BURLINGTON, Vt. – The first line of a North-American debate tournament to be held in Vermont this weekend: No men allowed.
About 150 debaters from 18 schools in the united states and Canada will compete in the special tournament, which is designed to provide a safe space for women who complain of bias when they debate against men.
Although some men will be allowed to serve as the judges, the organizers say that the tournament is at the University of Vermont offers women a chance to hone their speaking and argumentation skills and gain confidence and friends without being subject to sexism.
“There is also a lot of sexual predation that happens in the debate community,” said UVM debate director Helen Morgan-Parmett. “The tournament, I think, provides a safe space where people feel that they argue about other women, and their bodies are not necessarily on display.”
College debate is one of the few intercollegiate competitive activities, in which men and women compete directly against each other. While some women do win, the debaters say they are that much better than men to overcome bias on the part of many judges. And they point to statistics showing that they are less likely to reach the top of the activity.
“As with many of the collegiate activities, debate has a tendency to be dominated by men,” said UVM second spokesperson Miranda zigler’s, of Boston.
The UVM event will be carried out using the British Parliamentary debate style, in which the participants learn the topic they will be debating on just 15 minutes before the match starts. More traditional school debate, known as a political debate, makes use of a set topic for the whole season and the debaters must be ready to advocate for or against. Both formats will be judged by a panel.
Collegiate debate began to grow after the second world War, and for the first year or ten men and women discussed separately. That began to change in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, but still a few women who signed up, said Dallas Perkins, the former debate coach at the University of Harvard and is now the spokesman of the National Debate Tournament, held earlier this month in Wichita, Kansas.
While women can face the challenges, they have broken through to the top ranks. Two of the last four debaters at the national tournament this month were women.
Georgetown debate director Mikaela Malsin, whose team lost in the final of this year, and coached one of the women said that they had not heard of the women’s debate tournament. She said: college debate is susceptible to the same sexism and misogyny in the American culture, and that there are many more men than women participate.
“We want it to be a more inclusive and more accessible on its own terms, rather than retreat or creating a separate space, the” Malsin said. “I think there is value to that kind of stuff, but, as I said, I don’t think it would catch on as much in the policy of the world for the reason that I think that women and people of color especially want to keep pushing back and further increase or enhance the activity from the inside.”
What has developed in the North American Women and Gender Minorities Debate Championship being held in Burlington this weekend started in Canada in the 1990s. It disappeared for a few years, but was revived in 2009, said Sarah Sahagian, the director of the program for the non-profit group of Speech and Debate in Canada.
Although women have made progress, the separate space is still needed, she said.
“I think that even if I am a participant, there were women who did well, there were women who won things, but average is the average female debater doesn’t do as well. Disproportionately, male debaters did better,” she said
The first female debate championship in the United States was held at UVM in 2015. The last two years was the weather in Canada. The organisers now hope will remain an annual event, alternating between the two countries.
The women on the UVM recognize the women-only tournament she may be targets of people who feel that they require a special treatment, but to say that it is good to raise awareness of the problem.
“I think that there simply is no bad publicity,” said UVM debate coach Stela Braje, “especially if you’re trying to make a point.”