Feminism in Debate and Policy
August 22, 2016
In speech and debate, competition topics are primarily concerned with the costs and benefits of government actions. Recently, a new form of argument called the “kritik” was popularized. Instead of focusing on the government, kritiks deconstruct oppressive ideologies like racism or sexism and have been making waves in the discussion of controversial topics such as feminism.
Pearlin Liu, a junior at Notre Dame High School, describes how kritiks are utilized to educate others about oppression and bring hidden issues to light in debate.
“A couple years ago, a college debate team ran a feminism kritik in which they talked about [how] women in debate have been victims of sexual abuse and haven’t been able to be successful in debate because they’re women,” Pearlin said. “[The feminist kritik] challenges the status quo and say that women in debate and society have been oppressed and that we can’t afford to mask the issue any longer.”
For Pearlin, the importance of deconstructing oppression within debate lies in the transition to real-world politics.
“The fact that I can advocate for feminism in a debate environment means that I can talk about it in other environments too,” Pearlin said. “If we can make debate, a space we love, more inclusive and more open towards different types of people, that would translate to society as well.”
Debate has changed the mindset of Zooey Nguyen, a junior at LAHS, who previously identified as non-feminist.
“I believed that there were biological differences between females and males,” Zooey said. “Feminism was not about equality [because feminists thought women were better than men].”
Yet today, Zooey considers herself a feminist because of her experience at a debate camp in which she learned about challenges that others faced in the community.
“Girls would talk about being called a ‘bitch’ in round, being criticized for their voice, either being too high or too low and either too weak or too aggressive,” Zooey said. “It scared me how many [issues] I saw, so I wanted to stand up for the people who weren’t standing up themselves and at least stand up for myself if I was being affected in that way.”
Women in debate and society have been oppressed and… we can’t afford to mask the issue any longer.”
— debater Pearlin Liu
Feminism has clearly prompted discussion in the debate sphere, but strong political action has yet to be taken; discussion about oppression in our general community often remains in the realm of mere dialogue. While recognizing and talking about the issue is an important first step, feminism must integrate itself into more tangible initiatives by lawmakers and politicians in order for real change to occur.
Vandita Pendse, a Mountain View High School debater and a youth advisor to government officials, outlines the hurdles that women face when advocating for feminist ideals in public policy.
“There are so many actions our government takes that put women at a disadvantage, and nothing is being done about them,” Vandita said. “[Take], for example, Planned Parenthood, which is obviously controversial — it’s not only about abortion, it’s about general welfare, lab tests and sonograms; [it’s about] all these things that women need for their health that are being ignored because of this overarching abortion issue.”
Debate initiates the discussion that allows people to identify issues in gender equality. But when this discussion is taken to the next level and lawmakers listen to feminist advocates, issues such as wage gaps and gender-biased employment can be mitigated. Feminism, to many, may seem like no more than a philosophical ideology, but in reality it can have tangible impacts on the lives of millions of women, and men, around the world through law. Through discussions in the debate sphere and subsequent political action, feminism can transcend verbal syllables and have a significant impact on public policy.