Appearances can be deceiving
March 30, 2023
Attire has always been ingrained in debate culture. While changes have been made in recent years, most debate tournaments require “formal attire.” However, it’s widely agreed that these dress codes and judge expectations perpetuate gender stereotypes; they emulate archaic social expectations of dress, assigning formal skirts to women and a suit and tie to males.
“Male debaters definitely have more wiggle room for what is considered ‘professional,’” former LAHS debater Julia Chang, 19’ said. “A male with messy hair or unironed clothes may be dismissed or excused for ‘just being a boy,’ or even applauded as evidence that they had prepped all night prior to the tournament. Meanwhile, women are expected to show up well-dressed and groomed.”
A male with messy hair or unironed clothes may be dismissed or excused for ‘just being a boy’ or even applauded as evidence that they had prepped all night prior to the tournament. Meanwhile, women are expected to show up well-dressed and groomed.”
— former LAHS debater Julia Chang 19’
In the professional world, women of color are oftentimes penalized for a perceived lack of professionalism, which studies have shown to be rooted in prejudice against Afrocentric or ethnic hairstyles. However, many disagree with the burden this places on minority members in debate. Anagha Rajesh, president of the MVLA Speech & Debate team, has had her fair share of concerns about being pigeonholed due to outdated regulations.
“There’s a lot of classism that goes into saying that being professional means you show up wearing a suit,” Anagha said. “When you have an activity where you’re saying people will learn to be professional, you need to relearn those things.”
As gender roles become less stringent and the Speech & Debate community has begun altering its regulations to fit a whole spectrum of identities, the MVLA Speech & Debate Parliamentary team has made changes to its dress code. Anagha comments on the positive change to the debate environment and its impact on students.
“At Parliamentary tournaments, you’ll see a lot of kids in jeans and a T-shirt, and I think that’s the direction we should be moving in for sure,” Anagha said.
It’s an intrinsic aspect of a changing world: As social norms ebb and flow, they also grow to incorporate all groups, extracurricular activities and communities. Speech & Debate can wait for societal change to reevaluate its norms, or it can lead the way.