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Speak loud or hold your peace

March 30, 2023

Misogyny is also prevalent in the debate community because judges assess members of different genders differently when it comes to speaking and presentation abilities. Based on the inequalities surrounding sexism in broader society, the public speaking and presentation aspects of debate magnify gender-based stereotypes and perceptions. 

“The ability to speak loudly or speak confidently gets interpreted very differently on somebody who’s masculine-presenting versus someone who’s feminine-presenting,” Herman said. 

If female debaters raise their voices, they’re combative and aggressive. But if they’re not loud enough, they’re too passive. According to Public Forum Speech & Debate Coach Kim Ong, because of this burden, women are forced to work with this additional pressure from stereotypes compounded by the older generation — specifically, parent judges.

The ability to speak loudly or speak confidently gets interpreted very differently on somebody who’s masculine-presenting versus someone who’s feminine-presenting”

— head coach Julie Herman

“Male students typically don’t have the issue of being told that they need to speak up,” Ong said. “Typically, the male students will get more of a pat on the back. The female students, on the other hand, are typically slapped in the face with ‘you need to speak up more,’ or ‘what you said wasn’t as poised as your opponents.’”

In general, debate can be perceived as an argument between two teams. Societally, it is more natural for men to get into fights or arguments, but the expectations placed on females are different, according to former Speech & Debate president Angelina Lue, ‘21. As a result, female debaters have been told to speak in a different way. 

“I kind of learned how I had to tone down sometimes,” Lue said. “It sucked and was unfair, but it did affect my performance, and that is kind of just the patriarchy we live in.” 

Specifically, one aspect of debate that has historically favored males are speaker points. During evaluations, judges decide the round’s winner based on the strength of each argument, then assigns a point value of up to 30 to each debater to assess their speaking performance. However, these speaker points can often be arbitrary, as judges’ perception of strong speaking is subjective. 

“When it comes to speaker points, people who talk like white male politicians usually tend to get more speaker points,” Parliamentary co-captain and senior Maya Yung said.  

Since speaker points can heavily rely on a judge’s biases or stereotypical influences, Herman has started eliminating them at MVLA-hosted tournaments. 

“I don’t think there’s a reason that we should continue to use a metric that seems to be more a reflection of society’s prejudices than an actual reflection of the value of students’ skills,” Herman said. 

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