[UP FOR DEBATE] Ep. 2 Gender bias in debate


Submitted by Maya Sachs

Maya Sachs and Henry Choi (shown with former debate coach Vincent Chen) have been debate partners since the start of the 2020 debate season. “I was watching the final rounds of nationals, and afterwards when they gave awards, there’s like two girls standing on the stage of like, 20 people and it and it’s a bummer, because, for example, like we are no less capable and no less successful than boys in debate. But there are a lot of biases that prevent success,” she said.

Ivy Raya: Hey guys, my name is Ivy Raya and today I will be interviewing Maya Sachs. In the previous episode we got to hear from Maya about her experience with debate, this episode we will be talking about school debate and the inequity of genders in the debate room and on the stage.

Raya: Do you think like, there’s a certain type of person who usually does debate?

Sachs: Yeah. There’s a saying that debate kids are theater kids who also want to be president when they grow up and I would say I would say that’s fair. There’s there’s some backing behind that because it is people who really like public speaking dedicating their time to, you know, speaking but also that with the intersect intersection of like, research on politics and current events, foreign affairs, stuff like that.

Raya: So like, more specifically, like do you think it’s like to be judged on every single stutter, word like what do you think that does?

Sachs: Yeah, I think this is this is a big discussion in the debate community, because problems do arise when people who stutter you know, maybe naturally are getting points taken off for something they can’t control. Similarly, it’s really common in the debate space for girls to get comments like “your voice was too high. You, you were being too dramatic.” I’ve definitely gotten that comment before. So it’s like an ongoing question and discussion and debate and in the institutions and like, places that really facilitate these debate tournaments because it can be a problem when judges bring preconceived biases and notions into the round and then don’t necessarily judge you on your argumentation. But instead, whether or not you’re wearing a skirt, which can be difficult, but I think the debate space is trying to change and accommodate for that.

Raya: So what do you do? Like how do you react when someone tells you your voice is too high? Or you’re not dressed the part?

Sachs: It’s difficult, um, there are systems in place. To be able to report that, most tournaments have equity panels, so you can contest ballots. Ballots are like the decisions the judge makes on your round. But I think yeah, I think it’s, it’s not something you can necessarily control like. I think it’s a really a bad practice. Sometimes coaches might say, “Well, try and speak with a deeper voice.” It’s like, I’m not going to make myself seem more masculine just to appease a judge. So it’s an ongoing conversation and it’s really not something we can control but it’s just working as a whole to change the debate space and make it more accessible and inclusive because it’s a big problem. Like, for example, I was watching the final rounds of nationals, and afterwards when they gave awards, there’s like two girls standing on the stage of like, 20 people and it and it’s a bummer, because, for example, like we are no less capable and no less successful than boys in debate. But there are a lot of biases that prevent success.

Raya: Do you notice this happening at a higher level? Or just in general?

Sachs: I think it’s just in general, I think, um, yeah, it’s not just in I think, actually, at a higher level when you’re being judged more for the arguments you make instead of your ability to public speak. There’s there might be a little less bias, although of course, it never really disappears. But yeah, I think every debater kind of faces it and just, you know, like, when you walk into a debate practice and you have like, four male coaches and everyone else in the room is a guy it just it’s not really something you can escape, but we’re, we’re trying to change it. Yeah.

Raya: What about SPA? What does the gender ratio look like?

Sachs: Yeah, at SPA, it’s actually pretty good. It’s also really awesome. We have I’m pretty sure female coach Ms. Warren right now. So it’s really great to be able to look up to coaches that you can kind of see yourself in. But yeah, it’s probably, I don’t know, it’s probably like 60/40 debate at SPA: 60% male 40% female. It’s not great, but I thank SPA for the debate space, we’re doing the best we can and I personally have never really, like had peers at SPA, like, say something super sexist to me, which I’m really grateful for.

Raya: So in your summer camps what is like the diversity like there?

Sachs: Yeah, um, similarly, I think I think it’s starting to improve if there it’s always male-dominated. But again, I think I went to the Victory Briefs Institute and they’re doing a really, really good job to promote equity there and I think they again had like a 50/50 split for the coaches. And so it’s really awesome because there are amazing, extremely talented female debaters and women in the debate space that I get to look up to and think, oh, I want to be like them one day, so that’s awesome.

Raya: Do you ever feel intimidated going into an all male room?

Sachs: I, I don’t because I feel like I’ve been I’ve been doing that for a while and I’ve kind of learned to stand my ground. But I understand that it really creates a barrier from like, younger girls getting into debate in the first place because it like when there’s more men in a room, it kind of sends the message that you don’t belong.

Raya: So anything else you want to say about debate?

Sachs: I don’t know who’s listening to this, but join debate. It’s awesome. I love debate.

Raya: When’s your next tournament?

Sachs: Next tournament is not this upcoming weekend. But I think October 8, it is at the Lakeville High School. It’s called the Lakeville Lucky Duck.

Raya: What time?

Sachs: Like 9 am, 9 am to probably like 5 pm yes.

Raya: And you’ll be debating there.

Sachs: Yeah, we’ll be debating.

Raya: Okay sounds good, thank you so much; that was amazing.

Raya (to audience): Thank you for listening to the podcast. This concludes our two-part series on Maya Sachs’s passion for debate.