Creating separate debate tournaments reinforces gender stereotypes

Harmful gender stereotypes are all around us. And while these can be damaging and create inequalities, not all solutions to this problem are productive.

The GW Parliamentary Debate Society announced last week that its second tournament of the academic year will be strictly for women and transgender individuals. The tournament is the first time in the national organization’s history that women and gender minorities have been given their own space to debate.

The new tournaments were created with the goal of empowering women and transgender individuals by giving them a safe space to debate. While the premise of the tournament is admirable, creating gender-separate institutions to combat gender inequality takes men out of debates without actually holding them responsible for their toxic actions.

If men aren’t present to address the issue, don’t even for a second have to consider giving up their privilege and get to “sit this one out” – then women and gender minorities will remain marginalized.

Debate tournaments are model scenarios for gender stereotypes to play out. Individuals are tasked with laying out their opinion on a certain topic and then go back and forth with their opponent to defend their position. While men may be lauded for standing their ground and even being slightly aggressive in proposing their viewpoint, women are often painted as combative or rude no matter what their debating style is.

Whether these stereotypes play out through side conversations between participants and onlookers or in docked points by the panel of judges, it is easy to see how stereotypes could be damaging in a debate forum.

However, separating participants by gender is not the answer. While the new debate tournaments have been framed as a way to prioritize women and gender minority debaters, this sort of arrangement does little to actually bridge disparities in the way genders are treated differently when it comes to debate.

The problem with gender-separate tournaments is clear. The organization separates men from the conversation about male toxicity and gender minority disempowerment in regular tournaments. Instead of instituting structural changes about the way gender power dynamics in debate play out and attempting to solve the issue, the American Parliamentary Debate Association is effectively shelving the issue of gender inequality and pushing it to its own tournament.

Gender-separate tournaments are contrary to empowerment because they reinforce the negative stereotypes that women and gender minorities cannot compete against men. The separate tournaments reinforce false stereotypes and confine their experiences, struggles and achievements to a different category.

Considering tournaments that separate participants by gender a solution is akin to creating separate but equal institutions, and we cannot ignore the history of our nation which consistently shows this is not the answer.

Proponents of the gender minority tournaments might insist that the special tournament is just one competition out of dozens throughout the year, but even one event that reinforces the idea that gender stereotypes hold truth is too many.

We shouldn’t seek to make women and transgender individuals more comfortable by separating them from men. Instead, the goal should be to make structural changes in how the American Parliamentary Debate Association deals with the lopsided power dynamic between men, women and gender minorities, to ensure equality for all.

Galen Ekimov, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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