Its debatable…Speak Up!

June 5, 2007

Women in Debate – Some New Perspectives

Filed under: Academics,Debate,Feminism/Gender — bk2nocal @ 10:23 pm

A few things I have read this week have resonated with me, making me recognize some things about the discussion of women in debate that is constantly being replayed within the intercollegiate policy debate community.  I thought I would take this opportunity to share them.  I’m not sure they will help to solve any problems, but I think a truly effective solution always requires us to first understand the problems/issues.  This is an area where I think our community SEES the problem, but can not UNDERSTAND the problem.  Without understanding, identification of problems will never lend themselves to a solution.

The first thing I found of interest was a study done by Jennifer L. Berdahl from the University of Toronto, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.  The article’s title, “The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Women,” is sure to capture people’s attention, but the findings can be appropriately applied to intercollegiate debate.  The study was actually three studies.  The first looked at female and male college students, finding that “women with relatively masculine personalities (e.g., assertive, dominant, and independent) experienced the most sexual harassment.”  The second evaluated why this was the case, finding that “women with relatively masculine personalities were more likely than others to negatively evaluate potentially harassing scenarios.”  The third and final study, and the one which I think is most important when looking at college debate, “included male and female employees at 5 organizations” and showed that “women in male-dominated organizations who had relatively masculine personalities were sexually harassed the most.”

So, you may be wondering why I’m discussing this study in the context of intercollegiate debate.  A few reasons actually come to mind.  First, I think that most traditional gender analyses would find that what we do in intercollegiate debate is often masculine in tone and execution.  This means that women would often be perceived as demonstrating the masculine traits identified in the study.  In addition, debate is still largely male-dominated (although this is not true at every level or in every context, in a broad sense, it is true).  If we are to accept the findings of the study, this means that there is a high likelihood of women being sexually harassed in debate.  I agree with the author of the study that, “Viewing sexual harassment as the insensitive or nefarious pursuit of sexual expression and gratification has generated much confusion and controversy about why and whether sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination and has led to policies that focus on policing sexual behavior at work rather than acts that perpetuate sex inequality.”  This calls into question the expectations that all of us have for women in debate.  Do we expect them to behave differently than men in debate?  Do we judge them differently?  I believe that there have been studies that have shown that the answer to these questions is a definitive yes.  Now we need to start asking what we can do about it.

The second item that made me think of the Women in Debate issue, was an online article from Pink Magazine (a publication that is new to me and one of my favorites) about Amparo Moraleda, General Manager, IBM Spain, Portugal, Greece, Israel and Turkey.  She does a good job of summing up one of the reasons the mentoring program is so important to me:

“I believe that each of us – every woman who has achieved certain milestones and has been able to differentiate herself in the business world – has a duty to become a role model for other women and to show it’s possible to be successful [and have] a personal or family life. Women lack role models. Many think it’s impossible because they don’t see a lot of women doing it. And I want to share that success is about determination, resiliency and passion…”

 I strongly believe that women role models are one of the most important ways we can improve participation levels and success levels of women in debate.  This past year, a two-woman team from Emory won the prestigious NDT.  Which is great.  But the question becomes, will those women stick around debate in the future or will they go on to “bigger and better things”?  Because if exceptional women have exceptional success and then move on, it is more difficult to establish a role model situation.  There are a lot of men who stick around the activity to coach and for graduate assistantships, but the number of women who do that is even lower than the number of women who find success while competing.  Again, I’m sure there are numerous reasons this is true, but I think its an important issue to understand in order to improve participation levels among women.

Well, I haven’t solved any of the world’s or debate’s problems in this post, but maybe these references will spark some ideas in me or someone else and we can start moving towards better understanding for better solutions. 

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1 Comment »

  1. […] traits identified in the study.  In addition, debate is still largely male-dominated…” – Click here to read the entire […]

    Pingback by Austral - licious: Affirmative Action And Balancing The Voice In University Debates « The Naked Truth — June 22, 2007 @ 8:48 pm | Reply


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