Debate like a girl: sexism in the speech and debate world

Isabelle Ting, Staff Writer

“Sweetie, you were too catty during your speech. Tone it down or don’t expect to advance in this tournament.”

It’s funny how the same assertiveness that society propagates and that parents have taught us to execute can be perceived differently when done by a girl. Whether or not we’d like to admit our subconscious discrimination, it’s no secret that society has dubbed women as “the weaker link” in comparison to men. However, what has not been widely realized by DV faculty and students is the exponentially rising legacy left by our female debaters and speakers and that for the first time in our school history, our very own Shaoyie Soh, Tanya Mahadwar and Yaju Mattegunta have dominated the Stanford National Speech and Debate Invitational, taking home the gold in three distinct events, permanently reforming what it means to be a female speaker.

Within the top 20 in the nation, our school’s speech and debate team  epitomizes the intellectual “stereotype” Dougherty Valley is associated with, and luckily, recently, female membership has almost surpassed that of males. Within the past five years, our team has gone from sending only six, all male competitors to state championships to 30 competitors, nearly half consisting of females.  And just this year, Soh, Mahadwar and Mattegunta each have defied the long-held assumption that Caucasian males dominate the realm of oral presentation through their outstanding first place status at Stanford, but not without surmounting gender and racial obstacles.

Sophomore Congress debater Mahadwar, reveals that one year prior to her success at Stanford, “Three white guys stood up in front of me at the final round of a tournament and moved out of their way to block me from being seen.”

Mattegunta also admitted that speech and debate traditionally attracts more guys than girls. Even the way girls talk has been stereotyped into representing a false image.

“Female speakers who have confidence and speak with authority are portrayed as disrespectful and sarcastic. I’ve actually gotten back ballots from judges saying that I need to smile before I give my speech because when I don’t I come off as disrespectful,” Mahadwar said.

Instead of questioning society’s inherent irrationalities, such as why there is inherent discrimination in an event that supposedly delineates the inalienable, equal right to freedom of speech, each successful female debater has only asked how to overcome such inequality.

After such blatant disregard and disrespect for the ideas Mahadwar had to offer, when asked what inspired her to persist, she replied, “I realized the only way to prevent this from happening to other people is to get better and to prove that powerful things come in [unassuming] packages.”

Perseverance is the only option we have, because the only alternative is to cave, and as wise senior Liya Khan once said, “Never let success or failure determine what you love.”

So, speak and persist like a girl: be calm and always in control, be confident but never brash, and above all, have faith. After all, within one century, we have struggled with suffrage not even a century ago to leading several  aspects of modern life today: science, the music industry, the teaching profession and perhaps one day, politics.

“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world,” as Hillary Clinton once said, and DV isn’t far from realizing so.