By Nicole Phung, Malaysia.
I remember a boy said this loud and clear enough for people around him to hear.
Allow me to clarify – his audience was a group of male debaters who did not even flinch at his blatant display of misogyny.
I remember being the only all-girls team in a debate competition.
I remember worrying whether judges subconsciously perceived us, three green yet ambitious girls, as inherently weak debaters compared to boys.
Nobody has ever told me that I was less of a debater than a guy, but why did I sometimes think that I may be perceived as such? Why have I always been a minority in debate?
To put it quite simply, it is the association of debate with masculinity.
Masculinity vs. Femininity
It should come as no surprise that the Latin origin of the word “debate” literally means “battere” – to fight. Debate is in fact, a battle using words as swords and wit as shields. The word “fight”, no doubt, has masculine connotations, as perceived by society. When society expects women to be feminine, it erects barriers for them to excel in debate where “masculine” traits like aggressiveness are favoured.
This creates a paradox – if a woman is aggressive, she is more likely to be labelled as a bitch (while a man would be seen as “confident”); if she were to be graceful and feminine, she would be unfit for debate, essentially if it is seen as a battle. In both cases, women are trapped either way.
The Pursuit of a Battlesuit
Perhaps there is a reason why I prefer wearing a suit over a skirt or a dress for a debate – my gender is not something I can opt out of, but maybe if I choose not to wear an article that clearly distinguishes me from the male majority, I will be less discriminated against as a debater.
However wearing a suit is more of a metaphor, a symbolic act, a protest against the appalling imbalance of sexes in debate. Wearing what my male counterparts would wear in a debate reflects that I stand on the same ground as them, as I should be. A debate should be a battle on fair terms, and no party should have an upper hand because of gender. That is simply unacceptable.
It is a protest against those who tell me, “Why do you wear a suit? Suits are for guys.”, which is exactly why I wear suits in debates. Suits, like debate, are not exclusive to men.
The suit is a statement. It empowers me. It encourages me not to back down in the face of adversity as a minority.
Eliminating Barriers to Entry
Debate, like all windows of opportunities, is for everyone. It does not have a gender, and it certainly should not be labelled or perceived as “masculine”. Debate is a noble sport that has no room for misogyny and of course, that caveman who called debate “a game for men”.
Do you have an experience where your gender factored into your choice of clothing? Feel free to share it with us in the comments below or through the contact form!
This page features a collection of personal anecdotes and reflections by authors based on their individual stories.