Monday, March 20, 2006

Debate -- sexism and MPJ

For those of you who don't know me and don't know about the debate world, I'll give some background.

1) Most debaters in college are male as are most judges. This is true in both Parliamentary debate and in policy debate. The reasons for this I think are very complicated, at least in the debate world I know -- parli. The fact of the matter is that female college students have more demands and expectations placed on them. They tend to get fewer debate scholarships in policy debate and in parli debate we have fewer scholarships to give... so they have to divide their time to a much greater extent than many male debaters. The result is that there are generally more men winning tournaments than women.

2) Our style of Parliamentary debate is significantly younger than policy debate. This year will be the 13th or 14th ever national tournament for what I usually cal NPJFKDLADA nationals (to keep the blogger-google searches from finding me) -- it is a large open national tournament. This year was the 6th ever NPKQRS tournament -- It has been the case that there have been a higher percentage of competitive females in parli debate.

3) Some people object to NPKQRS because we use a system of judge selection called Mutual Preference Judging. In this sytem teams rank judges on a 3, 5 or 9 point scale, indicating which judges they most or least prefer to have judge their round. When a judge is selected for a round, the judge should have an equal preference level for both sides. So, if you pretty much hate your judge, then you can be sure the other side does too -- so at least it is fair.

4) Those who object to the use of MPJ object because of studies in the policy community that say it is biased against women. They say that the system allows teams to avoid being judged by women and that women generally rank significantly lower than men in the preferencing system. There are probably a bunch of complicated reasons for this, including the fact that there are many fewer women on the policy circuit, and the use of MPJ in regular season tournaments means that they start off as an un-known judge and then tend to judge fewer rounds because nobody knows they should prefer them.

All that as background to explain the following set of observations about the tournament I helped start and currently help organize, manage and administer...

1) I'm a founding member of NPKQRS, and of our 5 person board, 3 of us are women.
2) Last year our top speaker was a black woman. This year two of the three people in a virtual tie for top speaker were women.
3) Of our 6 national championship teams 4 have had at least one woman and one was a female/female team. In other words, what is the norm even in NPjljkldasDA debate (male/male championship teams) is not the norm for us. We've only had two male/male championship teams -- and both of those teams have had an openly gay debater.
4) Our most highly prefered judge this year was a woman (openly bi.. in fact :) ) and 4 of the top 10 highly prefered judges were also women. That in a judge pool that is only about 20% women.

It seems to me that our new organization is not only inclusive, but supportive of women and homosexuals. It seems that this new organization I helped to found and proudly keep working for free to support is doing something exraordinary within debate, it is actually increasing the accessibility of debate to women.

I'm having a hard time seeing actual gender discrimination arguments as a basis for objecting to NPKQRS -- It seems to me that the NPJKLalkDA organization really likes having the men in charge -- as that is who IS in charge there now.. It is pretty easy for them to cry sexism as a reason to reject NPKQRS --- especially when they ignore the facts about the tournament.

I really do think that debate organizations, instead of changing the problems of society tend to mirror and exacerbate them. Policy debate was started in an age of undeniable sexism, and even the splinter groups have been around long enough to carry that as a cultural byproduct. I catch a whif of this when we go east to do parli -- as most of the coaches there are very new to parli and have a strong policy background -- and they look at me like I'm not as qualified as my husband to judge debates.

I think that NPjkdalDA debate maintains a lot of the sexism present at it's founding, in that the same people and kinds of people tend to be in charge -- either formally or informally. Many of these people were in the policy community prior to being in parli and carry remanents of the problems seen there.

The other complaint against NPKQRS is that it is not democratic. Well, I don't see NPjkdlaDA solving for any of the sexist or racial or gender preference disparities via democracy. They've elected exactly ONE female president and have never had a minority or openly gay person on their board. We've only been doing this for 6 years and we are 60% female -- we'll see what happens with the rest of the discriminated against groups later :).

So -- rather than just blog against sexism, it seems that in the last 7 years I've been working against sexism in the debate community -- and it feels damm good!

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