however indirect or unintentional) or aspects of debate culture that turn away women, then you’re basically just saying that for some inherent or genetic reason, women can’t debate as well as men. As history suggests, one of the easiest ways to entrench discrimination (again, however indirect or unintentional) is to avoid dealing with it by attributing it to biological differences.

    • I said that “I think that one of the main factors causing women to perform relatively worse is the low number of women within debate” and that “It is less likely that women will win debates if there are less women debating”, but that’s clearly distinct from saying “that women make up a small proportion of outrounds simply because they make up a small proportion of the overall field”.

      I’ve repeatedly acknowledged the existence of bias, and in fact given the above analysis from results packets it’s probably more prevalent than I initially thought. I’ve been repeatedly portrayed within these comments as holding views that I do not hold, and I dislike that. I now agree that women are systematically getting results that seem unlikely, and that this is mostly due to bias.

      I also disagree with your statement that “If you deny the influence of bias… that turn[s] away women, then you’re basically just saying that.. women can’t debate as well as men”. This is an obvious oversimplification. Smart women may be less likely to participate within debates than smart men for some reason, or they might be less likely to choose objectively good strategies within debates for some reason or (most probable) there’s some interaction other than bias which hasn’t been discussed but which is also having an impact.

      I don’t really think either of those two possibilities are true, but it’s important to recognize that they are possibilities. There are explanations for the poor success of women within debate that don’t solely revolve around the inherent culture of debate or judge bias, and analyzing those explanations is probably also important. Claiming that all women are bad at debate is different from claiming that bias fails to entirely explain the poor W/L ratio of women in debate. It’s important to recognize that.

      I don’t like oversimplifications.

      • Rebar Niemi

        i’m succeeding at helping too. 

        do you like ayn rand?
        i wish i had a legion of rebar niemis, ryan you have given me a great idea (actually reinforced a previous idea i had)

        also, i’m curious… are you a current or former debate coach?

        • I’m a debater on a small local circuit where most judges get offended if I question the value of justice. National circuit kids are really lucky; they generally don’t realize how much comparatively better their judges are and how much of an impact that has on their debate abilities.

          But, this is probably one of the reasons that I haven’t seen any overt sexism, and thus find it difficult to believe in implicit sexism within debate culture. It may very well be present on the national circuit, and it’s probably present to some extent on my circuit, but I think it’s probably more prevalent in the hypercompetitive atmosphere of the national circuit.

          • The most pernicious sexism isn’t overt sexism. The most pernicious sexism happens behind closed doors or in some place where there’s no one to hear it or see it except for the woman and the man. It could happen in the relative privacy of the ballot, which obviously prevents the judge from the burden of saying awful things to a debater’s face. It could happen between two men talking about a female debater “behind her back” or whatever you want to call it. I guarantee you it’s not just a national circuit problem, as attested to by Chris Theis elsewhere on this thread. 

            There’s nothing easier than see no evil, hear no evil, but that just intensifies the problem. Beneath the veneer of our first world civilized country, the Justice Department estimates that as many as 150,000 women have been sold into sex slavery in the US since 2001. Prominent, successful men abuse their wives every day. The “it’s someone else’s problem” mentality is the worst possible abdication of responsibility. 

          • I dislike claims of invisible violence because they’re extremely difficult to falsify. The Justice Department estimates that 150,000 women have been sold into sex slavery, but why did they choose that number instead of 100,000 or 200,000? That question is unanswerable, the best possible quantification of invisible violence will still only be a rough guess. I’m largely saying that we should be skeptical of specific quantifications, and I’m also saying that to assume sexism is homogenously distributed is ignorant.

            I never denied the existence of implicit sexism, and I never said that it’s not my problem. The people in these comments seem to have a huge problem with strawmen*, and that includes you.

            *The gendered language is used only for aesthetic purposes, as “the people… with strawpeople” sounds odd, and “the people… with strawomen” looks odd to me, and sort of makes it look like I’m trying to take a shot at women. I’m also obviously not trying to take a shot at men either though. This was my compromise, also intentions matter and not words, so let it be.

          • Rebar Niemi


            as a debater and coach on both the local and national circuits… and i can guarantee you that Washington state has some local circuits that are just as bad as where ever you hail from, it’s not a problem solely with the national circuit.

            i agree, they’re really lucky, many are very privileged, and many don’t recognize that. but the luck and privilege and wealth are merely modifiers on what already exists.

            i think you may be right that the national circuit can heighten some forms of negative behavior. but to say that you don’t believe in implicit sexism in debate makes you sound ignorant, not healthily skeptical. 

      • Karlyn Gorski

        You repeatedly reference “factors other than either bias or biology” as an explanation, without ever mentioning what those factors are. At that point, you leave us with three options.

        1) Smart women are less likely to participate. We’ve discussed this; as per Jane’s stats, this is true, but women are still underrepresented in elims. So, there must be something more.

        2) Women are less likely to choose good strategies. You seem to admit that this is unlikely. I agree — arguing for this option would be one of the most sexist things I can think of.

        3) There is something else.

        Without telling us what the “something else” is (something other than bias), while agreeing that the difference can’t just be due to fewer women participating, the only option left seems to be that women are just worse debaters. 

        Women aren’t in outrounds as much. If women are just as good at debate as men, then it is caused by bias. If women aren’t as good at debate, that would explain it too. The only other way to explain the discrepancy is that both women aren’t as good at debate as men, and there is bias. 

        You say that “I strongly suspect that even if bias was wholly eliminated from debates we’d see a difference in the W/L records of certain categories due both to chance and to factors other than either bias or biology.” Since “chance” would work both ways and ultimately even out, we are not looking to chance, bias, or biology. I don’t know what you mean by biology (women have higher voices and are shorter and less muscular?), but what other factors could possibly exist other than “women don’t debate as well”?

  • Rebar Niemi

    what is a “Ryan Socha”?

    • Says the “Rebar Niemi”…

      • Rebar Niemi

        i don’t believe in independent self reflective entities. more importantly, the notion that those are opposed to objects is ludicrous. relations are important. communications are important. subjects and objects are fictions of fascist control. 

        familiarity is for big box stores and burgers, i’m in the game to make a unique brand name. 

        i have a lack of maturity and very little moral purity. it’s very humorous you think that i would be hurt by your insulting those qualities. 

        on the other hand, i am sort of insulted by a. your whiteboy privilege b. the allegation of groupthink and c. the notion that there are other “Rebar Niemis” on this website. i might be a multiplicity, but i’m a singular multiplicity. jus lik u.

        in conclusion, thou doth protest too much. 

        happy hannukah.

        • Seriously though, I don’t like being referred to as an object. I understand that you understand Baudrillard or whoever, but within popular discourse referring to things as objects is meant to belittle and mock them. You’re not an idiot, so you know that, but you’re choosing to ignore it because mockery provides you with an excellent mechanism for manipulating the groupthinkers and bolstering your own ego.

          The groupthinking is obvious in that I’ve made several excellent points that have yet to be addressed by anyone yet no one else is supporting my analysis or liking my comments. I get called names and mocked despite my good points, and that’s frustrating. That type of feedback makes others who have minority opinions want to keep them to themselves.

          You’re definitely not contributing to this conversation. You’re doing nothing productive for women in debate. I think it’s obvious to anyone who notices the sexism within our community that mockery can be a tool which demeans individuals. You thus replicate the type of tactics which are being criticized in this discussion. Don’t be an ass.

          • “You’re doing nothing productive for women in debate.” I really don’t think that you have the right to say this. Rebar has been a committed coach and educator to multiple female debaters whom I know personally. You have said insulting things on an internet forum. I don’t think you have the high ground here. 

          • Really, you’re going to assert that I don’t have the right to voice an opinion? If Rebar’s Hannukah comment did anything to help women in debate, I’m certainly not aware of it. If it boosted the caliber of this discussion that’s also surprising to me. Perhaps you could elaborate as to what in his comment was so wonderful?

            In my opinion, his comment was detrimental to the discussion because it distracted from the substantive points I was making. He’s repeatedly asked me about irrelevant personal issues in an attempt to discredit my own personal validity as a speaking entity. His mockery was an attempt to accomplish the same.

            I was indirectly accused of bigotry, and I reacted, and later apologized for my overly virulent discourse. None of this means that I’ve forfeited the “moral high ground” or that possessing the “moral high ground” is a prerequisite to my right to speak.

            Everyone is insulting on the internet, and trying to discredit my right to voice opinions is much more insulting than me calling someone an asshole because they misrepresented my arguments in such a way that associated me with sexism.

            Suppressing dissent is never beneficial. Don’t attempt to revoke my right to speak, and don’t deny the validity of my arguments based on personal labels or the strawmen positions that you associate with me.

            It’s my arguments that you should be addressing, not my person.

          • Rebar Niemi

            i should hope that this website isn’t a forum for popular discourse. the term “PoMo” (ugh the scare quotes are rly necessary for that disgusting contraction) is completely inaccurate and inapplicable. nice try.

            my whole point was that i’m not mocking you – i don’t know you and don’t profess to. the thing is i know most of the other people on this thread, but i don’t know you – which is why i asked the ether what you are. you were free to respond in whatever form, you clearly decided that defensive maneuvers were in order. i appreciate that above you outlined more of your background and perspective.

            if you would prefer to be limited to some sort of kantian ideal of subjectivity, i would be happy to oblige you. please do me the courtesy of NOT referring to me like i give a shit about my ego or chilling with mah frenz on the internet. most of the ppl posting here don’t talk to me that often either and probably wouldn’t jump at the chance to lump themselves in with me in regard to any cause.
            the sheer diversity of posts on this thread should indicate that there is no groupthink present, the only thing that people have a problem with collectively is either outright prejudice or the continued assertion that “women are just worse at debate”if you think i am mocking you, i guess i am. i suppose when you’re one of those idealized “not-object” subjects you have an ego that necessitates defending and can be wounded. 

            i have not called you a single name or term you did not pick for yourself or attribute to yourself. are you a libertarian? 

          • Anonymous

            To be fair, I think the lack of likes is more indicative of your calling names earlier in the conversation; people didn’t want to endorse that antagonism. I don’t think the lack of likes indicates groupthink, though: another debater posted their agreement with you (in a more civil tone), and John Lewis noted that they raised some good points. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m certainly not disagreeing with you because other people are. I think people are disagreeing with you because they disagree. (PS toning done the insults was/is much appreciated.)

          • I understand where you’re coming from, but the sheer quantity of likes on the posts of those who make fun of me as opposed to the likes of my posts suggests otherwise to me.

            Rebar’s “hanukkah” comment above has five likes. You can’t convince me that those likes are the product of rational deliberation by unbiased parties, because there’s nothing valuable within that comment, only rudeness.

          • Rebar Niemi

            WHAT EXACTLY IS WRONG WITH HANNUKAH?!?!?!?! i was being sincere.

          • Ryan, I think that complaining about being attacked from all angles by various members of the debate community and being made to feel almost universally unwelcome is the closest you will ever get to understanding what it is like to be a woman on the national circuit.

          • Wait, so what is your point?

            Is it that I’m not qualified to speak because I’m not a woman? Or that I must be a heartless soul devoid of empathy because I dislike quotas? I don’t think either of those interpretations reflect favorably on you.

            Maybe you’re saying that I shouldn’t be upset at what I perceive as unjust treatment because there are bigger problems? I disagree, I think that all problems should be addressed and that mockery is both inherently bad and suppresses earnest discussion of these issues, thus indirectly harming those who’d benefit from these discussions. Anyone who has read the beginning of Butler’s “Precarious Life” will understand the point I’m trying to make here.

            I don’t think you’re contributing to the conversation and I don’t know why you feel the need to chastise me, but you should stop.

            Seriously, I want to help women in debate too.

          •  “People need to stop being idiots.”…
             “That means the mockery and personal attacks need to stop,”

            I LOL’D

          • Targeting the abstract “people” is obviously different from going after specific individuals.

            It is idiotic to make personal attacks. There’s no contradiction in my saying so.

            Even if I’m making personal attacks, I’m only doing it insofar as it’s necessary to stop other personal attacks. My goal is to get the conversation back on track and for the ironic “I LOL’D” all caps nonsense to stop. It’s not helpful.

  • I appreciated watching the discussion unfold about a year ago (has it been that long?), but I don’t think much has happened since then. It’s true that change takes time, but I’m pretty sure people have forgotten. Jokes and snide remarks were being made about females in the community as few as a two or three weeks after the thread exploded. It was a sensitive issue for a few days and then the whole thing turned into something to make fun of. People (including the boys who a) said they were sorry and b) the thread was mainly meant to address) joked about the forum itself and derided it.

    The image of debate as a boys’ club isn’t too far from the truth sometimes. At an RR last year, some of the most successful boys point-blank asked me to discuss a girl’s sex life and the boys she’d hooked up with in the debate community. They wouldn’t take no for an answer and excitedly pushed me to say something; they only stopped when someone quietly spoke up and said this was probably unfair to me. I was also in a lab of mostly males one summer and honestly, that was kind of scarring. I felt pretty compelled to quit after experiences like these. I don’t think most people are intentionally mean-spirited but it’s important to be aware of this stuff.

    I am largely out of the debate community and have been for a while, but there are a few things I have noticed:

    1) I was not a particularly important figure in the debate community, but even so, I’ve heard stories about myself and my dating/sex life that were laughably untrue. Apparently, I’ve given blowjobs to people between rounds behind school buildings. I am also apparently a “cheating whore,” among other charitable names.

    I gave up defending myself because it was pointless. Yes, it’s true – this is an issue everyone faces, both in and out of the debate world (non-unique, blah blah). But I’m pretty sure it’s more acute in the debate world: I’ve been gone for quite a while now and I still hear things about myself that quite frankly make me very glad I’m not as involved. Relatively speaking, I’m pretty sure i was one of the least-talked about girls in debate, but I still felt/feel extremely uncomfortable sometimes.

    Moreover, even if these stories of girls are true, I have no idea why it’s anyone’s business. If any of you actually care about having more female role models in the debate community, people need to stop thinking it’s acceptable to make shit up. I know it’s human instinct, but I’m pretty sure that’s never been an adequate excuse for negative types of behavior. Also, if this is a serious issue we as a community care about (instead of just professing interest and then abandoning the cause), active resistance against this behavior is absolutely necessary. It’s simple: either this is an issue we care about, and we should make the effort, or we should stop making these threads and having these discussions with a half-assed effort that doesn’t actually do anything.

    2) There have been some pretty offensive posts that have been published in the name of trying to solve the issue. Saying that certain girls’ success at tournaments like CFLs are because they “speak pretty” perpetuate the problem: attributing female success to something gender-related and not talent-related is incredibly problematic. Has anyone ever considered that these “circuit tournaments” are the epitome of the male-dominated culture? Judging rounds totally objectively is almost impossible, and the community’s bias towards the successful boys definitely bleeds into decisions made at tournaments. Maybe success at these tournaments is skewed sometimes because lots of the judges are involved enough in the community to know the perceptions of the people they judge. Maybe females and males start on a more equal footing at lay tournaments because there are fewer pre-conceived notions of who is good, which is especially important in light of the fact that the community worships these male debaters. Obviously, I still think it’s an incredible accomplishment to win these big tournaments and boys don’t win just because they’re boys and girls don’t lose just because they’re girls, but I think it helps explain the disparity between circuit and lay tournaments a little.

    Also, last time I checked, boys can also “speak pretty.” I think this mindset particularly undermines girls’ achievements, which is an added incentive for them to leave an activity that does not give them the recognition they deserve.

    3) Lastly, just as a caveat, sometimes girls are the most heinous offenders of the disrespect I’ve been talking about. There are also always circles of girls discussing other girls’ actions. To paint this as an issue perpetuated only by the elitist boys is a misrepresentation of the issue that has unfortunately pervaded our discussions of this gender disparity.

    As someone who wished there had been female role models for me, I understand that I might deservedly receive criticism for not giving back to the community as much as I can. While it’s true that females should stay in order to help the girls who cry when they hear rumors about them, the girls who can’t break into the tight-knit circles of boys at camps, and the girls who suffer from self-esteem issues… think about what incentives exist for females to stay in this environment for a long time. I have lots of great memories from this activity but this issue is big enough that it’s definitely a deterrent to staying deeply involved.

  • David:

    Generally, female debaters have performed worse than male debaters.
    Generally, the most skilled women within debates are less skilled than
    the most skilled men. This is proven by their win loss records. These win loss records are
    undoubtedly influenced by bias, but are also undoubtedly influenced by
    skill as well. I’m contending that skill is probably more responsible than bias. This isn’t to say that women must be worse at debate, but that they empirically have been.

    There is no evidence to support the assumption that the generally poorer win loss records of females within debates are solely a consequence of judge bias. It’s your burden to prove that most judges are biased before you accuse me of being offensive or sexist. I have repeatedly acknowledged that judge bias exists, however I think that one of the
    main factors causing women to perform relatively worse is the low number
    of women within debate.

    It is less likely that women will win debates if there are less women debating. This is the only argument I have ever advanced. You are completely misreading my comments if you think I’ve ever
    suggested anything similar to the claim that “she should have lost by
    virtue of being female”. I don’t come anywhere close to that remark.

    Either this misreading is intentional, and you’re super dishonest, or
    it’s accidental, and you probably shouldn’t have graduated high school. I’m offended that I’m being called sexist for my arguments when they
    haven’t been addressed. You’re building strawpeople, not addressing the
    actual analysis.

    It’s offensive and does your credibility harm when you
    accuse me of doing something I haven’t done. I’m not saying that women should lose because they are women, I’m saying it’s less likely they’ll win or be the most skilled debaters because there aren’t very many women who are debating.

    • Ryan, even if your argument that women are less successful just because there are fewer of them (which I would still contest given Ellen and Jane’s analysis of previous tournaments), the point is that it shouldn’t be that way. There is nothing, as you acknowledge, that makes women worse at debate solely because of gender. John Lewis’s proposal seeks to remedy the fact that fewer women participate in debate which, as many have attested to, IS likely a product of sexism, fewer role models, etc. If setting out guidelines that encourage women to participate in debate in the long run is possible, then what you previously said about “babying” girls in debate isn’t at all what the suggestions do – instead, they allow steps to be taken to undercut what has been both empirically and anecdotally proven to be an issue.

      • I don’t understand the connection between boycotting tournaments based on a woman judge quota and increasing female participation. Did I miss something here?

        • Female judge participation, at least in my opinion, is a pretty big way in which girls can see themselves as staying in the activity in the long run. When there are only 3 women total judging in outrounds of tournaments like the Glenbrooks and only one of those women judging past octos, that seems to be pretty disheartening for girls who see how little participation there is past high school. Judging is also another way to get women more involved and may influence, for example, camp or coaching hires. Camps generally seem to prefer people who are involved in debate more as instructors and judging is a great way to maintain that involvement.

          • Ok, so this is based on the assumption that there are great women judges available who aren’t getting hired, but who would be hired if only these tournament directors weren’t so sexist? And it’s also based on the assumption that the boycott will work to increase woman judge participation?

            Because I’ve never seen a tournament director reject any judge. This might not be true at a more general level, but on my circuit they’re always desperate for more judges and are usually understaffed. It seems like they’d be hiring the women judges if the women judges were volunteering. Do you have any evidence, even anecdotal, which suggests that qualified female judges have volunteered and been rejected without a reasonable rationale?

            I also don’t understand:
            1. Why the current number of awesome women within debate isn’t enough to provide for role models within the activity.
            2. Why “girls… see[ing] themselves as staying in the activity in the long run” would be a relevant factor in their decision to compete or to not compete in debate.
            3.  Why those girls would need a significant number of women judges in order to see themselves as similar to those judges, and  to thus make the decision to stay in the activity in the long run.
            4. Why the boycott would even work.

          • Anonymous

            Regardless of your criticisms/indicts of hiring more women or placing quotas on the amount, I think John’s proposal has an interesting point about MJP. If each a male and a female judges are mutual 1s, and the tournament puts the woman on the panel, I think that avoids a lot of your criticisms about “low-quality” female judges or improper tradeoffs. Would you agree that’s a good solution?

          • Yeah, I’d be fine with that.

  • I might have more to say later, but for now I just want to indicate that I’m on board with John Lewis’s proposal (although I have no dog in this fight). For now, here’s one small, easy-to-implement proposal for tournament directors that might help ease gender inequality: if a competitor or a judge uses derogatory language, either in a ballot, an RFD, or in a speech, that person is kicked out of the tournament. Period, full stop. The problem (among others) is that there is no consequence for misogyny, and this seems like an effective way to create one. (I’ll add that if I am judging at the Harvard tournament, which I may or may not do, I’ll drop anyone who uses derogatory language, no questions asked. Y’all have been forewarned.)

    • This seems like a good policy, but given the issues with brightline mentioned before it seems reasonable to discuss the issue with the individuals involved before they’re kicked out of the tournament. What a project affirmative finds racist or sexist might have been a legitimately innocent argument by their opponent. Discussing the issues with the people involved is more likely to resolve the underlying issues and less likely to breed resentment. It would also prevent overreaction to legitimately innocent comments.

  • Anonymous

    So this Ryan Socha/Adler debate is quite interesting, but also getting out of hand.  I think Socha handles himself very terribly, but at the same time, I think there is truth to some of his claims. 

    If you look at most nat circuit tournaments from the past 3+ years, you’ll find that the percentage of women represented in outrounds given the total amount of female participants in the pool is almost always equal or higher to the respective male percentage.  Yes, more substantial statistical research should be conducted (again this is just my quick observation after skimming various tournament results packets on planetdebate/joy), but it seems pretty hard to conclude that actual in-round bias occurs to the detriment of female debaters.  I think this has been agreed upon to some extent in the thread.

    I think there are definitely enough anecdotes to conclude that there is some sort of out-of-round sexism apparent in the community, but it doesn’t seem to follow that affirmative action-like policies should be implemented, for a couple of reasons.

    First, these affirmative action policies only have the potential to have a positive effect IF women are more interested in the debate community initially that what it currently seems.  It would be interesting to see a formal study done on retention rates, but at least from my experience, less women are interested in LD debate than men.  This is not sexist in any way.  I know female debaters who dropped out of the activity for reasons like schoolwork, other priorities, etc, in the same way I know males who have.  Im sure there are cases where females experience some sort of trouble and drop out.  Im sure there are cases when males experience the same sort of trouble (ie a coach of mine dropped out his senior year because of a relationship issue with another debater). But Ive also seen just as many male debaters drop out for sexual orientation, religious affiliation, disability, etc.  What seems to logically follow is for everybody to be more cognizant of how they act to everybody else.  Dont be so mean.  Its not a matter of being nicer to females, but a matter of being nicer to everybody.  Artifically increasing the number of female hires does not seem to be related the least bit.

    I find it hard to believe that women make up 20% of tournament pools tens and tens of female debaters refuse to go to that tournament because of past negative experiences.  My high school allows females to play football.  But guess what…theres 0 females on the team.  Why?  Because girls aren’t interested.  The debate community’s commitment to self-improvement is a beautiful thing, and attests to the awareness and aptitude of its members, but I doubt many people on this thread would propose that football players not hit as hard so girls may be more interested.  Hitting hard is a natural part of the activity.  Likewise, high stress levels, 24 hr prepping binges, and confrontation seem to be inherent aspects of debate.  That sort of activity seems to be something that generally males flock to.  The fact that an activity has aspects of it that make certain groups prefer it to others is not inherently wrong or bad.  It just so happens that the split, in terms of debate, seems to be one of gender.  It would be different if women are equally interested and barred from participation, but I just dont see this happening. 

    If you look at other forms of debate, this point becomes increasingly clear.  There are way over 50% of competitors in oratory and those events who are females.  Less females participate in policy than in LD.  I think it just has to do with the nature and structure of these activities, and the amount of confrontation involved.  Nobody’s calling for oratory to become more aggressive so more males can enter.  The notion to make something more agressive so it attracts more people seems insane.  I think the converse, when applied to LD, is equally insane.

    With a smaller basis of interested individuals to draw from, less females will “remain” in the activity (or begin it in the first place), less females will be at camps, and less females will become lifers. 

    As for Mr. Socha’s point (and I kind of hate defending this kid because he comes off terribly, but again, I dont think he’s making “dumb” arguments) about male debaters being generally better, I think this is phrased in a very sexist way, but I think the substance of his claim is correct.  If debate attracts more males than women, the chance of an elite debater being a male is higher than being a female.  Denying this would express the inferiority of males, which is sexist.  Likewise, if we were to choose a viable instructor, there is a higher chance that it is a male, because of the comparative number of males in the activity.  THIS DOES NOT RELY ON SOME CORRELATION BETWEEN SUCCESS AND TEACHING APTITUDE.  Those two factors could be independent for all I care, and such logic would still remain true.

    To sum up:

    I love the sharing of ideas in debate, I love the people in debate, and I hope there can be less name-calling for both males and females to make it more welcoming.  I also respect people who love debate, and who welcome the sort of competitive confrontation that I welcome.  But I think there is nothing to justify enacting affirmative action policies, quotas, etc.  And I dont think there are structural barriers to women WHO WANT TO PARTICIPATE. 

    I also dont think good female debaters and good female instructors should be overlooked.  But in all honesty, I dont think they are.  If anything, I think they are sought out even more than male debaters.  I cant think of any male instructors at camps this year who did not qualify to TOC.  I can think of a good amount of female instructors though, who happened to be great instructors.  If anything, camps and teams seem to not utilize that correlation that everybody on this thread is criticizing, although I probably would argue that the correlation does have merit. 

    But once you start tampering with debate policies, and creating artifiicial forms of equity for equity’s sake, debate loses its value.  Its not the activity that has problems.  Its simply the way we interact with one another on a daily basis at and not at tournaments.  These stories on this thread seem to demonstrate how we should behave in the future, but do not speak to the sexism inherent in the activity.

    • Anonymous

      I haven’t gotten too involved in the affirmative action side of this debate, but I’m not sure your statistical analysis at the beginning of your post is accurate. Are you claiming the relative %s of women in who make it to outrounds are the same %s as for men? A few debaters have done studies for AP Stats courses before and posted their results online, Ellen Noble and Jane Kessner among them, and I’m pretty sure the % of female debaters who advance was lower than the % of male debaters who advance. Maybe I’m misremembering the studies; could somebody who has conducted one of these clarify?

      • Anonymous

        that would be my claim.  I can list the tournaments where my observation holds (which also happens to be the ones Ive looked into) if I pull them up later.  Again, it was nothing formal, but rather a quick observation that seems somewhat statistically significant considering how it was an observation I saw in 10/12 tourament packets I looked up (which are primarily octas bids)

        • Anonymous

          That’s interesting. I think the more comprehensive data still conclude oppositely, but it’s something worth considering.

          Either way, I think that would just raise issues of why fewer women are interested in participating in debate. The various accounts of people like Chris Theis about girls dropping out after Novice/JV, for instance, suggest that the community might still be shaping women improperly during those transitions and causing there to be fewer present at tournaments. Basically I don’t think a rate of women in elims equal to the rate of women at the tournament absolves us of a problem.

    • “If you look at most nat circuit tournaments from the past 3+ years, you’ll find that the percentage of women represented in out-rounds given the total amount of female participants in the pool is almost always equal or higher to the respective male percentage.”

      Mmm I just don’t think this is true. Here’s a summary of what Adler’s referring to.

      I know that in 2008 octas bid tournaments there was a big difference between the percent of women in out-rounds compared to the percent of women in the pool. The only tournament where women performed above their expected out-round participant percentage was Harvard. At Apple Valley, Glenbrooks, St. Marks, Emory, Berkeley, VBT and Greenhill there was a substantially lower percent of women in out-rounds compared to the expected percent (percent of women in the pool). For example, at VBT women composed 40% of the pool but were in 21% of out-rounds. At Berkley they were 45% of the field, but only 25% of out rounds. Looking at all the octas bid tournaments, there was a 40% female participation at tournaments and a 29% female participation in out rounds. If you want specific numbers or Jane’s stats analysis, email me at it’s just in tables right now that won’t cut and paste.

      Obviously, comparing these ratios doesn’t take into account grade level which could be important. I’m really not claiming these numbers prove much, but I think straight up “girls are just less likely to join the debate team” doesn’t fully explain what’s going on. Maybe things have dramatically changed since 2008 😛 but a very rough estimate shows that this year Glenbrooks is 31% v. 18.75% and Greenhill is 33% v.18.75%. Also, as I think you agree, the testimonies throughout this thread demonstrate girls have had unique challenges in and out of rounds that impact their desire to stay in the activity. So either way, it seems like there is a problem that deserves out attention.

      When we’re talking about an activity that is such a powerful educational opportunity, I don’t think we should settle on unsubstantiated theories to explain these trends and then assert there’s no real problem.

    • I think you raise some fair points. I want to respond to
      your post in part because it offers a chance to flesh out the argument for
      affirmative action policies a bit more, as well as direct the conversation
      towards other parts of my proposal that I think are equally important, and
      explain how they interact.

      Admittedly, the available statistical evidence is weak. If I
      had time, and the background in statistics, I would love to get a more complete
      assessment of the status of women in debate. In particular, I would be
      interested to see if there are significant differences between the percentage
      of women in the field at local tournaments versus national tournaments, and the
      percentage in the field versus outrounds at local tournaments. Nevertheless,
      the evidence we do have paints a fairly troublesome picture. As Ellen observes,
      there is a striking difference between the percentage of women in the field at
      major national tournaments and the percentage of women in outrounds. The higher
      we look in the bracket, the worse things usually get. The evidence, as well as
      the narratives that have been supplied, suggests that as we climb the ladder of
      the national circuit, we see fewer and fewer women on each rung. It is not
      simply an issue of women choosing not to participate in the activity, although
      that is a factor.

      There are two other parts of the picture, though—the women
      who choose to leave, and the women who never decide to join debate. More than a
      few people have told stories of women who decided to leave the activity after
      being subjected to harassment and discrimination. To act like the number of
      women who compete is divorced from the set of norms we as a community choose to
      create is to ignore reality. You admit as much, but I think you downplay the
      significance of this factor. We can’t do anything about the women who quit
      because they simply don’t like debate, or want to do other things. But we can,
      and should, do something about the women who quit because we were
      insufficiently hospitable. See also Adler/Theis’s point about women who quit
      after novice/JV. Similarly, I suppose, but have no strong evidence to support
      this, that women who join forensics are disproportionately pushed into speech
      events because those events are seen as more female-friendly. Perhaps women do prefer
      speech events to some degree, although I’m troubled by the essentialist and
      stereotypical nature of the claims being made. But it’s hard for me to separate
      the issue entirely from the normative context in which we operate.

      Given declining female participation at every stage of the
      activity, what do we do? You’re right that part of the answer lies in being
      more respectful. The first part of my proposal deals exclusively with this
      issue. I hope the discussion will continue regarding experiences of harm in the
      past and suggestions for what we can do in the future, and I hope that
      discussion has a meaningful effect on the behavior of the community. I hope,
      but I’m not optimistic. I’ve been around for nearly a decade. Debaters have
      gotten no nicer, no more open to women. If anything the problem has gotten
      worse since the 90s, when women routinely won the TOC and did well at other
      national circuit tournaments. We have had this discussion three times in the
      last three years, and every time I hear the same, incredibly depressing and
      disheartening stories, with a different name attached. I’m not willing to roll
      the dice and wait to see if people change this time around.

      I think the way you create meaningful changes in the culture
      of the community is by putting women in positions of power, by creating more
      strong role models and points of contact for up-and-coming female debaters, and
      by giving real force to the norms we say we want to create. I don’t think I can
      make this argument more than the stories that have already been posted. But the
      more women we retain in the community, the more we break down the boy’s club
      that allows sexism to continue. Things won’t get better unless we improve the
      relative position of women within the community. Integrated institutions should
      be our goal, and affirmative action in general, if not a quota, is the way to
      get there.

      So, to explain how this interacts with a few of your
      specific points, as well as the general claims made by Ryan Socha. Of course
      men will make up a larger proportion of the outrounds pool if they make up a
      larger proportion of the prelims pool. Nobody disagrees with that, because it’s
      trivial with respect to our discussion. The problem is that those proportions
      aren’t…proportional. If men made up 51% of the prelims pool, and 100% of the
      elims pool, I think you would clearly see the problem. The discrepancy, while
      less severe, is no less problematic. Yes, there are structural barriers to
      women who want to participate. Affirmative action policies weaken the
      achievement gap, and will hopefully keep women in debate, period.

      Finally, I want to focus on a point you hint at several
      times—that there’s something about the nature of the activity that alienates
      women, and that we might lose something essential in trying to encourage women
      to participate. I don’t think that’s true, not even a little bit. I know far
      too many qualified, well-spoken, highly intelligent, and yes, aggressive, and
      willing to go on 24-hour work binges women to believe that. I think there is
      something about the nature of the community that alienates women, and I don’t
      think it has anything to do with why we value the activity, nor do I think it’s
      just the rampant, rank sexism which is allowed to endure. I think it’s just the
      general disrespectfulness, even hostility, we as a community are willing to
      tolerate, in-rounds, in RFDs, between rounds, at camps, online (and again, I’m
      glad you noted this, although I don’t think it can be wholly separated from the
      issue of sexism). Some have mentioned on this thread that women are turned off
      by these online discussions because of how quickly they turn hostile. I don’t
      think we need to water down the activity to encourage women to participate
      more. I think we need to strengthen it.

    • I’m really really not trying to sound sexist. Like, I dislike sexism, obviously.

      Can I have feedback as to what remarks of mine caused that impression?

  • In an attempt to move this conversation past math at its finest, I just want to take a minute to highlight a common trend among the current and former female debaters posting.
    Many women have mentioned the importance of female role models for them in debate.

    I had the privilege of having two incredible women as coaches and three as lab leaders. I looked up to my coaches, Tanya Choudhury and Elyse Lyons, and their presence
    helped foster an environment where the expectations for girls were
    equivalent to the talented guys on the team. Two years later, Whitman* girls are 8/14 of the non-FYO female instructors (including doubles) at VBI/NSD/NDF. I also had the privilege of three
    strong and incredibly intelligent female lab leaders. I had the
    opportunity to watch Ali Huberlie compete in the Bronx RR, Joan Gass
    talk to me about women in debate, and Becca Traber crush me in a
    round. These experiences shaped my own self expectations and
    self-confidence. Granted these are all incredibly talented and
    successful women in debate, but as a student, I had no idea how many
    bids my coaches or lab leaders had, I just saw strong confident women
    in a position of authority that knew what they were talking about and
    how to teach.

    While this is my personal experience,
    I’m sure there are a ton of girls that think Catherine is a badass
    and want to be just like her. Others surely think Jane Kessner is
    hella smart and now they too want to go read philosophy. Or they’ve
    found one of the many other older female debaters/instructors to
    confide in. If role models play a major role in getting girls to stay
    in debate, both as a student and an instructor, then it seems that
    insuring female representation is the way to go. I hope we can agree
    on that, even if we disagree over the methods of achieving that

    So in terms of the petition at hand, I
    don’t believe 1/3 female instructors is that unreasonable. Camps are
    already at 24% with incredibly talented women on staff. The largest
    camp of 45 would need 15 girls. We really don’t think there are 15
    successful female debaters that can be fantastic high quality
    teachers? I know of great female instructors in the past that may
    have not been top TOC debaters but were heavily involved in the
    activity and extremely capable of teaching. I don’t think these camps
    would have been worse last year if they had hired a few more girls.
    With that said, there is somewhat of a balancing act to play and I
    think the community should feel comfortable engaging that discussion
    and deciding what kind of standards are best to outline in the

    PS. Ryan, while I think male debaters
    certainly can and do have role models, there should be little doubt
    that it is possible for white boys to succeed in the activity.
    Meanwhile, never having a female instructor, seeing RRs full of guys
    and not knowing of any female coaches, may instill some self doubt or
    lack of motivation. Also, there are lots of strong women on this
    forum talking about how they benefited from role models, so lets
    avoid language like “stop babying them” when they’re speaking for

    • I now agree that it’s important for some women to have role models within debate. That’s not true for all of them, but it’s still important that those role models exist.

      I don’t understand though, why women debaters would choose to emulate women who were chosen as judges solely as a consequence of gender. The idea that we need to intentionally hire certain women to serve as poster people for those poor young girls in debate is what I was mainly trying to criticize. Role models for women already exist, we don’t need to manufacture them. The idea that we need to artificially inspire the female debaters by hiring women for the sake of their gender as opposed to the sake of their intelligence is what I’m mainly opposed to. It’s paternalistic and implicitly contradicts the idea that these women are objectively worth modeling now.

      With that in mind, we shouldn’t create petitions which get upset if a certain percentage of women don’t get hired. We should instead get upset if any good woman judge is neglected and a worse male judge is hired. We should also get upset if any good male judge is neglected and a worse woman judge is hired. This seems to me to be the best solution, and the only one that doesn’t replicate the illogic of sexism.

      • Karlyn Gorski

        It sounds like you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the conversation. 

        No one is suggesting that we hire women only because they are women, or that we “manufacture” female role models. We are saying that it is important to increase the presence of female role models in the community. If a male judge and a female judge are equally preffed for a panel, the slot should always go to the female. If a camp could hire a male with 3 bids but poor people skills, or a female with 0 bids but a decent amount of competitive success and great people skills, the woman should get the job. No one is arguing that we should hire clueless women — the argument is that highly qualified women exist, and debaters (male and female alike, although female ones especially) are positively affected by the presence of female role models, so we need to be proactive in a) retaining existing role models, and b) putting current female debaters in the position to be role models for future debaters.

        • Provide me with two instances of qualified women judges being turned down for a less qualified male judge and I’ll concede that this makes sense. Otherwise you’re just making things up.

          Additionally, I find your claim that “if a camp could hire a male with 3 bids but poor people skills,  or a female with 0 bids but a decent amount of competitive success and great people skills, the woman should get the job” highly suspect. People skills are obviously a concern, but do they really outweigh tremendous amounts of competitive success?

          Hiring female judges at the expense of more qualified male judges is wrong for all of the reasons I described. The only standard we should have for camps is that they should hire the best judges available, regardless of gender, gender based quotas are thus a bad idea. There is no possible reason that the gender based quota is more worth supporting than the more flexible and less discriminatory approach which says that the best judges should be hired and that gender is at best a tiebreaker.

  • To sum up this thread: After reading comments from Karlyn, Jane, Catherine, Kanisha, and others, and reading responses from Chad Henson and Ryan Socha, I have concluded that male dominance over this critical thinking, intelligence-based activity is very much understandable and warranted. 

  • Anonymous

    Re: Ryan Socha

    We agree that the correlation between success and skill is not perfect and that there is a bias against women on some level. You disagree on whether it’s noticeable or significant. Let’s talk about that.

    You say “statistics is probably the main cause of the disparity”; maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but I think this sentence is incoherent. Statistics can INDICATE a disparity, but they cannot themselves cause the disparity. You say there are not a significant amount of sexist judges lurking around; the primary claim made on this thread is that debate culture is implicitly sexist. Judges do not have to be overtly sexist, therefore, to be complicit with these negative trends. I do not think every judge is a sexist, but I do think there is a problem here.

    If the bias is not noticeable or significant, then why do women do statistically worse then men? I’ve already explained why “statistics” cannot be the cause of this disparity, as you claim. Are women just naturally less intelligent? Are women just naturally afraid of commitment, so they leave the community earlier than men do? Are women terrified of friendship, so they have fewer networks to benefit from on the circuit? These biological determinism theories sound absurd to me; I do not think there is an innate difference between men and women in debate. Perhaps you disagree.

    • Anonymous

      I think his argument is that there is no evidence that women do worse than men, given the amount of women who enter the debate community in teh first place.  Again, I’m not defending him for reasons of protecting his personal image or pride, but I dont think this argument is so absurd.  There are exceptions i.e. 1/16 females breaking at TOC-last year, but the year before I think it was something like 5/16, which is approximately the percentage of girls in the activity as well.

      • Anonymous

        See above re: statistical studies that have aggregated the tournament data and shown examples such as that TOC to be atypical. Again, though, it’s be great if we could get clarification from the authors.

    • This post might sound angry, and that’s because I am. I don’t like being called a sexist.

      I hope to God that you don’t honestly think I’m defending biological determinism or significant differences between women or men. I don’t even know how I could have a conversation with you if that’s what you’re getting out of my posts. It’s like you’re not even seeing my posts so much as a caricature of all the sexist arguments that you apparently think I’m espousing.

      Statistics can make certain things more or less likely. I had assumed prior to this point that you understood math, but apparently that was a mistake. So let’s go back to elementary school for a while. If I have one lottery ticket, and there are a million lottery tickets, it’s unlikely I’ll win the lottery. Similarly, if debate has 10 women, and there are 100 debaters, it is unlikely that women will win debates. I have no idea how you repeatedly misunderstand this point. This is the only argument I’m trying to make, honestly. Do you understand now why I’m offended when you call me sexist?

      You say that “the primary claim made on this thread is that debate culture is implicitly sexist”. I would love to see that claim justified. I believe sexism surely exists, but assessing a systematic trend requires more than mere anecdotal evidence. Don’t jump to conclusions based on what may be isolated instances. No one has justified this idea that there’s implicitly sexist judges lurking within every tournament, and justifying that idea is probably an important part of the advocacy.

      I want to minimize sexism in debate too, but I also want to be realistic about the extent of the problem.

      • Anonymous

        There is no need to insult anyone’s math skills; I did just fine on the relevant metrics (SAT Math, SAT Math Level II, AP Calc, AP Stats, etc). The issue here is clarity in your argument, which I think we’re now on the same page for and can discuss.

        To be honest, it was very unclear what you were claiming, because you said that statistics are the cause of the statistical disparity. I now understand you are claiming that women are underrepresented in success because they are underrepresented in general. To that end, you should check out the posts by Ellen Noble; statistically, women are underrepresented in success even beyond their general underrepresentation. To use your lottery ticket example, a 1:1M ratio in tickets produces, say, a 1:3M likelihood of winning for women.
        Re: implicit sexism in debate, you should check out posts by Karlyn about the camp environment, Chris Theis about judges molding women in certain ways early in their careers, and Rebar about coaches figuring women likely won’t be good anyway and thus giving them less attention. There are a ton of posts here about the implicit sexism in debate; I’d love to discuss them with you.

        • As long as I’m no longer thought to be a sexist, I’m happy again.

          I overreacted earlier and it made me irrational. I shouldn’t have sworn or insulted your math skills, I should have clarified what I was saying. I thought it was already clear, but given your response I was obviously wrong. I was tired and annoyed that people were calling me sexist without warrant, and it made me rude.

  • After DImas asked me if he could use my name in this thread combined with talking with female debaters and coaches who I’m friends with, I feel like providing some input. As a disclaimer, I haven’t read all of these posts as carefully as I would like to but for the sake of time (while this issue is still a ‘hot topic’ so to speak) I think posting now would maybe provide some different perspectives.
    First, as previously mentioned, I did not qual to the TOC; however, I was an instructor at VBI. There are two things to be gleaned from this: first, I felt comfortable as an instructor even though I didn’t have the TOC pedigree and second (far more importantly as well), teaching at VBI made me want to stay with the activity far more than any other experience I’ve had in debate. Being a first-year-out female and seeing the impact that I was able to have on younger debaters made me realize how much I loved this activity and how important female role models were to me when I was still competing.

    So then I went to college, and I became very disengaged from the activity. This is the second perspective I have: I’m a female who was very actively involved in the Lincoln-Douglas national circuit as a high school competitor and now is fairly removed from this community. Here are some of my reasons as to why I’m not as involved. This is NOT to say that these are universal justifications for females leaving the activity; this was just my experience.

    1) I worked temporarily as a coach for a few individuals, both female, but both chose to (understandably) prioritize school work over debate work. After, I wasn’t re-hired, nor did I truly actively search for a job as a coach.

    2) I’m involved with debate through another capacity, volunteering in inner city schools in Philadelphia which I found to be just as fulfilling as working as an LD coach.

    3) I didn’t enjoy being a female in the community anymore. This is something that has been attested to in the past and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with specific problems that I have had with individuals, but even just seeing what happened to some of my female friends made me more disinclined to be part of this activity. I feel like a common response to this part of the thread is that seeing this action should make me more inclined to be a role model and stay with the activity, and I hope that people can realize that’s unfair to ask any girl who has had to witness or deal with sexist remarks or actions to continue to subject herself to that again. 

    WHY THE SWITCH SINCE CAMP: This has given me a lot of grief because I was so involved in the LD community at VBI but when I went to college something shifted. I think that because I got a taste of what coaching is like in a different capacity (through volunteering), I came to terms with my disillusionment. Further, after working at camp, there was a period of time when I was contemplating whether to return as a coach, and this was when I truly did reflect on some of the really awful things that girls had/have to deal with and though I did return, I wasn’t as committed as I had been in the past.

    4) I still feel part of the community in the sense that I keep in contact with female debaters that I’m friends with or have taught over the summer, and encourage their commitment to the activity.

    and 5) I love college. I prefer to spend my time on campus and try out different activities and meet new people. Debate takes a lot out of you and I needed a break.

    These are my thoughts, hopefully it helps clarify some discussion points.

  • These discussions never seem to lead anywhere, even though there’s frequently very little daylight between the positions that people take. I think we can all agree on a few key claims which are sufficient to provide a basis for action. First, women appear to be marginalized at every stage of the activity, from recruitment as novices to competing at the highest levels to working as camp instructors and coaches, in every context, local and national, and to a significant degree. Second, such marginalization owes itself to no innate biological deficiencies, but is instead a consequence of social norms as well as norms specific to debate. Third, progress could be made if we each took it upon ourselves to be more inclusive, and if we put pressure on those institutions which perpetuate gender inequity though careless inaction. I don’t disagree that there are important disputes as to, inter alia, which practices cause gender inequity, whether gender inequity results from x factor or y factor, who has the responsibility to take action, etc. But I attend a law school that values the same skills that debate does, and if the kind of discrepancies that exist in debate were allowed to exist there (in fact, my first year class is an even male/female split), people would be marching in the streets. It is frankly absurd that we cannot get some positive change off the ground.
    The first reason nothing happens is that the people who have the power to make changes are absent. To me, that is a complete abdication of responsibility. I mean, are you kidding me? We can get the community to come out to talk about disclosure or topic nullification, but the oldest people posting here are Ari and me? Really? I’ll give the distinguished elders of our community the benefit of the doubt, owing to how long this discussion has been going and the other responsibilities I’m sure they have, and hope that they will make a contribution, however brief, to our discussion. However, given that gender inequity has been present for a long time, and that past discussions have also seen their absence, I’m not holding my breath. All I can say is please, please take some time to talk with us about this issue. The discussion could benefit from your experience and thoughtfulness, and the issue is important.
    The second reason nothing happens is because we’re unwilling to use the mechanism of the free market to influence the people who make decisions. I know a way we can make changes come about overnight. Refuse to provide your money, your support, your attendance to organizations which refuse to take action to rectify gender inequities. I propose that we circulate a petition/pledge demanding that certain minimum steps be taken. There’s already a website which makes this possible, but I think we should discuss the terms of such a proposal before soliciting support. Below is a rough outline. I am not strongly wedded to any of the terms, but I think they’re a good baseline, and would love to discuss them further.
    Some possible responses I anticipate:
    Your proposal would force sympathetic individuals out of institutions that fail to live up to the standards in the pledge, and make the situation worse. A: I understand this concern, but think that it is highly unlikely to play out. I hope that enough influential individuals would sign on to this pledge that any tournament or camp which refused to meet these standards would not survive very long.
    We shouldn’t force individuals to make sacrifices regarding what tournaments/camps they will attend. A: As stated above, I think it near certain that compliance with the standards will be universal. But if that’s not the case, I just have to ask: how willing are you to live in a fair, equitable, and just community? Is one more bid not a reasonable price to pay so that EVERYBODY can have equal opportunities?
    Your proposal is an attempt to gloss over an important discussion. A: I disagree. I think the discussion should continue regarding the sources of inequity. In fact, many of the comments made in this discussion influenced the terms of this proposal. I simply think that we can start taking action before the community has reached consensus.
    If anyone else has any ideas, I would love to hear them.
    John Lewis
    I, the undersigned, PLEDGE to withhold my participation from institutions that perpetuate gender inequity in debate. I recognize that rectifying this problem will require positive action from all of us, and that silence is compliance with an unjust system.
    EVERYONE. I will:
    1) Make an active effort to promote an inclusive and respectful community with respect to everyone, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or political or religious belief.
    2) Ensure that I do not engage in sexual harassment, discrimination, or make sexist comments.
    3) Having seen an instance of sexual harassment, discrimination, or sexist comments, politely but firmly insist that the offending party refrain from further such behavior.
    JUDGES. I will ensure that rounds I judge are fair and respectful, and will use my ballot as a tool to sanction behavior that I feel is inappropriate with reduced speaker points or, if necessary, a loss.
    COACHES. I will:
    1) Refuse to allow my student to participate at tournaments, if I have reason to believe that they have engaged in sexual harassment or discrimination, and will make honest attempts to investigate any credible allegations of such.
    2) Make active efforts to recruit new female debaters.
    3) Make meaningful attempts to hire women as assistant coaches.
    CAMPS. I will refuse to attend or work at a debate camp which does not:
    1) Make meaningful attempts to achieve at least one-third female staff.
    2) Make meaningful attempts to hire at least three non-first year out female staff, if the camp hires above twenty instructors.
    3) Place at least one female instructor in the top or second lab.
    4) Appoint female staff to teach a reasonable number of varsity, upper varsity, top, and camp-wide lectures.
    5) Establish a clear policy regarding sexual harassment and discrimination for staff and students, with meaningful penalties for violation.
    6) Appoint one staff member as an ombudsman for all claims of sexual harassment and discrimination.
    TOURNAMENTS. I will refuse to attend, judge at, or send students to, a tournament which does not:
    1) Make meaningful attempts to hire qualified female judges.
    2) Prefer female over male judges for the purposes of MJP, especially in late outrounds, with the goal of having at least one female judge on every panel.
    3) Establish a clear procedure for disqualification of judges who engage in sexual harassment and discrimination.
    4) Establish a clear procedure for disqualification of debaters who engage in sexual harassment and discrimination.
    5) Appoint a representative as an ombudsman for all claims of sexual harassment and discrimination.
    6) If the tournament is a round robin, or otherwise invites individual debaters, makes meaningful attempts to have a one-third female pool.

    • John, I think you should try to find a site to put this up on so that everyone can publicly sign and be held accountable.   

    • Hi John. 

      Old Folks: I’m older than you and Ari, and commented twice. With that said, there are lots of reasons career coaches don’t post. Those who have really been around a long time have nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by getting involved in these discussions. Each new generation of firebrands comes along in high school thinking they’re God’s gift to Debate and will Change Things for the Better. Then they finish school, get job offers and leave. For us, debate is a fun game. For long-term coaches, it’s a career – and if they’re quiet for long enough we go away and leave them alone. Only a few of us will even keep up checkbook participation. I like to work with individual students and starting new teams or helping new coaches, but only judge a few circuit tournaments a year. 

      Proposal: I disagree with most of this proposal. 

      Nobody imagines requiring that 10% of instructors be black, or that 1/3 come from households with below-median household income. If you did that, you would have worse instructors. Similarly, if you hire women, you will have worse instructors. Women make up less than 1/3 of the TOC pool. They make up much less than that of elite TOC participants. Given that the best indicator of ability to instruct is ability to debate absent exogenous information that is not systemically collected and disseminated, it would be unreasonable to expect 1/3 of the best potential instructors to be female. If I still coached high school debate, I would want my students taught by the best people – not the ones that happened to fulfill my vision of what an equal society looks like. 

      “Sexual harassment” is certainly bad, but “sexist comments” is vague. I know of a judge who was accused of racist, sexist comments for pointing out that a black female debater’s race/gender-based position was itself racist and sexist in the way she criticized. Whether comments are sexist or not somehow tend to turn on whether the listener agrees with the speaker’s position on issues of sex and gender. I’m inclined to let speech be, letting informal mechanisms punish hurtful speakers. After all… the very nature of debate as a civic activity implies a pretty strong belief in the marketplace of ideas. 

      Discrimination is not an unqualified bad thing. We want to discriminate against many people and things. Many of us discriminate against racists. This very proposal advocates some pretty strong discrimination against sexists. Racism and sexism are ideologies I imagine everyone here dislikes. Some people also dislike religious ideologies: Christianity (anyone remember some fairly vicious attacks on one former circuit debater when his expressed religious beliefs conflicted with our preferred tolerance of homosexual behavior?) and Islam come to mind. I like to make fun of vegans (especially those who are vegans for ethical reasons) because the ethical position and nutrition arguments are silly. Again, informal mechanisms are the best means to counteract this when the behavior is engaged in by those who are not in a position of power in a given situation. 

      Incidentally, I imagine everyone with only two bids thinks a bid is a very large price to pay to advance your particular social vision. 

      Finally, I was always under the impression MBA invitations went to the students of the drinking buddies of those who made the invitations. Did this change at some point? The reason Hockaday debaters didn’t get loads of MBA invitations in their heyday years had little to do with *them* being female – other female debaters went during the same time period.

      • Erik Baker

        I’m inclined to disagree with many of the things you’ve said.  “Nobody imagines requiring that 10% of instructors be black, or that 1/3 come from households with below-median household income. If you did that, you would have worse instructors. Similarly, if you hire women, you will have worse instructors.” First, the black/poor comment is a complete non-sequitur. The proposal doesn’t advocate equity for equity’s sake, but rather equity for the sake of providing role models to have a direct positive effect on female achievement in debate. It’s the means, not the end. Second, the blanket statement that women hires will be worse is horribly offensive and entirely unsubstantiated. Women do make up a smaller fraction of TOC participants. So if camps hired women at random, then their faculty would probably be worse. But if they make a committed effort to hire as many top-tier women as possible, then I think you have a lot of explaining to do if you think that faculty will be somehow worsened. Obscure jargon-filled comments about exogenous information won’t cut it. 

        Second, I would think that someone as committed to empirical study as yourself would rely on more than a single tangentially related anecdote to prove that it’s hard to tell what counts as a sexist comment. Suggesting that a particular performance unsuccessfully challenges misogyny isn’t sexist. Comments that demean people because of their gender are. It’s that simple. “No brightline” arguments are pretty weak in the face of the power of the good old gut-check. Also, I have to question whether the invisible hand of the market is really going to shut up chauvinists when left to its own devices. Regardless of what you want to call it, community censure seems to me to be an appropriate response to blatant sexism. Quite simply, misogyny has no place in the “marketplace of ideas”. 

        I really have no clue what the implication of anything you’re saying about discrimination is. Are you saying that it’s hypocritical to discriminate against sexists? Even Karl Popper, a champion of freedom whom I would imagine you like, thought that intolerance shouldn’t be tolerated. If that’s paradoxical, I’ll be happy to be logically inconsistent.

        Incidentally, I’m one of the two-bid debaters you mention. Not only have I been taught by a female lab leader before, but I refuse to believe that I would have been less successful this year if the camps I’ve attended had hired more women. It’s hard work that matters, not the gender of your instructors. 

        • Hiring women within debate because they are women is offensive. Hiring women because they are skilled at debate is not offensive. It’s hard work and skill that matter, not gender.

          Because women are a smaller component of top tier debaters, the pool of quality women debaters will be exhausted more quickly than the pool of quality men debaters. I’ll go even further here, the most skilled women within debates today are less skilled than the most skilled men. This is a result of statistics; it’s much less likely that a member of a certain group will dominate a certain field if that group is much smaller than those who aren’t in that group. There are more men in debate, therefore the best debaters are more likely to be men. Math is not sexism.

          You say that we should hire women “for the sake of providing role models” within debate. But if these women earn their place in the judging pool not because of skill but because of gender, there’s no reason that anyone would want to emulate them. It’s also unclear to me why women need role models in order to debate, as you seem to be suggesting. I am a man; I don’t have a role model in debate; I still do okay. Stop babying the women of debate, they can achieve success without you holding their hand or boycotting tournaments to help them.

          I agree that judges have the right to punish offensive comments with speaker points, but I disagree that “misoginy has no place in the marketplace of ideas”. Placing restrictions on which ideas do and don’t count as valid before those ideas are evaluated is illogical. If misoginy is a bad idea (and it is) it will easily be refuted. It’s not some mysterious invisible hand that guarantees this refutation, it’s the inherent stupidity of misoginy. Moreover, in the
          process of refutation, we’ll learn more about it and how to combat it. I
          see no problem here. Switch side debate is good and solves all of your

          A general note on this discussion: given the choice between putting 10 women in debate or 20 males I would
          prefer 20 males every time; given the choice between putting 10 women in
          debate or 9 males in debate I would choose 10 women every time (assuming that all individuals were equally intelligent, which wouldn’t happen in the real world, but this is just me trying to illustrate a point). Equity has negligible inherent value, only the knowledge and life experiences gained from debate matter, so maximizing the number of good debaters within debate should be the only goal of recruitment programs. Treating minorities like trophies is offensive.

          Women aren’t valuable for debate because of their gender, but because of their intelligence and skill. The reason that we ought to want more women in debate is because the more people who are in debate the better debate will be and the better those people will be. This isn’t to say that minority perspectives have no value, but to say that majority perspectives have value as well.

          I agree with Imas that good instructors can be good regardless of their success at the TOC, but my statistical analysis also applies here as well.

          • “I’ll go even further here, the most skilled women within debates today are less skilled than the most skilled men…Math is not sexism.”

            There is no math in this post, no statistical analysis of how women do in debate rounds, no mathematical formula capable of ascribing a numerical quality that can establish how well one does in a debate round. The consensus in this thread is that it is no innate quality in females that controls their performance at debate, just community sexism. To that end, your post is extremely offensive.

          • I thought that was the purpose of this discussion? There are probably other problems with Ryan’s post but the part you quoted is completely true.

          • Anonymous

            The purpose of the discussion, as I understand it, is to correct the disconnect between seemingly equal innate skill and lesser competitive success for women. To assert that women are less skilled because they obtain fewer bids overlooks the structural factors (i.e. sexism by judges) discussed above. The quoted portion, therefore, conflates competitive success with skill.

          • If you don’t think there’s a significant correlation between competitive success and skill then I think you are a fool.

            When we compare the empirical performance of the best women in debate compared to the empirical performance of the best men in debate we see that the men have performed better. There is a reason for this, and it is probability.

            Not all women losses within debate are the result of judge bias against women. To suggest this is offensive. Assuming that a minority group should have the same percentage of top-tier debaters as the majority group is illogical. Learn how to do math or stop criticizing me, your choice.

            Moreover, nowhere in my post did I suggest that there aren’t factors within debate that make women less successful than they could be. Obviously some bias exists. However, other factors besides bias exist as well.

            To blindly assume that women deserve the same number of votes as men as a consequence of gender equality is naive. Ballots should go to the better debaters, whether they are women or men.

          • Anonymous

            Nobody is denying a correlation between skill and success; we are questioning whether the correlation is equivalent for men and women. Structural factors render it different.
            I’m not sure what you mean in your next point, or how we quantify empirical success. Catherine Tarsney had one fewer bid her senior year than I did in mine, but I think she had a more successful season than I did or than almost any, if not any, debater has ever had. That suggests to me that women can clearly be just as skilled; there might be more “successful” men, but there’s nothing innately different.
            Nobody is suggesting all losses are because of judge bias; we are saying it factors in enough to cause a noticeable disadvantage though.
            You are correct in your next point: these factors do play a role. Nobody is claiming them to play the only role.
            Nobody is calling for judges to equally distribute their votes based on gender; we are saying there are no innate differences, and the empirically different “successes” suggest fixable problems with biases for one gender.
            tl;dr : You strawperson a ton of claims. Fundamentally we are saying gender biases play some undue role that could be more optimally fixed. Your responses don’t respond.

          • So… if you want to continue this, just make a new comment, because these boxes are seriously way too small.

            Despite what the general opinion here seems to be, I’m actually not trying to oppress women or anything like that. I want to help, and don’t see why my arguments would be thought to be hurtful.

            This conversation will probably be beneficial if continued.

          • Anonymous

            See above.

          • Emma Elsbecker

            Just to give you some context, and I understand that this discussion was from quite a while ago but for anyone reading this now, as a female debater in her sophmore year I don’t believe that you have the experience to say that there is not a noticeable amount of sexism as you are not the one being discriminated against. I have personally been told by judges that they voted against me because my voice was too shrill and they became disinterested to listening to me. As we have not had enough female debaters make it to out rounds in major national tournaments we do not have enough data to truly compare the skill level of females and males. Surely there is a skill aspect but there is also a very good chance that there are many many many skilled female debaters that have never gotten bids due to sexist judges (whether they were consciously or unconsciously being sexist)

          • Anonymous

            Nobody is denying a correlation between skill and success; we are questioning whether the correlation is equivalent for men and women. Structural factors render it different. 

            I’m not sure what you mean in your next point, or how we quantify empirical success. Catherine Tarsney had one fewer bid her senior year than I did in mine, but I think she had a more successful season than I did or than almost any, if not any, debater has ever had. That suggests to me that women can clearly be just as skilled; there might be more “successful” men, but there’s nothing innately different. 

            Nobody is suggesting all losses are because of judge bias; we are saying it factors in enough to cause a noticeable disadvantage though. 

            You are correct in your next point: these factors do play a role. Nobody is claiming them to play the only role. 

            Nobody is calling for judges to equally distribute their votes based on gender; we are saying there are no innate differences, and the empirically different “successes” suggest fixable problems with biases for one gender. 

            tl;dr : You strawperson a ton of claims. Fundamentally we are saying gender biases play some undue role that could be more optimally fixed. Your responses don’t respond. 

          • These comment boxes get smaller and smaller.

            You accused me of conflating competitive success with skill, yet you conceded that “nowhere in my post did I suggest that there aren’t factors within debate that make women less successful than they could be”.

            You also acknowledge that there’s a significant  correlation between competitive success and skill.

            You say that bias in debate is causing a noticable disadvantage for women. I agree that there’s some bias in debate, but I disagree that it’s noticable.

            How can you prove that there are large percentages of good women debaters who are getting screwed? Anecdotal evidence surely exists, but as a systemic trend I don’t think any evidence can be amassed which specifically supports this claim.

            I feel that statistics is probably the main cause of the disparity in win loss records, and that there are not significant percentages of sexist judges lurking within our tournaments.

            I just assume there’s bias because judges are people and if you gather enough people in a room there’s biased ones. That’s distinct from noticable bias because it’s not noticable at all, it’s just assumed to be present because of the prevalence of certain societal attitudes.

          • “These comment boxes get smaller and smaller.”
            And so does your brain, apparently

          • NO U.

            You can surely do better than just name calling. At the very least you should use better insults.

            Try harder.

          • Anonymous

            See above for reply–new post.

          • You’re an idiot.

            Read this: “This is a result of statistics; it’s much less likely that a member of a
            certain group will dominate a certain field if that group is much
            smaller than those who aren’t in that group.” That was in my last comment, you either intentionally ignored it or have the reading comprehension of a fourth grader.

            There is no inherent quality within women that makes them worse at debate. However, their empirical performance suggests the top women debaters aren’t better than the top male debaters. Undoubtedly some of this is due to judge bias. Undoubtedly some of this is due to statistical probabilities.

          • Seriously? Calling me an idiot? I read your post.  That statement does not prove that the best female debater is automatically worse than the best male debater by virtue of being female, which is what you stated. Debates arent decided by statistical probabilities, they are decided by judges, so to claim that there is some invisible hand controlling females performance, and not judges, is absurd.

          • You initially said I was being offensive by saying that the consequences of statistical probabilities are responsible for women losing debates. You did so while directly omitting my analysis and you then claimed that I had no analysis. Either you did so intentionally, and are an asshole, or you did so unintentionally, and are an idiot. Pick your poison.

            You’ve now shifted to attempting to portray me as claiming that “there is some invisible hand controlling females performance, and not judge”. I never claimed that judges don’t vote. Similarly, I obviously understand that biases “[are] enough of a problem that [they] should be recognized”. Stop building strawpersons.

            Debates are decided by judges. This does not preclude the effect of statistical probabilities within debates. Learn to do math or concede that you’re wrong, but stop pretending that statistics are inherently offensive or sexist or that they ignore the existence of bias.

            I don’t even know what “Steven also makes a good point re: a former TOC winner being a female.
            should she have lost because the top female debater is worse than the
            top male debater?” is supposed to mean.

            Like, I think that you’re misreading Steven’s comment, first of all, but to directly answer your question, if the top female debater performs worse than the top male debater, then obviously she should lose or else you’re a terrible judge. I don’t think there’s anything too controversial with that statement.

          • I’m hoping this post doesnt turn into a line, if you would like to respond to this please make a separate thread.

            I claimed that you were offensive for suggesting that male debaters are inherently better than female debaters due to some sort of mathematical formula that you never presented. I maintain this stance.

            I dont think you understood my comment. Debates are decided by judges and not statistical probabilites, so if there can be some change made to debate that will allow female debaters to have an equal playing field, then we should do so, the consensus in this thread seems to be some form of community shift in norms. You, however, say that due to statistical trends, female debaters are always worse all the time and male debaters are just so much better, which ignores the effect that the community has and therefore is offensive to female debaters by saying that they have less skill than male debaters, which is just false.

            Given that Steven “liked” my comment, I will go out on a limb and say that I did not misinterpret what he said. That comment was made to point out the fact that, when the “best female debater” debated the “best male debater” in finals of the TOC, the female debater won. You, however, hold that, due to mathematical trends, she should have lost by virtue of being female (“the most skilled women within debates today are less skilled than the most skilled men.”) I do not think I have diverged from any argument you have made, you say that male debaters are better and that empirically they should do better. Either a) you can uphold the logical extension of this argument and say she should have lost or b) admit you are wrong and that female debaters aren’t worse than men

          • David, Ryan’s post didn’t suggest a rule for debate 100% of the time but was merely describing status quo conditions.

          • Frank Blunt

            remember guest… insults are the clearest sign of an experienced and skilled debater who certainly has great and vast options of effective logical rebuttals.

        • Hi Erik. We might agree on more than is readily apparent.  


          I don’t think that female instructors are inherently worse than males. Those female instructors who are currently instructors are likely no worse (or better) than their male counterparts. When I said that hiring women would give worse instructors, I meant that in order to generate the ratio of instructors advocated, camp directors would have to accept females of lower quality than they currently do and of lower quality than the male instructors that they currently hire. That drives down aggregate instructor quality – and (more importantly) the quality that some individual students receive. This would be true if there was a given ratio of racial minorities or economically underprivileged instructors – which is why it’s not a non-sequitor. Every group of people needs role models. I bring the racial and economic issues up precisely because of the need for role models. In fact, the issues would be even more salient for poor and minorities, as both their parents likely share their racial/economic status (in fact, except for mixed-race students, true by definition) and so their natural role models are exclusively of their race and economic status, while female students have presumably grown up with at least one role model of each sex. 

          Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine a camp policy stating that for students 1-4 years out, they will only employ as camp instructors those meeting one of these criteria: (1) broke at the TOC, (2) received 4 or more bids to the TOC in a single year, (3) were state champions in a state sending more than 10 debaters to the TOC, or (4) coached 3 or more debaters who reached the TOC. As a further policy, they have lock-step compensation, such that all instructors the same number of years out of high school are paid the same until they have a college degree. How many female instructors would even be eligible? How about minorities? Economically disadvantaged students? How far would we have to relax standards from this level to get a 1/3 female pool? Also, keep in mind that you’d be doing nothing for the broader problems of female participation in the activity if all of the camps hire the same 5-6 women. That means a small number of women are participating a lot – not that female participant*s* are increased. I love how many male judges are advocating the female judges be preferred for judging late elimination rounds. APPROPRIATE SANCTION FOR SEXISM”Regardless of what you want to call it, community censure seems to me to be an appropriate response to blatant sexism.” I agree with this. My objection is the formality. We should  speak out against sexists and not invite them for drinks, not disqualify them (or their students)  from competing and judging. I’ve seen a number of instances – not just one – where people intending no evil are hurt by policies designed to respond harshly to perceived wrongs, and I think that formal policies and procedural mechanisms let people get away with failing to make and defend individual judgments – a particular problem when individual judgment is important, as in cases where debaters are accused of things virtually the entire community agrees is wrong. If a judge or tournament administrator is making biased decisions, of course, a stronger reaction is appropriate

      • I also think the insinuation that you can only be a good debate instructor if you qualified to TOC or were a top tier debater is false. For example, Kanisha Partharsarthy, despite not receiving a bid, was a great instructor and I’m glad I got to work with her this summer. I also want to capitalize on Erik’s point that the point isn’t that women can be hired at camps and considered equal, but that female instructors can serve as role models so that eventually we see more equity in competitive success as well.

      • Chad, apologies for forgetting about your earlier posts when
        drafting. Nice to see another person who’s been around for a while getting
        involved. I don’t plan on line-by-lining here (mostly), so please let me know
        if I miss something in your post and I will be happy to respond.

        OLD FOLKS: I think your very post demonstrates the utility
        of bringing people into the discussion who have more substantial experience
        with debate. I’m curious as to why you think the fact that career coaches treat
        debate as a job lessens, rather than magnifies, their responsibility to tackle
        a significant issue affecting the activity. Their job is to maximize
        educational opportunities for their students; it would seem like they should be
        most concerned with the issues that have been raised in this thread. I’m also
        not sure what you mean by “have a great deal to lose.” The risk of teachers
        losing their jobs for making an honest attempt to discuss this issue seems slim
        to me. But, if there are teachers who choose not to participate for that
        reason, and not simply because they can’t be bothered to type up a few
        sentences in an online forum, I encourage them to email me with comments,
        questions, and suggestions. All emails will be kept confidential. Finally, on this point I’ll
        say that for me, debate is most emphatically not “just a fun game.” I’ve stayed
        involved with the activity because I actually think it’s quite important, which
        is clear if you look at the things forensics alumni go on to achieve in their
        lives. Debate matters, and so do the problems which affect it.


        RE: QUOTAS: Really, nobody imagines setting quotas regarding
        race? ;-). As someone who has been a student or taught at debate camps for
        nearly a decade, I do not think that the best proxy we can find for teaching
        ability is prior success. There’s probably a world of meaning packed in “absent
        exogenous information that is not systematically collected or disseminated”,
        but it seems that your implication is that camp directors do not have other
        means to discern the quality of an instructor. That’s clearly not true. Leaving
        aside the subjectivity of determining the more successful debater, camps do not
        make their way down the bid list handing out contracts. They consider things
        like personality traits, past experience in leading a large team, and regional
        diversity, whether such information is “systematically collected” or not. I
        actually think it highly likely that women make up one-third of the best
        potential instructors. I would defend more holistic criteria for evaluating
        instructors, in which gender is one strong consideration.

        But here’s really the crux of the issue. If we think that
        women are underrepresented at the highest levels of competition because of
        various factors which impede female performance, then using competitive success
        as a proxy for teaching ability really doesn’t make any sense. It will
        systematically underrepresent women in instructor pools relative to their true
        worth as instructors. We might want to “dig down” a bit to reach those women
        who we think are better than their performance indicates.

        However, I also think that diversity is an important concern
        (maybe even a compelling interest…) within the debate camp context. Women learn
        better when they have female role models to look up to, and they may often be
        uncomfortable working with male instructors, especially the more intimidating
        and…ethically questionable ones. Additionally, we all benefit from a more
        diverse and respectful community. I don’t want my students, male or female,
        learning in an environment where female voices are absent and the boy’s club is
        impossible to crack. I have found that mixed gender staff pairings often
        produce the best students, not only in terms of competitive success, but also in
        terms of the ethical attributes we should prize as a community.

        Finally, I would note that nobody is being “forced” to do
        anything. If you want to send your students to a camp which does not take
        gender into account when making hiring decisions, feel free. But those who want
        a more diverse camp experience would like to aggregate their buying power to
        force debate camps to produce a product they would like to purchase. If I’m
        wrong, and more diverse camps are not a good thing, then the free market should
        correct things quite easily.

        RE: SEXIST COMMENTS: Certainly, some comments are only sexist
        if you believe certain things about gender. Most are not. I hardly think things
        like “girls suck at debate” and “X debater is such a slut” have anything to do
        with a contested political opinion. Most school environments would surely
        proscribe these statements, and I don’t see why things should be any different
        when debaters leave school to go to a tournament or a camp. Your concern seems
        to run more to the definition of sexist comments and the policies which camps
        and tournaments will implement consistent with the pledge, rather than taking
        some action against sexist comments per se.  Do you have a preferred definition of sexist
        comments that would not reach the speech you’re concerned with protecting?

        The remedy of “more speech” doesn’t really work here. First,
        statements like I highlighted above often have immediate, irreparable effects
        on students whether or not they’re called out later or even on the spot. Chad,
        I want to underscore the harmful character of the speech we’re talking about. We
        have to remember that we’re dealing with high school students, some of whom are
        very young. Read a few of the stories that have been provided on this thread,
        about how this speech affects those who hear it. Second, these statements often
        aren’t called out. Many of the women who have commented have noted cases where
        reprehensible things have been said without any counter-speech to save the day.
        We might want policies which punish such statements to serve as a deterrent,
        knowing that we cannot reach all of them, or to express how seriously the
        debate community takes gender equality. Third, the speech we’re talking about,
        once we limit out politically-contentious speech, is of virtually no value, and
        I’m not all that concerned with protecting it. The marketplace of ideas is a
        nice phrase, but people need to be able to participate for it to matter.

        RE: DISCRIMINATION: Chad, discrimination on the basis of sex
        is a bad thing, because as many people have noted, there don’t seem to be any significant
        innate biological differences with respect to the skills that debate values. I
        am frankly not sure what your argument is here. Is it the “tolerating the
        intolerant” argument? Are you concerned with shutting down speech that
        criticizes ideas? Of course, some forms of discrimination are good, others bad.
        I think there is a near-consensus that discrimination on the basis of sex is a
        bad thing. Your argument seems to only apply to the clauses affecting student
        conduct, since judges and camp instructors are in positions of authority, and I
        really don’t think you want to advocate sex discrimination on their behalf. I
        will say that I’m not sure what that clause adds with respect to student
        conduct that sexual harassment and sexist comments does not, given their
        position. But I’m equally unclear on what “informal mechanisms” means here, and
        why that’s preferable to camp and tournament administration getting involved.

        RE: TWO BIDS: MY social vision? It seems to be a social
        vision that many of us share. Nevertheless, if someone values getting a second
        bid over a more inclusive community, feel free to not sign the pledge. But if
        you share *my* social vision, then please sign.

        RE: MBA: I think this is still largely true. But hey, it’s
        their party ;-).

        Look forward to continuing this dialogue.

        EDIT: If you or anyone else wants to reply to this post, I suggest making it a reply to your original post, and not this one. This bizarre comment system will quickly make the comments unreadable.

      • Chad, your argument that hiring more female lab leaders would somehow decrease the quality of instruction at a camp is offensive to (a) women and (b) everyone’s intelligence. 

        First, you erroneously assume that competitive success and instructional skills are directly related. They are not. Sure, in order to be a qualified instructor there is at least a base amount of competitive success you need to have earned (but this base-line level of success is more a metric to indicate an overall knowledge of debate than something that is significant in and of itself.) The best instructors are not necessarily the ones who earned the most bids, won the most tournaments, and had their face plastered over VBD and NSD Update the most. The best instructors are the ones who know debate well, are motivated to teach well, have a passion for the activity, can work well with other instructors, are willing to go the extra mile to help other students, and are willing to be patient, supportive, and kind when helping students who aren’t as skilled as they are. Literally none of that has anything to do with competitive success. The importance of these skills does, however, seem to indicate the importance of having a strong cohort of female instructors at a camp. Female students deserve to have access to instructors that are supportive, friendly, and helpful, and are sympathetic to their position in debate. This generally means female instructors. 

        Second, even if competitive success is directly related to quality of instruction, is there really a relevant difference between good female debaters and good male debaters. Is a male competitor who earned 7 bids categorically more qualified to teach at a camp than a female competitor who earned 3 or 4? It seems like both debaters were excellent and probably qualified to teach at a camp where 95% of the students would know less about debate than them and have a thing or two to learn from them. As I sort of implied earlier, the female instructor who earned 3 or 4 bids has the added ability to be a role model for female students, something the male student could likely never be, no matter how many times he went deep at a big circuit tournament. 

        Over the last three years of coaching, I have coached two female students. One of them never earned a bid, but managed to beat a number of fully-qualified debaters and was, in most people’s opinions, probably skilled enough to qualify to the TOC, despite the fact that she did not do so. She was hired at VBI, probably one of those “affirmative action” hires, and taught a lower level lab. Was she as competitively successful as most of the other instructors? No. Did she have a really good knowledge of debate? Certainly. Was she someone who was capable of teaching JV-level students how to transition into varsity level? Absolutely, and she was probably pretty good at it, too, because she is smart, hard-working, and a good teacher. Despite her (relative) lack of competitive success, she exhibited many of the qualities of a good instructor, and so she was hired.

        Another female student, whom I currently coach, is one your marginal “two bid” cases. She’s qualified to the TOC, but she doesn’t have six, seven, or thirteen bids. She only has two. She’s still really freaking smart and could probably teach a thing or two to the vast majority of students at any camp, especially other female students who might be looking for someone to serve as a role model help them become better at debate. (Then again, she’s probably only qualified to the TOC because at camp she had male instructors and during the regular season she has had a male coach. I mean, where would women be in debate without the superior intellect of men, right?)

        Now to your comment regarding sexist language. I will grant that there is probably no concrete bright-line for sexist language. As such, I will give some examples of sexist comments that I have heard, or heard about, over the past few years of my involvement in debate. I will let you decide if these comments qualify as “sexist” and if their ensuing effect may be some decreased willingness to participate in this activity.

        One student of mine was called a “stupid bitch” by someone who judged her. (The judge later apologized, but it was still said)

        One student, while at camp, was kindly referred to as “The Boobs,” by some male instructors at the camp.

        Another student was approached by a very reputable national circuit debater who asked her if she had ever “Fucked the big black man.”

        A student was called a “stupid cunt” by an opponent in round. The judge apparently agreed with her opponent; adding that not only was she a “stupid cunt,” but a “dumb bitch” as well. 

        Again, for the purposes of keeping our discussion regarding sexism in this activity as sterile, abstract, and jargon-filled as possible, I will not go so far as to label these comments as “sexist” because, of course, I need a bright line. But, for what it’s worth, I will add that the three women to whom these comments were directed are no longer in the activity–two quit debating during their senior years, and another promptly left the activity after graduating, opting not to coach or judge post high school.

      • Frank Blunt

        after reading both of louann brizendine’s books, I’ve suspected that there are genuine physical gender differences to explain why females are nearly extinct at top competitive chess levels and Rubik cube competitions where it’s impossible for a biased judge to say a king wasn’t checked or colors didn’t match…
        Brizendine’s years of research specializing in the brain differences of the genders indicates that in some logic categories women display less natural skill, and possibly some logical functions that debate shares with the two competitions I just mentioned.

    • I made a note of this in another post, but I’ll say it here too. If anyone would like to comment on the pledge or other solutions, but would prefer not to do so publicly, please feel free to email me at jtlew3 AT gmail DOT com. I would like to begin the process of formalizing the pledge and then soliciting signatures soon.

  • I don’t have too much to add. I think Catherine and Karlyn are especially right about the social environment that sometimes develops at debate tournaments and camps. Regardless of changes at the administrative levels of camps and tournaments, I don’t think the number of girls in debate will significantly increase unless the social aspect improves. This doesn’t seem like a problem that’s unique to girls, either, but since we’re usually in the minority, the social environment tends to be skewed more towards boys, in the topics of conversation (as Karlyn mentions), what people think is acceptable to say about girls, etc. Everyone can take steps towards changing this – just be more considerate, basically. One example that comes to mind: at one camp I attended, for the first few days in the dining hall, all the boys in my lab sat together at a table apart from the three girls in the lab. We tried to change this one day by joining their table, but it was full by the time I got there. I was about to go sit with people I didn’t really know in a different lab when a few boys in my lab stood up and moved to another table with me instead. Small gestures like this can go a long way. Also, please speak up if you hear someone calling a girl names based on her personal life – ignoring it or leaving the conversation is not really enough and encourages other people to say similar things.

  • Firstly, I have to say that gender disparity was something I had a really big issue with in high school. I only did two years of debate, but the number of ballots I received within those two years calling me shrill, overly aggressive, and yes, bitchy, was unthinkable. I had more issues with judge bias than harassment, but both issues were there and both caused me a huge amount of self-questioning and reflection as to why they would occur. I found venues to discuss the issue – the AAUW (American Association University of Women) does a speech contest every year for high school students regarding issues of women in poverty and politics, dealing with harassment and breaking through barriers and boys are also quite welcome to participate. I competed in that contest my junior year and did my entire speech on the disparity of women in debate and what this leads to in the real world, and then I took that same speech and added 4 minutes to it and did it at high school tournaments, too. I received a fantastic amount of support when I started using these platforms and my self-esteem started to come back after many brutal attacks upon it. For girls AND boys who are still currently competing in high school, these are options to consider and probably the first place to start, really. I agree with all of the people who have commented on how this forum isn’t the best option in terms of solving problems, because it’s not – use the same platform we’re all talking about, our freedom of speech, and run with it. That’s how you get to the judges and the competitors who really can make that difference on your side. Write an Oratory or an Advocacy speech and double-enter at a local tournament, look up groups like the AAUW and get your word out there. Only people who already really care about the issue will take the time to sift through these comments here, but when you give a speech, it’s nearly impossible to not get some of the message to those who need to be converted to the mindset of helping eliminate this disparity.

    The second way that problems may be able to be solved would involve a lot more work (and very official work) than the first. I now do British Parliamentary Debate at the University level, and while harassment and a lack of supporting female staff are problems that we still have on this level, I would say that those are issues much more prevalent in the US than worldwide, as I’ve noticed at international tournaments which means that it is, again, an issue of a mindset that needs to be changed. The judging, however, is hardly a problem. I have not come out of a single round in college feeling like I lost because my judges were sexist, even if unconsciously, and that’s saying something in comparison to my high school debate experience. The reason for this, I firmly believe, is the structuring of judging and tournaments as a whole in British Parliamentary debate. Firstly, all rounds have a panel with a chair of the panel, including prelims. They, unlike high school debate, are required to convene and must come to a consensus on the outcome of the round. Then, the chair of the judging panel is required to give a verbal adjudication as to why the rankings were the way that they were and the chair must justify their decisions. The biggest difference, though, is the fact that judges are also always competing and that the debaters get to rank their judges, too, and that’s how break round judges are determined. This, I think, is vital. Not only are judges held accountable to each other in this system, which causes them to lessen any individual biases, but they are held more accountable to the debaters – they not only have to justify themselves (which makes it hard to be blatantly racist, sexist, and so on), but if they lack the ability to justify themselves, their points show it and they don’t judge outrounds or chair rounds if their points are low. The last real difference is that there is an Equity Officer at the head of these things, so that if there is some kind of sexist or racist issue with judging OR with competitors, the offense can be reported to the officer. If it is severe enough, the Equity Officer gives a violation to the offender. If individuals get more than a set number of violations at a tournament, they’re disqualified from competing or judging. The judging accountability is probably a bit less needed on the circuit due to the desire for disclosures so much now, but locally it’s still a really big problem. Even something like even instituting an Equity Officer at tournaments would probably lessen the prevalence of this issue, even if it’s impossible to change how the judging system works.

    On the whole, it’s still an issue of a mindset that needs to be changed, and that takes times. The first idea I have is simple and will help do that and did help do that for me, at least. The second is quite complicated but it’s made my experience in debate so much better than it ever was in high school. Even though my problems with it have been solved quite a bit, it’s still an issue that I consider extremely important.

  • Since I’ve graduated, I’ve paid a lot less attention to these types of threads than I did as a debater. Partially because I’m busy, but mostly because as memory serves, not once have these threads lead to real change.

    I think that Jane, Catherine, and Karlyn are just plain right. A greater amount of female role models would likely correlate to a larger amount of female debaters in late outrounds. I guess the next question, at least to me, that needs to be addressed is how we go about getting women in these leadership roles and keeping them there. 

    From the perspective of an LD camp director, the purpose of hiring first-year outs is so that kids who idolized them in high school will come to your camp. Seeing as how the majority of participants in late outrounds of circuit tournaments are men, it’s no surprise that many first-year out lab leaders are also men. Regardless of whether or not debater A (female) is an equally or better qualified instructor as debater B (male), debater B’s name is going to have more pull in terms of kids who sign up for camp simply due to the fact that more kids have either seen him in outrounds, saw his name on VBD, or stalked him on the warm room. 

    As a male, I’ve never been called a slut for wearing a low cut shirt, a dumb bitch for running a silly argument, or a whore for being sexually promiscuous which regrettably limits my ability to empathize with women who’ve had to put up with this. Having that said, I feel as if the make up of my program gives me some insight and also credibility to Karlyn, Catherine, and Jane’s arguments.

    Ankeny is headed and administrated by a female, and two of our three assistant coaches are women. We also have a larger amount of female debaters than male debaters, and as of last season our A debater has historically been a girl. Perhaps this is just coincidence, but after reading some of the posts on this thread it makes a lot of sense.

    The problem I have now is how we can get a comparable ratio of male instructors and female instructors at summer camps. Again, given that the debaters with the biggest reps are men and that camps are profit-driven, it seems hard for camp instructors to justify hiring female lab leaders over male ones, given that the man will possibly have a better rapport with the students who attend the camps because of his prominence in the community. 

    Do you propose that the community establish diversity quotas for camp instructors as a norm, and try to only attend camps that try to meet those quotas? Given that of three camps Jane listed are relatively as expensive and reputable, should the burden fall on the debaters to only endorse camps with the greatest number of women? I’m by no means trying to play devil’s advocate, I’m just think that what you’re saying is true and I’m genuinely interested in what you have to say.

    • Rebar Niemi

      brendan, the idea that having say… 40% female staff versus less than a quarter female staff is somehow going to drive kids away is just ludicrous. you know what makes people better at debate? dedicated staff who work hard. not high profile names. you know what sends kids to a particular camp? the recommendations of their coaches and other people for which camps do a better job educating and improving debaters. 

      granted, a few kids here and there are drawn by the star billings so to speak, but in my opinion that’s not how debate camps stay financially viable.

      also, the whole idea that somehow a camp would have to turn away high profile male instructors to have female instructors is just false. sure, there’s limited payroll and budgets. but payroll and budget increases when you get more kids in, say by having more females attend camp. or by garnering a reputation as a welcoming environment that also improves debaters.

      i think we shouldn’t be pushing for wholesale change right now, that’s clearly unrealistic and the notion that its all or nothing is AN ARGUMENT THAT’S PRIMARY EFFECT IS TO MAINTAIN THE SQUO. this is untenable. incremental change is acceptable and realistic. 

      • Okay, so then what is incremental change? Bitching about a gender disparity on NSD update or VBD for awhile, forgetting about it, and then start bitching again after a RR doesn’t invite any women or some kid starts running a gender disparity K? 

        But, just to clarify on the camp thing, if you honestly think camp directors hire first-year outs because of their amazing ability to educate and motivate students, you’re wrong. Granted, some kids go to camps because they’re coaches and teammates tell them it’s worthwhile. Most kids, however, are drawn in by big names.

        I find it interesting that some of the most reputable policy debate camps have few, if any, first-year outs. And if they do, they work as RAs or in the novice labs and don’t lead upper lab discussions. I assume the reason being that the success of various college programs themselves is sufficient brand name recognition.

        I’ve also personally found that first-year outs make some of the worst lab leaders. Many of them are still high off an ego trip having just cleared at TOC/Nats/CFLs etc and are more concerned with making sure everyone knows how awesome they were at debate than teaching. There’s also a large disparity between being able to do something well and being able to teach someone how to do something well, which is why a lot of the most successful camps are lead by seasoned educators and not by 18 year-olds who’ve yet to actually take a college class.

        But I digress, if you’re not interested in and willing to participate in changing community practices and norms to correct the gender disparity, then stop wasting yours and everyone else’s time posting on this thread.


          • Rebar Niemi

            HAH I KNOW AND MY GRAMMAR SUX. it is (it’s) tight. yeah brendan i wasn’t trying to flame you, i was trying to point out that your concerns are invalid and chris is totally right in everything he said. 

        • John Scoggin

          You might want to consider your word choice choice champ.

        • Anonymous

          I think the phrase “bitching about a gender disparity” is pretty problematic given your own regret for female debaters being called “dumb bitch[es” for certain arguments, and that others have acknowledged the stigma of being called a bitch in CX. 

          I will assume you did not mean to denigrate women in the debate sphere with your language, but it would be great if we could keep posts more respectful in the future. Thanks.

          • In hindsight, probably a poor choice of words to express what I wanted to get across, and for that I apologize. I just feel as if this an issue that merits action beyond occasional discussions, and was frustrated by how easily these types of forums devolve into something they aren’t supposed to be (for which in this instance I’m arguably partially responsible).

            Sorry guys, my bad :/

            But in trying to get back to a more constructive dialogue, I’m still genuinely interested to hear what “incremental changes” are and how I can partake in them.

          • Anonymous

            The apology is much appreciated; let’s get back to fixing the problems we agree upon.

            I think a move toward adopting John Lewis’s proposal could be one of those incremental instances. I understand your points about why camps might not be inclined to hire “lesser” names, but if we were successful in a pledge of some sort, each camp would be equally “handicapped” by the lesser star-power. Maybe a wholesale pledge is unrealistic, but I think some people committing to it is at least a start.

        • Bitching about a gender disparity on NSD update or VBD for awhile, forgetting about it, and then start bitching again after a RR doesn’t invite any women or some kid starts running a gender disparity K? ”

          That was offensive to both women and grammar. Excellent work. 

          • Anonymous

            Brendan has acknowledged his poor choice of words. If you want to contribute to the substantive issue he was discussing, see below.

        • Beyond your obviously poor word choice I think you might want to know what you are talking about before you make such sweeping claims. There are more first year outs at LD camps because  there are not college LD (not the same LD anyway) programs that keep a large number of debaters engaged after graduation. Most debaters will work at camp for a few years and never come back. Hiring a lot of first year outs is done out of necessity, not choice. Also, I don’t think kids make camp choices based on “big names.” However, even if they do, I can tell you from my experience the discussion of who to hire IS a discussion of “who would be the best teacher?” and NOT “who has the biggest name?” Camps draw kids by producing a good product and building a reputation. I mean come on VBI didn’t even post its staff until after most kids had signed up last year. I am sure that anyone involved with another camp would tell you the same thing. 

          This really does not matter to the larger discussion but it just really bothers me when people with absolutely no clue make claims about the motivation of others…

          More on point…

          The big disparity in camp instructor diversity is actually not with first year out hires, there is still a problem there but it is not nearly as big. The bigger problem is with retention. Why do fewer female instructors stay to teach in year 2, 3, 4?  

          • I think there are probably a lot of reasons why female instructors don’t stick around to teach after their first year out. One may be that they aren’t treated with as much respect as their male instructors, so they don’t see it as a comfortable working environment. I think Jane’s point about women not seeing a lot of opportunity for advancement in the camp hierarchy is probably true as well. I also think the fact that women are often overlooked for coaching opportunities may have something to do with it as well. Women who were good debaters but who are passed up for coaching positions might not come back to teach as second, third, and fourth year outs because either (a) they aren’t offered returning positions because they don’t have coaching rep or (b) they aren’t coaching, so they find other things to do with their lives and don’t have any interest in coming back to teach an activity they stopped actively participating in two or three years ago. 

  • Rebar Niemi

    i respect scoggins efforts to defend the criteria of the MBA RR, and I was also mis-informed about the manner in which MBA sends out invites – someone told me that they invite schools, not particular students… this seemed silly to me but i was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and MBA the benefit of the doubt because then it wouldn’t be so clearly their fault. i am sure they are fair and good people john, i’ve never had the pleasure of meeting any of them save cory metzman but somehow i don’t think he’s involved. but sadly even good people who are trying to be fair and balanced can end up doing things that are bad and unfair. 

    but john is right, MBA is not the problem and wasting time on it is certainly not worth it. 

    mr. c-theis makes a great point when he speaks of this being a problem on the local circuit – my team often experiences this as well. to be blunt, i either get in the faces of those judges or i tell my debaters to ignore the assholes. i believe that we can’t eliminate bigots, but we certainly can teach our debaters to cope well with them and not take it personally. i certainly hope he does the same (it sounds like he does). 

    bob dole makes a good point when he talks about how the same traits are punished in females that are rewarded in men (i made a less clear point about this earlier). 

    jane and catherine are both spot on. i certainly hope NSD will have >24% this year (any improvement is still improvement, right?) and i hope the other camps will consider these rough statistics as well. 

    it is however pretty shocking to me that many community members profess to being ignorant of this problem/or didn’t think it was a problem until after graduating and becoming a coach. idk, but from my perspective the exclusiveness always seemed to cut hardest against certain types of people and that wasn’t really a disputable fact. 

    john scog is right, it’s not MBA the people’s fault, it’s not just the national circuit’s fault – BUT – that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be upset in general. jane is right, just because the problem seems large and unsolvable in the short term doesn’t mean that any solution is untenable. it’s this kind of silly inertia-based thought that makes me forget we were all once debaters and supposedly learned some critical thinking. 

  • meagan trayers

    The Women’s Debate Institute does exist in the LD world… it is an amazing experience with many scholarship opportunities, I would highly recommend it to any female debater no matter what circuit they debate on. I mentored last summer and I’ll always be grateful for the friendships, memories, and sense of community I got to be a part of while at WDI. 

  • I’m glad this discussion has been revived yet again. What frustrates me is that while discussions of gender disparities in debate pop up every so often and receive a lot of attention for a month or two, we’re really not doing very much about it. The community seems to generally agree that there are certain steps that we can easily take: try to hire more women at camps, put women on outround panels, hire female coaches, invite female competitors to round robins, and so on. But we rarely hold people accountable for failing to take these steps. I went to a lot of debate camp. In total, I had 14 lab leaders. Zero of them were female. I think we can agree that the lack of female instructors at camps is a problem. But what are we doing about it? Here are some quick numbers. I just included the information from 3 large camps because it was easily available, I’m obviously not claiming this is an all-inclusive study. The “overall” category is based on “staffmember slots” rather than individual people, meaning it double-counts people who worked at multiple camps, so there were not actually 23 distinct women who worked at these camps. Summer 2011:VBI Session 1: 46 staff, 11 female (3 3rd year outs, 4 2nd year outs, 4 1st year outs) 24% femaleNSD: 33 staff, 8 female (1 college grad, 3 2nd year outs, 4 1st year outs) 24% femaleNDF Boston: 24 staff, 4 female (1 3rd year out, 2 2nd year outs, 1 1st year out) 17% femaleOverall: 103 staff, 23 female (1 college grad, 4 3rd year outs, 9 second year outs, 9 first year outs) 22% femaleThese numbers show that not many women are teaching camp, and most of those who are are very young. Perhaps more significant is the fact that few camps have women in leadership positions, and most female instructors do not teach upper-level labs. While hiring females in general is a step in the right direction, I don’t think that we can solve this problem simply by hiring a lot of female first year outs and placing them in lower labs. One reason women might stop teaching at debate camps after their first or second years out of high school is that they don’t see opportunities for advancement within the camp hierarchy. Why should they? If a first year out female instructor sees very few older female instructors, and virtually none in positions of power, she has little reason to think that she will be a leader at the institute in a few years. We can’t just say that it would be nice to have more female role models at camps. We actually need to do something about it. I know at least a few women who should be barraged with requests to take on leadership positions. But they aren’t. If you’re a student who would like to attend a camp with more female instructors, contact camp directors and tell them. We as a community should be pressing camp leaders on why they aren’t hiring more women. I really do think that female role models make a difference. Of the 14 non-first year out instructor “slots” from my analysis above, 8 of the slots were filled by women who debated for Whitman*. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn, but because I think the presence of female role models fueled our continued dedication to the activity. My coaches Tanya Choudhury and Elyse Lyons, along with my older teammate Ellen Noble were incredible female role models and, along with my wonderful female teammates, are a huge part of the reason why I have stayed involved in debate. Unfortunately, many teams do not have such role models. I think it’s ridiculous that there are powerhouse teams which, year after year, have almost no female debaters. It’s not just that the girls at these schools magically have no interest in debate. Something is wrong here. We should be asking coaches and captains on these teams why that’s the case. As a community, we should pressure teams to do more to make women feel included. If a team repeatedly brings no women to tournaments, they should be embarrassed. I also think the fact that round robins don’t include enough women is a reason why round robin invites should be more transparent. The view that “my round robin is my party and I can invite whoever I want!” reeks of “my country club is my country club, so I don’t need to let women or racial minorities be members!” A lack of transparency facilitates discrimination. We should call people out for this – ask round robin directors why they didn’t invite qualified female debaters. Ultimately, I think that in order to work towards gender equality in debate, we need to hold people accountable for action. Perhaps some of the causes of gender disparities are societal, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for inaction. Threads are great, but let’s do something.

    • Sean Janda

      I don’t generally get involved in online discussions anymore, but I think Jane’s entirely right here. This exact discussion happens fairly frequently, and the suggestions that people are coming up with now are often exactly the same ones that Avi was promoting two years ago and that haven’t yet been implemented. 

      I think it’s also important that we don’t separate the issue of gender inequality in debate from the issues of race inequality, socioeconomic inequality, school inequality, etc. The national circuit is extraordinarily exclusionary (and not just because of the time/money it takes to legitimately compete there). This exclusion happens both actively (e.g. talking about the arguments that “that dumb bitch” was running or making fun of the local debater who dared to run Locke at your national circuit tournament) and passively (Karlyn and Catherine make good points about how women are often excluded from conversations or from feeling included in the community of the circuit, and I think it’s pretty obvious that debaters that don’t often travel to national circuit tournaments aren’t exactly being reached out to on the circuit), and it seems to stem from an extraordinarily elitist viewpoint and sense of entitlement/superiority that a lot of debaters have (beyond the examples discussed on this thread, you can go read the earlier thread about topic nullification, where points were made about how, for example, local circuit debaters just roll up to tournaments with two analytical cases so it doesn’t matter if they have to prep two separate topics for national and local tournaments). I think trying to correct this exclusionary attitude goes far, far beyond putting more women on outround panels or hiring more women at camp (although both of those are good ideas). Real change necessitates radically altering the culture of the circuit so that more circuit debaters take the initiative to call out those who are being elitist (or racist/sexist/whatever) and encourage participation in their own conversations or friend groups by those who are currently being marginalized. 

      • Coaching a team this year that has been victim to the elitist culture of the national circuit, I couldn’t agree with Sean more.

    • I’m going to add Mr. Timmon’s UNT Mean Green Workshops to Jane’s list as a stand-out exception. I’m not sure about the policy side, but the LD camp actually had more female staff than male staff. I know for a fact it’s something Mr. Timmons takes into account when hiring.

  • John Scoggin

    I think the implicit and explicit call outs of MBA (and consequently the small group of people who make the decisions… you are not calling out a whole school you are calling out like the 4 people who are involved in choosing the kids that go.) are scurrilous and unfounded. My personal experience with those involved has been that they are considerate and fair people, and I be surprised if other people (who have actually met/talked to these people) disagree with me.

    The problem (and I agree that there is a problem, especially with judge retention) is clearly present in the debate community as a whole. People are quick to blame the ‘national circuit’ for every problem they can think of, but Chris rightly points out that this problem is probably worse at the local level.

  • Some thoughts:


    Similarly to Karlyn, and probably others, I didn’t give
    issues of gender inequity significant thought as a debater, and I don’t think I
    gave adequate consideration to the reasons behind the obvious imbalance in
    representation at circuit tournaments and in late outrounds. I thought that
    differing motivational levels and self-selection were the primary reasons girls
    weren’t active in debate in high numbers [I still think these things play some
    role, but not as large of one as I used to believe]. I never had a particular
    round where I felt like I was screwed over by a judge as a result of being
    female. And so I didn’t take the problem as seriously as I should have.


    Since graduating, I’ve become more acutely aware of a
    problem in the community that I think creates gender inequity by dampening many
    girls’ interest in competing and investment in the circuit community. So even
    if it there is no impact on a round-by-round level, i.e. no girl ever loses a
    given round for being a girl, there certainly is one on the debate environment,
    which is in many ways not conducive to female success [or generally to the
    wellbeing of competitors].


    I think there’s a basic, more general concern that underlies
    a lot of the problems with gender inequity, which is the kind of conduct we as
    a community condone both in and out of debate rounds. I’ve judged and watched a
    lot of rounds this year where one debater has explicitly insulted/mocked their
    opponent during their speech, or laughed/scoffed/smirked during their
    opponent’s speech. Even more of this happens outside of rounds, where
    disagreements over the educational value of some argument or practice or
    paradigm turn into personal attacks against whoever that thing is associated
    with. Online discussions often develop really quickly into ad hominem attacks
    that basically never seem to lead to any consensus with regards to the original
    point of disagreement. I don’t think this means that all the arguments that
    happen about debate practices should be detached or impersonal – for people who
    devote years/decades/their lives to this activity, it makes no sense to pretend
    that nobody has a personal stake in community norms. But if we can start from
    the assumption that most of us care about debate and aren’t trying to destroy
    it, and if we find things in common in spite of paradigmatic or ideological
    disagreements, then maybe we can start treating each other like friends, or at least
    start respecting each other a little bit more. At an absolute minimum, things
    like the direct attacks debaters hurl at each other via tools like anonymous
    memes seem obviously unacceptable, and I think it’s a just as much of a problem
    if adults in the community aren’t absolutely clear about condemning that kind
    of practice.


    Obviously, it’s not only guys who are responsible for this
    behavior, and it’s not only girls who feel uncomfortable because of it. But,
    girls are probably more likely to be targeted by attacks about personal
    behavior [or rumored personal behavior] than guys are – e.g. being called sluts
    or whores. And, the environment that these actions generally produce is one
    that can be particularly demoralizing for girls. Specifically, a lot of girls
    I’ve talked you are invested in the debate community as a social environment as
    much as they are invested in it competitively. I think that, on the whole,
    there are more male debaters who are hyper-competitive and would enjoy debate
    even if they didn’t love the community or how they were treated by it. Within
    rounds I’ve seen, in general, it seems like guys are more willing to respond to
    attacks by striking back. Most girls seem to prefer to avoid conflict and be
    uncomfortable with excessively aggressive behavior. Again, these are just
    generalizations. A similar pattern exists in out of round confrontations. If
    you look at recent arguments/flame wars that have happened on online forums
    like this, there are a lot more guys posting than girls, and I would guess the
    inequity in that posting is much greater than the inequity in top-level round
    representation – e.g. I just looked through the Lexington* Solution thread and
    the Debate Action thread and there is a not a single post by a female in either
    discussion. That seems ridiculous. But I think it reflects a difference in
    comfort levels with this kind of aggressive dialogue between guys and girls.
    Gender disparity questions aside, I think we would all be a lot better off if
    we gave a little bit more thought to how we treat/talk to one another. But I
    also know there are girls who have left the activity – and even more who have
    considered leaving or who have stayed away from the national circuit because of
    this environment. That seems like a serious problem, and since it’s one that
    we’re all directly responsible for, it’s one we’re directly able to change.


    If we care about things like retention of female role models
    – or, generally about retention of good, positive role models and educators in
    debate – we should think seriously about the reasons these people are deciding
    that they don’t want to spend their lives in the debate activity. I love
    debate, and I love many of the people who participate in it, but a lot of the
    behavior I’ve observed in the last few years has really made me question how
    long I want to stay involved. And I’m guessing there are other girls who have
    gone through the same thought process and decided to leave. Debaters need to
    start thinking seriously about how they talk to one another, about whether
    their jokes are coming through as jokes or as hurtful attacks, and generally
    about how to make the community a place where people can feel comfortable and
    included. Coaches and judges should be making sure their modeling this kind of
    behavior, and calling out debaters for their actions – through tanking speaks,
    comments on ballots, discussions with coaches, etc. – rather than laughing

  • Anonymous

    On the issue of Incorporating more female judges to MJP, I just wanted to note that Blake did a great job last year (and maybe this year, too) of finding highly-preferred women for the panels. My quarters round was actually three female judges (in a male v female round), and it was interesting getting the perspective of being in the round’s minority. Chad’s research on the gender bias bring equivalent between male and female judges suggests that such MJP changes might not be enough, but I certainly think it was a worthwhile experience that more tournaments should emulate.

  • i think we all have to consider the possibility that certain aspects of circuit-styled debate might cater to males more than females. i think people who defend this position are being unfairly characterized in this discussion; it stinks of a straw man. i am not saying that it has to do with some intrinsic or biological fact about having a vagina. i’m just saying it’s not impossible that the way our culture socializes individuals of particular genders could contribute to the gender disparity in debate. that is a fact about the construction of gender in society, it is not an intrinsic fact of being female. i don’t think gender disparity is therefore necessarily indicative of a problem with debate. it could be a problem with our culture in general. that being said, there is obviously a sizable disparity here and i find it hard to believe that it’s solely due to how individuals are socialized in our culture. more importantly, it is very difficult, probably impossible, to tell how much of the disparity is due to how individuals are socialized, and there are CERTAINLY problems with the way women are treated in the activity that we should strive to combat.

    and of course, I am not saying something like “its just a fact of our culture that girls just sound bitchy when they are aggressive in round and there is nothing we can do about it” or something like that. i usually enjoy it when girls are really aggressive in round. if people have been culturally trained to view “aggressive” females as being “bitches” then we should obviously work to change that. 

    • Although it is true there are certainly socially constructed acceptable ways for females to act in our culture that may or may not be conducive to what many consider “good debate,” I have seen the personality of female debaters I have coached change from Freshman year on directly as a result of things that have happened to them in debate…

      • i’m not sure we disagree about anything: i think that any girls who join debate should be encouraged to do “good debate” irrespective of judges who harbor hateful cultural standards for acceptable female behavior. very likely this could lead to a reversal of some gender norms ingrained in their personality (e.g. that they shouldn’t be aggressive because it makes them sound bitchy). i just think that the position that “there is a gender disparity because debate caters to men more than women” is being unfairly characterized, because i imagine that any intelligent person who defends such a position would be thinking something like this: “success in debate requires skill y. because of the way that our culture socializes women, girls are either less likely to develop skill y or less willing to exercise skill y because of the way females are socialized or because of unfair cultural expectations about gender roles. this could explain why girls are less likely to join debate or why girls who join debate are less likely to stick with it”. The extent to which this account of gender disparity is true is very unclear to me. But I don’t think it is some sort of ridiculous or implicitly hateful argument.

        • Yeah, it is not that I think you are way off/out of line here. I just think even if everything you say is true that:

          a. So what? Even if our culture generally discourages certain personality traits that contribute to the problem that does not let us off the hook. There is still a problem and there are still things we can do to make it better in debate. 

          b. Debate is a forum where those stereotypes can be uniquely imposed on female debaters and that is a problem. 

          Also, nothing in what you have said speaks to the other out-of-round problems that Karlyn and others speak to. 

          • i agree it is basically an irrelevant point (see the second half of my post. again, it is impossible to tell how much of the disparity is due to the effect i am talking about. also, there are clear problems with the treatment of women in debate e.g. the kind of stuff karlyn is talking about and we should work to combat those.) but when i’ve heard people give this account of gender disparity before they have often been ridiculed or not taken seriously or accused of having an offensive viewpoint. i think that this is counter-productive because it happens to be a pretty plausible account of the gender disparity in debate. if we want to convince people that it is not a sufficient account of the gender disparity in debate then we should probably take the merits of their position seriously and then explain why there are other problems with gender in debate that we can reasonably do something about (of course, you are also right that we can do some things about the problems with how women are socialized as well, such as encouraging them to be aggressive in round despite negative stereotypes, but there is a pretty clear limit to the amount that we can reshape the construction of gender in society). instead what i usually see is that these accounts of gender disparity are badly straw-manned and poorly argued against.

          • also, after re-reading some of the posts here i think that most people in this discussion are not guilty of the kind of straw manning i’m talking about but i’ve definitely seen it happen before (i recall a particular vbd thread where a discussion of this issue took place in which someone was ridiculed for defending the kind of position I’m talking about). still, i think for the purposes of clarity it is important to note that the mere fact of gender disparity isn’t necessarily the problem here. there is quite possibly problems with gender disparity in debate that we can’t do anything about.

  • bob dole

    There is a disgusting gender disparity in debate, but it is sufficiently systematic that it is not an issue of gender oppression, but rather of societal norms. I will make the following grand generalizations:

    Men in debate tend to be:
    1. Aggressive
    2. “nerdy”
    3. Willing to speak their minds/act freely
    4. Extraordinarily full of themselves.

    As a result of any of these 4 things, and additionally due to the large workload/time investment that debate has, men in debate also tend to be single, and many have never had a serious, or even functional relationship.

    Women in debate tend to be: 
    1. Aggressive
    2. “nerdy”
    3. Willing to speak their minds/act freely
    4. Extraordinarily full of themselves.

    As a result of any of these 4 things, and additionally due to the large workload/time investment that debate has, women in debate also tend to be single, and many have never had a serious, or even functional relationship.
    The issue is not one of existence but of perception. That is, let’s take some of these traits and apply them to typical gender roles.

    1. Aggressive–Strong, powerful, alpha
    2. “nerdy”–Reflective, intelligent
    3. Willing to speak their minds/act freely–True, honest, down-to-earth
    4. Extraordinarily full of themselves–Confident.
    1. Aggressive–Bitchy, annoying
    2. “nerdy”–insecure, shy (despite the clear contradiction in 1, 2, and 4)
    3. Willing to speak their minds/act freely–Bitch/whore, slut
    4. Extraordinarily full of themselves.–Stuck-up, preppy

    That is, when a man OR woman sees a female acting in the ways that men do, there is a subconscious issue taken. There are sociological and biological reasons for the idea that women ought be submissive, and men ought be dominant. That being said, while these underlying stereotypes tend to result in sexism on the personal level (ad hominems, exclusion, sexual misconduct, even), they do not seem to result in sexism on a systematic level. The study noted by by various people (too lazy to look up who) seems to show that there is minimal effect of sex itself on actual tournament or round victories. This would appear to be due to the “neutral judge” phenomena, where many judges seem to be very, very good at separating the contestants from the issues they bring forth. Most judges decide the round based off of how their flow looks at the end, not based off of the conduct of the 1NC in cross-ex.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m about to make an extremely bold statement here. It would appear that those who do not participate in events tend not to win them. The reason that women do not win TOC tournaments, or that women bid substantially less, or that women aren’t invited to the MBA is due to the fact that women (understandably) decide not to participate in an event where perceptions of them are skewed.There are only two solutions that I can see to the problem. We can either eliminate the cause of the stereotypes, or the cause of the situation that created the stereotypes.

    Eliminating the stereotypes is difficult. We would need a massive societal shift that would reject the concept of the subservient female. There is progress all the time on this issue, but it most certainly is not yet resolved.

    In contrast, eliminating the “cause” of the stereotypes may be much easier. If debate does not require aggressive stances in cross-ex, then women who would ordinarily appear “bitchy” in cross-ex won’t need to. If debate does not put such a massive emphasis on winning, then the issues in stereotype 4 will disappear. It most certainly won’t solve the problem as a whole, but will make the debate scene substantially more tolerable for women.

  • I agree with most of what has been said so far, but I think
    Fritz has one thing slightly wrong. He says that the gender problem is almost exclusively
    a problem of the national circuit; in my experience as coach the exact opposite
    is true.


     While it is true that
    women generally are more successful on the locally than nationally I think this
    is because of the horrible treatment they receive as novice and JV debaters
    that causes them to adopt a particular style that local judges prefer.


    I have never had any female debater I have coached have a
    problem with a judge saying something I would consider to be sexist to them
    after the round or on a ballot at a national tournament but that happens
    multiple times at every single local tournament with my JV and Novice debaters.
    For example not once have I seen a debater called “bitchy” on a Glenbrooks
    ballot but it is a common occurrence locally.


    This year Apple Valley has 15 novice girls and 3 boys. When
    the season began I was really happy that we had a group of really aggressive,
    smart girls who could not be intimidated. As the season wore on however, I would
    give them advice about arguments to make or cross-ex strategies and they would
    say things like “I can’t say that. It’s too mean” or “when I do that judges
    yell at me for being a bitch,” at the beginning of the season that never
    happened.  Also, the same arguments and
    strategies were never an issue for the boys. From my observations, most of the
    problem seems to be coming from parent and older judges who have very specifc
    ideas about how young girls ideally ought to behave. I think that female
    debaters are being sent a signal early on that if they are aggressive, loud, not
    nice enough or deferential enough they will lose. Male debaters are not sent
    this message and are in fact encouraged to do the opposite. This has huge
    ramifications down the line when those same characteristics make debaters MORE
    successful on the national circuit.  So
    yes women are more successful locally but I do not think it is because local
    circuits are more female friendly, just the opposite in fact.



     It has got to the
    point where we have made it clear to our young debaters that I consider it a
    good sign if they are told they are being “bitchy” or mean, that it will come
    in handy later and that if they really think they may be crossing a line to let
    their coaches be the judge of that, and not a novice judge at the Eagan



    Now all of this is not to say there are not other problems
    as well. I think Karlyn has done a pretty good job speaking to those. This is just
    one aspect of the problem that I think is overlooked. 

    • I don’t think your point is necessarily exclusive of mine. I think that it is probably true that there is still a heavy presence of sexism at the local level (although that sexism may take on a different form–judge bias vs. sexual harassment and exclusion). My point was just that women, in general, tend to win more rounds locally than they do nationally. Here in California, for example, there are a lot more women in deep elims at, say, Long Beach and La Costa Canyon than there are at VBT and Berkeley. 

      Now that I think about it, the local-circuit sexism you describe may be another one of the many contributing factors of low female participation on the national circuit. It may be the case that a lot of women don’t ease well into national circuit competition because early in their careers they are coached into being slow, submissive, and overly-polite to satisfy the whims of local circuit judges. I’m sure that there are lots of programs that compete only locally in Minnesota (and elsewhere) that, unlike Apple Valley, would not see it as a good thing that a female debater was told she was “bitchy” on a ballot, and would not encourage or support sending their female debaters to tournaments where in order to win, they have to be aggressive, especially toward their male opponents.

      • Yeah, I think we are pretty much on the same page. I was offering what I think is a decent explanation of at least some of the problem in-round. The out-of-round problem is an entirely different question.

  • Rebar Niemi

    fritz has a really really good suggestion: mjp should always prefer a female judge over a male judge when the preferencing is equal. i do not believe i have been on a panel with two female judges almost ever. maybe a few times, but none that i can remember off the top of my head. seeing an all female panel is even rarer. 

    i know the view from tab has handled tabbing issues many times, and one thing that i always thought was wiggy about what they talked about was how TRPC is so lame and you have to basically manually pair MJP stuff all the time. This leads me to believe that unconscious decisions are made in many tab rooms to include “better” (cough male cough) judges on outround panels even when preferencing is identical. I don’t blame tab directors, although I do think that we need a larger pool of coaches who are willing to tab tournaments, I maintain my belief that is the culture of the national circuit that leads to these types of unconscious preferences. still, this tabbing affirmative action would be an easy fix.

    everything karlyn talks about is right on the money. especially not making effort to retain female judges/coaches/camp counselors. I know my experiences aren’t generalizable to the experiences of females, but I know that as someone who hasn’t necessarily felt included all of the time, sometimes the biggest thing in the world (and the difference between continuing to participate in debate or not) is feeling wanted, feeling like people value your input, and feeling like you’re a part of the community. 

    it’s clearly the out of round issues that are causing the in round disparities. i just KNOW that there are schools who give more attention to the male novices/jv kids over the female ones because “well they’ll be bad anyway/they won’t stick with it.” this is, again, a self fulfilling prophecy. 

    big schools should also seriously consider their hiring practices with coaches, and making sure they have some staff diversity. again, it can be as simple as merely reaching out to people – that can be the difference between them leaving debate behind and staying with it for at least college and a few years beyond. 

    i think MBA is sort of beyond help, i mean, its the south. no offense southerners, i love the south. but everyone knows what i mean. also, its pretty telling that you don’t see anybody refusing their invites to protest gender disparities… although it is understandable considering no one wants to lose their chance to eat a bunch of junk food and chill in the tenny-see. 

    its just sad that more highly visible coaches and debaters are either skirting (HA) these issues or not contributing at all. i hope summit debate posts something about this, i hope to have a wordpress account soon and then i will start trolling over there as well as here. L)

    • Rebar Niemi

      CORRECTION: mba does not select debaters, merely programs to invite people from. so its not their fault, sorry southerners for assuming the worst. IT’S THE FAULT OF THE COACHES WHO SEND THEIR MALE DEBATERS OVER THEIR FEMALE DEBATERS. also i think its probably a problem that there were 5 invites sent to all boys catholic [jesuit] schools, so its only partially mba’s fault and really only a marginal fault at that, because hey who doesn’t love them a nice polite jesuit-educated young man. i know that i like all dem boys. 

      again, sorry mba – but again, not super sorry because what do you expect when you send multiple invites to all boys jesuit schools. 

      • This is actually not true. PV Peninsula received an invite specifically for Daniel and a few weeks later one specifically for Henry that was turned down. It is true that SOME invites are for teams, but it is not always the case. 

        • +1 chris, and i believe that we should generally refrain from singling out any one tournament because it misses the point: MBA, or any tournament for that matter, didn’t create the norms that led to the systemic exclusion of women. so far, this thread has received some remarkable feedback/constructive criticism on the issue at hand, and i wouldn’t want the 2012 MBA field to detract from that; if you want to discuss MBA’s field further, post on that specific thread. 

          • Hmm maybe I’m misinterpreting your comment, but as a community, I think we have a responsibility to call out and respond to the lack of female representation. There are some vague causes of gender disparity, but specific actors can be culpable of perpetuating the gender disparity or excluding women. I’m not saying we need to go on a massive witch hunt and call everyone sexist and obviously we should recognize the problem is much bigger than MBA invites. However, we shouldn’t brush off the MBA invites as nbd – it seems kinda silly to just say MBA isn’t responsible for their own decisions because they didn’t create these “exclusive norms”. I think the recent MBA invites provide a great concrete example of the community not taking female representation seriously and I think that’s useful in these discussions that tend to get very abstract.

          • John Scoggin

            The problem is you can’t separate claims like that from the actual people you are talking about. In this context, talking about MBA like it is some amorphous object is just not accurate, the selection is done from a very small group of people. Are you saying they are sexist?

            Additionally look at the list this year. Who of the invites doesn’t follow the rule 1. go deep at GBN/Greenhill 2. get a lot of bids. (probably fairly reasonable criteria for selecting top debaters.) The top 12 bid earners are male, 2 girls were in quarters or beyond of GBN/Greenhill, the one that was at that level in both got invited. It isn’t a problem with particular tournaments, its a problem with the community as a whole.

            If your point is MBA should do some sort of affirmative action, that probably has some merit. I personally think that is a good idea. My guess would be if you constructively engaged the people at MBA rather than imply they were sexist on an online forum, they would be be more responsive.

          • I certainly don’t intend to call out individuals for being sexist and I’m sure the individuals who decided on the invites had nothing but good intentions. I suppose my vague rhetoric of “MBA” was my way of trying to demonstrate that my
            complaint is not intended to be an attack on anyone’s character. I’m confused as to why my complaint requires me to attack their character
            or implies someone is sexist (in fact I specifically said we shouldn’t call everyone sexist).

            I think they were doing their best to come up with a very competitive field and I think they did that very well – all of the debaters are super deserving of that invite. What I don’t think they did, and what I think they (as well as other
            tournaments and camps) could be more aware of in the future, is making sure there’s some adequate female representation in the field.
            It seems like most people recognize female representation is important and I think RRs, like camps, should strive to have some
            female representation. Is this really that offensive of a criticism?

            I guess if we’re working from the assumption that RR invites should ignore gender and invite whoever has the most bids, then I would be unfairly criticizing them. So I guess that goes to your remark about affirmative action. Considering
            RR invites tend to follow loose criteria for who gets invited (which I don’t think is a bad thing, it seems silly to just invite whoever has the most bids since that’s not always indicative of talent) then it seems that there are always multiple candidates that are equally deserving of a spot. I think this is true of MBA and that they have
            room to pay attention to gender and make sure there’s an reasonable representation of girls without making sacrifices to quality of
            competition. If this wasn’t the case, and the gender disparity was so large there would need to be some serious affirmative action to
            guarantee female representation, I think I’d be a fan of that too. And if MBA does follow strict criteria like you refer to, then maybe
            I am advocating full affirmative action. I just hesitate because there are many successful female debaters that would be highly
            competitive in that field that I wouldn’t want to imply otherwise. I hope that clears things up.

            As for constructively engaging MBA, I’m
            all for that. I first just nicely asked for an explanation on the original thread. I used this forum because I thought it might spark a
            productive discussion and because it felt like a community-wide issue. I thought it was important to publicly highlight because it seemed indicative of the community norms that are now being discussed and part of a larger problem of tournaments, schools and institutes
            not taking female representation seriously. I think you make a good point that contacting them personally to discuss the issues would be
            a great additional thing to do.

          • John Scoggin

            They do not explicitly follow objective criteria, but given that the rule can explain all but 1 individual invited this year is indicative of the fact that if you want to go to MBA, go deep at GBN/Ghill and get bids. I think that this is a reasonable way to determine the top performances, which is how MBA invites are determined. Obviously the criteria I bring up are not perfect, and there are some obvious nuances that I didn’t mention, (not all bids are equal, winning a tournament is better than just getting a bid, etc.) but I think they work as a fairly objective way to measure performance. Given that I don’t think the invites they sent out this year were sexist. The MBA invitation guidelines are loose to an extent, but for the most part they seek to invite the top debaters in the country, based on performance. I understand that there are differences between performance and skill, but given that the people at MBA are not judging circuit LD all that often, it seems like making invites based on skill rather than performance would be much more arbitrary. It would mean that they would just have to ask their friends who they think the most skilled debaters are, and I hardly think anyone would think that is a fair system.

            My argument is that the problem is a systemic one, so calling out particular tournaments doesn’t make sense, and is unfair to those that run them. I’m also saying that you can’t say ‘the result of this invitation process was sexist’ without that applying to the individuals that made the decision. I don’t know how you can make a statement like “…the problem is much bigger than MBA invites” (which implies MBA invites are a problem) and then say, oh but everyone who made those decisions are completely objective and wonderful. If you agree with me that these particular invites just reveal systemic issues rather than particular ones, why are you talking about a particular one 4 times and no other ones.

          • I really don’t think we’re in much
            disagreement or maybe this is just me running away from
            confrontation. I don’t know or really care how MBA measures debaters’ level of success. No matter what criteria they use, I think they should make sure females are represented, even if that means some notion of affirmative action. I have no desire to argue whether or
            not X female debater is more deserving that Y male debater. I don’t need to argue that because my complaint is the absence of female representation regardless. I don’t think they’re sexist because they thought Joe was better than Sally. I don’t think they’re sexist.

            I think they failed to engage in an
            effective policy (guaranteeing adequate female representation) to combat gender disparity. And I think their failure to guarantee
            female representation perpetuates some of those bad systematic norms. As is said in Jane’s post, if we’re going to talk about these methods (female representation in high levels of competition, camps, judge
            panels) as responses to the gender gap in debate, we should hold actors accountable to them. MBA stood out because there’s only one girl invited for the second year in a row and because it just happened. I’m complaining about their failure to be part of a potential solution (female representation).

            I think that’s as clear as I can be
            about my criticism of the MBA invites. I’ve personally said plenty of things that probably perpetuate stereotypes or norms that feed the gender gap. And every camp has had failures at some point in terms of
            female representation that are probably worse than MBA’s. I don’t think MBA is alone, but I do think we need to start holding
            people/institutes accountable to the solutions we talk about.

          • John Scoggin

            I don’t think we disagree with all that much, I just think it is unfair to single them out when you seem to agree with me that they are not the problem. I don’t understand why it is acceptable to post stuff like:

            “And I think their failure to guarantee female representation perpetuates some of those bad systematic norms.”

            If you are going to hold them accountable for omissions rather than actions, how does this criticism not apply to everyone (including yourself)?

      • Anonymous


      • The MBA Round Robin selects offers invites to programs instead of the debaters themselves? I actually didn’t know that. Why the hell weren’t CPS and Hockaday sent invites? I call shenanigans. 

        • The invites are individual, I received one and then John Heizelman received one. They were sent one before and one after Glenbrooks. Just to clear up the issue.

      • Why the hell would Loyola Blakefield have gotten an invite? I personally received an invite, my team did not.

        • TCAM and Theis are right. Larry got an invite our junior year, I did not. Indian Springs as a program definitely did not get an invite that year or my senior year.

      • Just a minor note: my MBA friend informed me that MBA doesn’t select the participants in the LD RR since they don’t have any LD program. They get a coach from another program to make the selections (he wasn’t exactly sure who chose). 

  • I think the lack of female representation at the highest levels of national circuit debate is way more indicative of a problem within the national circuit community than a manifestation of certain, unchangeable differences between males and females. People who reduce the male dominance over national circuit debate to things like “Girls have higher voices and don’t sound as persuasive” or “Girls can’t be aggressive without sounding bitchy” are making an insensitive and meaningless excuse for a lot of deeply-entrenched and systemic problems in the activity. At the level of local circuit debate, there is far less of a gender divide. Women win more rounds at tournaments that aren’t national circuit tournaments. In front of local circuit judges, who probably place a MUCH higher emphasis on persuasion and polish, it seems that females are actually doing much better. So, I hardly believe that the issue is that there are basic differences between males and females that cause otherwise smart, hard-working women to be excluded from out-rounds at prestigious national circuit tournaments, and cause the MBA Round Robin to be 8% female for the second year in a row.

    I would agree with Rebar and Karlyn that the problem, while attributable to a lot of factors, is primarily the result of the national circuit being a hostile environment for a lot of female competitors, coaches, and judges. Females who initially get involved with debate don’t stick around as long, quit debating, don’t go to as many tournaments, don’t go to camp etc., because the environment is not friendly towards them. Deep in the annals of Victory Briefs Daily is a post of mine on this exact issue, in which I list of some rather unpleasant stories about instances of gross mistreatment of female competitors. I won’t re-list them, but I will say that sexual and verbal harassment of women is all too common in this activity. At a certain point, to solve this problem, there needs to be a concerted effort among male competitors, coaches, and judges to not participate in, or condone, this type of harassment. It is easy to get caught up in the heat of competition and say horrible things about other members of the activity (I will freely admit that I have said terrible things that I now regret about a number of people in this activity, both male and female, and I think most people would be lying if they said they had not done likewise). That does not excuse the fact that most of this vitriol, when directed at women, takes the form of flagrant sexism. People need to stop saying things like “God, I hate that bitch” when they lose to a female debater or “Wow, what a dumb bitch” when a female judge votes them down. Males need to stop listing off all the females they have hooked up with at camp or at tournaments. Next time you hear someone saying something really hurtful to, or about, a female member of this activity, don’t take part, and instead stand up for the person being harassed. The national circuit community needs to come together and realize that we are cohesively at fault for making our activity hostile and dangerous for a number of intelligent and hard-working women who  actually have a lot to contribute to it. 

    In terms of numerically increasing female involvement in the national circuit, there are some other, more pragmatic things that can be done. Obviously, camps and coaching staffs can make sure they hire more women to join their ranks. One issue that is often overlooked is the utter lack of female judges on out-round panels. While females are obviously underrepresented numerically among debaters, they are even more underrepresented among judges. This past weekend, for example, I was on an out-round panel with two female judges, and I am pretty sure that in my three years of judging, that is the first time that has happened. It seems like nearly all three-judge panels are either 100% or 67% male. The overwhelming male presence in the judging pool probably contributes to judge bias against female competitors and also probably shapes a norm that more “masculine” habits among debaters are what result in W’s and high speaks. To solve this problem, I would argue that (a) if there are two mutually preferred judges and one of them is female, that tournaments should give the preference to the female judge when assigning out-round panels and that (b) competitors and coaches should get over some of their sexist biases against female judges and give high preferences to female judges when filling out pref sheets. 

    In the meantime, the males who dominate this activity should use their positions of power and privilege to increase female participation. Obviously, there are a lot more male coaches than female coaches. Male coaches, especially those who work privately rather than with a school (such as myself) should be more open to coaching female students, or perhaps even seek them out for coaching opportunities. Large, established programs should hire more female coaches to serve as role models for female students and help increase recruitment and retention of female debaters.  Increasing female participation at all levels of the activity, is the best way to decrease hostility towards women in the activity, by decreasing the number of people who are hostile, and by increasing role models and friends who can serve as allies in the face of hostility. 

  • Research Rebar and I both referenced is here:

  • My research with Paul Dorasil (who also approved this comment) finds that females pick up a lower percentage of ballots at the TOC than males do. However, it also finds no evidence of a change in female success rates in front of male or female judges. Side bias is the overwhelming problem as far as in-round effects on the winner, followed by regional bias where judges tend to prefer debaters from their regions over equally competent debaters from other regions. 

    If you want to find the locus of the gender disparity in participation, you should probably look to out-of-round behavior rather than in-round behavior. While 26% of TOC debaters are females, only 13% of the judges are females. This indicates that women are not being retained as coaches and judges at elite levels of competition. Assuming that mentors/mentees express sex homogeneity preferences – something that wouldn’t surprise me – the lack of elite female participation could well be the result of network effects. 

  • Karlyn Gorski

    I think that this is far too complex of an issue to really deal with in this forum; however, I’ll try to throw my two cents in. First is why I believe that there is a gender problem. Second is what I think we can do about it. If you already think that there is a gender problem, feel free to skip to part 2.

    1) As a debater, I was not always convinced that there was a gender problem. Sure, I saw that there were more guys than girls in outrounds, but I found ways to explain this. Girls spent their time in a wider array of extracurriculars while guys were more singularly focused, so guys put more time into debate. Girls’ voices don’t sound as persuasive as guys’, but we can’t blame anyone/anything for that. Girls choose not to debate because they don’t want to spend their weekends surrounded by nerdy guys.

    The more time I spent in the activity, the more I saw that there were other problems. I was harassed, and, as I became closer with other female debaters, I learned that many of them had been too. However, it wasn’t until after graduating and working as a lab leader, judge, and coach that I really came to believe that there is a problem. For those of you who are still debating, just wait. Wait until you see the girl in your lab who gets called a slut for wearing a shirt that shows a little cleavage. Wait until you hear the group of guys listing off who some girls have hooked up with, and what they call her. Wait until that quiet girl in your lab breaks down and tells you that a coach made advances on her. Wait until the girl from the JV lab asks you how to be aggressive in cross-ex without being a bitch. I’ve been that girl, I’ve seen that girl, I’ve coached that girl, and over and over again, I’ve cried with that girl.

    A good friend of mine in the activity didn’t believe, in high school, that there was a gender problem. Shortly after becoming a lab leader / coach / judge, he changed his mind. So, if you don’t believe me, just wait. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking hard enough.

    2) I think that one of the simplest, least-controversial, most easily-implementible solutions to this problem is to promote the presence of female role models in the community. In a situation where more than one judge fits onto an outrounds panel, and one of the options is female, she should get the slot every time. Schools should consciously consider hiring females onto their coaching staff — not necessarily as a head coach, or even a debate coach if they don’t feel any are a good fit for their team, but then maybe as a speech coach. Camps should encourage female staff members to return — there tend to be a solid group of first-year-out females, but by third-year-out, there are usually only one or two (if any) left. Women should be given lectures geared towards students of all levels, particularly Varsity / Upper Varsity or camp-wide lectures. Those with enough experience should be included in camp leadership.

    I think that having a strong female presence is important because I remember nearly every single female who personally taught me something significant about debate, whether it was as a lab leader, running a few drills with me, giving a thoughtful RFD, or just kicking my ass and showing me what good debate looks like. If there wasn’t a scarcity of female role models, it wouldn’t have mattered as much — I wouldn’t have remembered them because they are females. But I do. And I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way — having younger female debaters return continuously to my office hours, talk to me at tournaments, etc, reminds me that I’m now a role model to them. I want to continue to have that presence, but I can’t if I’m not invited to coach, judge, or return to camps. *

    * This is not me begging to get hired; I occasionally decline such invitations for personal reasons. But I do know of females who are qualified, want to get hired, and aren’t. 

    One last thing. Having, multiple times, been one of only a handful of females present at a tournament/RR, I know how much it matters to be included. People bond over things they have in common, and if there are only one or two females present, they’ll probably be excluded from whatever the social group that forms decides is their common factor — fantasy football, your sick new Nike kicks, whatever. Of course, I am generalizing here; football can be interesting and your shoes might be cool. The point, however, is that it is much less isolating to focus on things that won’t separate the few who might already feel separated — go watch the Holidazzle parade, talk about whether the Blake bears are cooler than the Emory keys, whatever. Reach out to others. I can really mean a lot.

    • Karlyn Gorski

      Another thought on this: I feel privileged that I’m now able to speak out about this. As a debater, I never felt that I could. What if a judge read it and disagreed with me? What if a prominent coach teased me about it? What if no one believed me? So please, don’t let the fact that there are few replies to this post make it seem that this is any less of an issue. I promise, there is at least one person out there who isn’t sharing his or her feelings for similar concerns.

    • I too have had an identical experience to Karlyn’s #1 point during my first year working at 2 camps in the summer, coaching a team with a significant female minority, and judging at high-level tournaments. In high school, I was well-aware of the disparity, but never put much thought into it because I figured it would somehow resolve itself. But now with the ability to see the situation from a new perspective, I can definitively say this is a serious issue that requires proactive action by the community.

      Another +1 to her closing paragraph. The dichotomous nature of this community greatly disturbs me (especially since it’s often time spurred by the stupidest things, such as debate paradigms). To reiterate what Karlyn said, reach out to others who are excluded at tournaments and elsewhere. Talk about something other than debate perhaps. Just enjoy the company of fellow participants in this activity without dragging people down. Again, it can really mean a lot.

    • From the perspective of a girl still debating, I completely agree with Karlyn and Jane on the importance of female role models in debate. The presence of strong, smart, and successful women in debate was one of the most important factors encouraging me to stay in the activity. My freshman year, Claire Daviss was the main varsity debater at Churchill who sacrificed so much of her time to work with the novices. She genuinely cared about our success and I really looked up to her. Watching her win state in LD and extemp and clear at the TOC definitely encouraged me to emulate her. Also, this summer Jane and Karlyn were some of my lab leaders at VBI and I loved having them as instructors and also as role models. They encouraged me to be aggressive and confident, something that has continuously empowered me throughout the year. It is so important for girls in debate to see female figures they view as intelligent and confident succeed and play an active role in the community so they know that this success is possible for them as well. For me, having these role models does something to combat the discouraging gender disparity in the activity. 

      Also, I completely support John’s petition and I think that everyone who cares about combatting gender disparity in debate should sign it. 

  • Rebar Niemi

    Chad Henson et al.’s research shows that there is a clear gender bias in who picks up ballots. Whether this is because female debaters are in some way worse or because the community is biased against them would be hard to figure out. I would be VERY hesitant to say that female debaters on the whole are worse, because I simply think this is false. If they are worse in any way, it is because coaches and camps do not give them the same level of attention and quality of instruction, and because other “good” debaters (typically male) are less likely to discuss ideas/share prep/welcome them. In this way, gender disparities are a self-fulfilling prophecy if they are real at all. 

    I think treating gender disparity as distinct from intersecting issues like resource/minority bias is a bad idea, and if anyone has ever read any rigorous ethnographies or for that matter identity analyses it is clear that while each is an issue, they don’t exist in a vacuum. Elite control of financial resources and white control of everything in US society goes hand in hand with oppression and bias toward females – and all are mutually reinforcing. It is incredibly repugnant to me that most debaters and coaches are unwilling to admit the veracity and import of micropolitical positions, regardless of whether asking for the ballot is an appropriate remedy or not. I see this rejection as necessarily bound up with the ACTUAL racism, sexism, elitism, and classism practiced in debate. Affirmative action is probably necessary in some small amount, if only because the atmosphere of national circuit debate makes it difficult for girls to be judged fairly and on their own merits as debaters. I think there are two main trends contributing to this:1. Coaches assume that in order for a female debater to be successful, they must conform to the notion of a “good” male debater in order to appeal to judges. This means that most girls who are successful or have potential are forced into a cookie cutter mold, because “clearly” it would be impossible for a female student to develop their own unique method for being successful. This is incredibly disheartening, since my favorite female debater of my career (Becca Traber) was a born iconoclast, and she was in finals of the tebow-damned TOC. In general, I think this trend ties in with the overall homogenization of debate and the resultant boredom I feel at tournaments while judging rounds, but is insidious and pernicious in its own unique way. Judges also follow this practice and punish girls for behavior that would be overlooked in male debaters even as they criticize them for not meeting the standards “set” by male debaters (I personally have doubts as to whether those standards are legitimate in the first place).

    2. The adults in the activity primarily participate in and condone RAMPANT AND DISGUSTING treatment towards female students/coaches/judges on the part of judges, male competitors, and coaches. I cannot count the number of times one can hear comments about female students denigrating their character, intelligence, and the deserving-ness of their victories in the routine course of a tournament. Coaches do nothing to curb this, or at the very least to teach their male debaters to respect females both on their own teams and in the community. Coaches won’t punish their top debaters with sitting out tournaments or suspensions because they don’t want to lose, and often it is the top male debaters who by virtue of their arrogance and position feel the most entitled to degrade and humiliate their competition and teammates. I would attribute this to an incredibly childish and immature stance in which most coaches and debaters still seem to be afraid of girls (especially being beaten by them), and in their fear take it out on them in the form of hateful language and exclusive behavior.

    A big thing we could do to assist with more female success would be to STOP homogenizing debaters and forcing them to fit into a pre-existing team mold or style. Granted, this would mean that you wouldn’t get to qual kids to the TOC every year because their success would actually be dependent on them instead of the system, but it seems uncontroversial to me to say that A. there is such a thing as a system debater and B. the notion of a system debater is largely male biased and does nothing to aid the development of female debaters.

    While I laud the large national teams who have numerous female competitors/are all female (Hockaday, Walt Whitman, and CPS immediately come to mind – along with SLP), I think everyone including those teams needs to make sure that they are consistently doing their part to keep their competitors personally invested in the activity and knowledgable of the fact that they (the female debaters) can be supremely successful and personally revolutionary for the activity. It is no surprise that when female debaters do get equal attention and quality coaching, they produce immense successes and victories on the level of any male. 

    As for me, I am intensely excited about the number of female novices on my team and plan on working my hardest to keep them motivated and invested in debate – with the hope that someday they will not only defeat huge numbers of male competitors, but scare the living daylights out of them and give them a healthy respect for the prowess of the opposite sex. 

    • Rebar Niemi

      It would be really easy for me to name a bunch of names of people who I think are personally contributing to the above problems, but I sincerely doubt that would get anything done. At the same time, people’s unwillingness to examine their own conduct/be defensive about said conduct is most likely one of the root causes of this. 

      • should a judge intervene when they feel one debater is being mean or unsportsmanlike to their opponent? is the standard whether i, as a judge, feel uncomfortable, or whether there’s in-round argumentation advanced? both approaches invite judge intervention, but, as your post suggests, it might be the only way to change norms. 

        • I think whether to drop the debater or not depends on the severity of the situation, but should certainly remain an option. I feel like most judges have a solid gut check. At the very least, however, it should be reflected in a harsh deduction of speaker points (and communication with the student’s coach following the round). I’ve given multiple win 22’s this year because I felt there was mistreatment of someone in the debate and made sure to inform that student’s coach of their misbehavior.

    • Alex Kramer

      Rebar, what Henson/Dorasil study are you citing? The most recent one I can find is here:, and it *does not* find sufficient evidence for gender bias in who picks up ballots.

      Relevant conclusions from their paper:

      “The second set of variables corresponds to the likelihood that the sex of one or more of the participants in the round by itself affects the round outcome. We find very weak evidence that female affirmatives are less likely to win very close rounds, independent of the sex or region of the judge. We also find very weak evidence that female judges lack bias in favor of the negative. These results are not robust across specifications.”

      “The fourth set of variables corresponds to potential sex bias. We find some evidence that when affirmative and negative female debaters debate in front of male judges, the affirmative is more likely to win than when two male debaters debate in front of a male judge. This result only spears in specifications where observations from rounds 1 and 2 are omitted. This result does not indicate of sex bias.”

      Rather, all they ended up recommending was increased female participation, not active solutions against gender discrimination:

      “Finally, while we do not find evidence of sex discrimination, it is troubling that females judge only 13% of rounds in our sample. Clearly, more needs to be done to promote equal participation among debaters and judges. Some empirical examination of the judge preference forms filled out by debaters under different rules would be useful, as certain systems of judge preference may systematically exclude female judges (or judges of certain regions). Furthermore, the TOC might benefit from actively recruiting qualified female judges to avoid a male- dominated judging pool that may produce decisions biased against female debaters. Reversal of its policy of refusing to hire judges would enable the TOC to ensure that it obtains qualified female judges from and judges from underrepresented regions, simultaneously helping resolve problems with sex bias and region bias.”