Contributors: Yukiho Semimoto
One of the most common sentiments we get from male allies in this community is that they want to help but they don’t know how to do so without overstepping. We’ve decided to put together a comprehensive and interactive FAQ on the hows of being a male ally in this community and what you can do to play a role in pushing the community towards change. Dana’s article (that you can find here) does an incredible job going over the importance of male allies and the barriers that exist for male allies. Understanding these problems are important so if you are looking to understand better your role as a male ally, we recommend you read that article first.
Note: while many of us speak from personal experience, we could be wrong! Feel free to reach out to us if there is an answer that you would like to give to one of the below questions, or something that you strongly disagree with (IG: @beyondresolved and email: email@example.com).
If you have a question, feel free to submit here! We’ll update our social medias every time this page gets updated.
HOW CAN I BETTER UNDERSTAND THE ISSUES IN THIS COMMUNITY/ACTIVITY?
Two answers: ask, and read.
Resources like Beyond Resolved, and some nice Reddit threads on r/debate (keyword: some) give you ample resources to read and ask questions. It is often best to learn about the community’s problems through first-hand experiences as the people who face the problems often understand the problems in more-depth. However, it is important to recognize that women and gender minorities don’t exist in this activity to educate you to be a better activist, and while many are willing to have productive discourse and/or have written about their experiences, it is also a viable option to ask other allies in this activity of questions that you may have.
I recommend the following blogposts as a starting point. The first is an article by Founder Sara Catherine Cook, where she tries to put in her own words the vast problems that exist in this community, ranging from cultural problems to systemic problems. “A Breakdown on Why We Fight” is no doubt a long article, but I believe it is one worth reading.
The second article that I believe is a good beginner’s guide to problems in this community is an article about a study done by Rich Kawolics . It covers a lot of the statistically significant findings that show in-round barriers that women may be facing in this activity.
Lastly, almost every article on the BR blog could be useful in understanding these complex issues in this community better. To make it easier, I’ve broken down some of my favorite (or self-promo) articles.
“The Worship Culture” by none other than me, an older article but one that is still relevant in a world where discussions about girls in the community often surround their looks and not their intellect. I think understanding the boy’s club is important so here’s a starter for that.
“From Awareness to Action,” by Zara Chapple puts into words a lot of how to be a good activist that I think is a good read.
While this is an FAQ about better understanding sexism, I do think that we can’t ignore the role race plays in our communities so “A Letter To Debate from the Black Community,” by Rhyen Hunt is a recommended read.
Overall, while I understand that I am not a male and that there are men out there that can give a more honest answer on how they better understood the issues in this community, I do think that reading and asking questions is the right way to go. My friends always tell me that they just randomly scroll through BR articles and that it genuinely helped them understand a lot of issues in the community better so maybe it can for you to.
Also, just submit a question on this page if it’s uber specific. We can just add it on to the FAQ.
I AM A DEBATER AND HOPEFULLY A MALE ALLY: HOW CAN I CONTRIBUTE TO THE FIGHT?
I personally think there are two types of allies. Passive allies who try not to be problematic and contribute when they can, and active allies go above and beyond to help do the fixing of a community. Be an active ally is my not-so-hot-take. Marginalized debaters should not have to do all the work to create a better space, after all the experiences that they have probably had to endure in this activity. Here are my list of do’s and don’ts. It’s a long list. Read it.
- If you are in round and there is a problematic interaction either by a judge, competitor, or an observer, be the voice to call it out. To make sure you are *aiding* someone’s voice and not speaking for them, you can either wait to see if they’re going to speak up, or ask them if it’s okay for you to speak up for them. It can mean a lot if a male ally condemns a problematic action in-round (or out of round for that matter) because as someone who couldn’t find the courage to say the words that I always thought I would be able to say to a judge that overstepped, I do wish that someone else in the round could have stepped in for me. Do the extra step of going to tab with your opponents if they feel it is necessary, be the support they need — there is often a culture of disbelief and self- doubt when it comes to sexism in this activity, especially due to the implicit nature of the problems in this activity, and as a male ally, you can help fight that.
- Fight tournaments and email them about respecting judging conflicts for people that request they need them. Tournaments that offer strikes are great, but it has been in my experience that guys often get to use it for their competitive advantage while marginalized groups often have to use strikes for their personal safety. This is not necessarily always a gendered problem (re: harassment against guys exist too), which means that this is something everyone can push tournaments to adopt better policy for. With that said, don’t be selfish and try to take advantage of conflicts. Using conflicts for stupid reasons can be the reason that tournaments won’t respect people that are trying to use it for their own safety.
- Be cognizant of the voice that is occupying a discussion, and the voices that want to occupy that discussion: whether it be during camp discussions, or during teams practices. I’ve personally found that I get talked over very easily during group discussions (my male counterpart’s have deeper voices) and that I usually have to make an effort to speak louder to be heard. Implicit factors can help push girls to feel unwelcome in this activity, and not feeling like they have a place in team discussions can be one of them. Do your part, let everyone speak.
- If you are hiring a coach: consider finding a coach that you like that presents as female/ or a gender minority. Role models are incredibly important for younger girls growing up in an activity with little to no representation, and it is often hard for male coaches to be able to mentor younger girls through the problems that they have to face in this activity. Diversity and representation is meaningful, so if it is within your capacity to do so, pursue it.
- This applies to not just male allies. Train the judges you bring to tournaments. No, don’t just teach them what a summary is, prevent debaters from having to go through bad experiences. While Beyond Resolved will try to come up with anti-bias packets and videos for your parents and judges to watch, while we work on it, tell the judges you bring to tournaments that statistically, there are biases within rounds that tend to favor men (their voices are statistically seen as more authoritative, they are punished less for their aggression, and are criticized less for their speaking style). In a world where speaks and persuasion matters, this matters. Furthermore, tell your judges to not make comments on anything other than the content and the presentation of the debate. The clothes that debaters wear are irrelevant to the arguments people are making, the speaks do not need to reflect that, and neither does the ballot or their comments. Do your job and train your judges.
- Speak up. This is a general advice for you as a teammate, and I understand that team environments are messy and problems don’t always only point to sexism but recognize that in a world where a majority of the debaters already in the activity or on your team tend to be male, team drama can overwhelmingly exclude women/ gender minorities and affect them more. Furthermore, in situations that are blatantly problematic, I’ve heard boys say so many times that they want to speak up but they don’t want to go against their bros, and while the concern of going against your friends is entirely valid, please do consider speaking up if you think a situation is problematic. It can make an incredible difference for marginalized people that may already be forced to face tough circumstances in this activity.
- Do everything in your power to help women break the boy’s club. Implicit exclusion is not always on purpose. This activity just is overwhelmingly male, especially for upperclassmen due to a higher dropout rate for girls (regarding the activity). Be aware of the people that you may talk to more about arguments (it’s natural, they might have already been your friends before you joined this activity), and make an effort to be inclusive. One of the worst parts of my experience as a female-female partnership on an overwhelmingly male team was that my team often without knowing had practices without us (because they were friends), and had discussions about arguments and worked together on prep. This honestly would not be an issue if participation in this activity wasn’t predominantly male, but implicit exclusion can hurt women and gender minorities in this activity by either pushing them out of the activity or hurting them competitively and we honestly don’t like to see either happen. With that said, if your team is predominantly female, then this advice applies for women too. Be inclusive.
- Just quit it with the objectification. Nothing more to be said here. My personal take is as humans calling people attractive isn’t problematic, the problem often tends to be that the rhetoric that surrounds women in the community often tend to only be about their looks, not their intellect. This brings me to my next point:
- Appreciate women for their intellect, engage with them not just as your go-to emotions friend, and celebrate their successes.
- Be an active ally by being the person that recognizes where change is needed. Be the person to talk to your coach about how to better the team environment and this activity. Be the person that reaches out to people in positions of power. Bother the NSDA with a petition/ start a petition to implement dress norms (debaters can dress however they please and judges should never comment on it) for all national tournaments (or they don’t have bids! simple as that).
- Recognize that being able to purely focus on your competitive career is a privilege. There’s nothing more to be said here except that marginalized people can spend so much of their career fighting for change, while you get to focus on your competitive career and not worry about those problems because it doesn’t personally affect you. Being aware is the first step to being a good ally: without recognizing your privilege, you can’t recognize when you can use it best.
- Recognize that women/ gender minorities that stay in this activity face issues too. Treat them with the respect that they deserve and the intellect that they possess. Competitive success is not the only indicator of how well of a judge they are, or how well they understand debate, especially in a world where the road to “competitive success” for women can be extremely exhausting due to immense barriers. Don’t endorse an environment of “diversity hires,” recognize that your instructors and coaches at your summer institution, in your round, or on your team, are often capable and smart.
- Do everything in your power to not participate in the worship culture: recognize who you praise both privately and on online platforms (tends to be your friends most of the time, and that’s a problem if your circle of friend’s are just guys, in a guy dominated activity). Take that step to recognize debaters that don’t always have the infamous guy’s circle at tournaments to hype them up.
I AM A FORMER DEBATER/ INSTRUCTOR: HOW CAN I, AS A MALE ALLY, CONTRIBUTE TO THE FIGHT?
While I believe my answers to the former question (please read them) apply to former debaters/ and current instructors, I think there are few more ways in which former debaters/instructors can contribute to the fight against systemic issues in this community.
For camp hires: fight the atmosphere of diversity hires and the worship culture. Don’t let your students dismiss your colleague’s intellect, and be the ally that they need.
Most importantly, don’t put all the emotional work on the one female instructor/coach in your camp lab, team, or community. It seems to be a trend at every camp that I’ve gone to that the women/ gender minorities are the ones that volunteer first to take care of problematic instances relating to gender. Or, as Molly Clark talks about in her interview, female coaches are often looked to for the emotional labor more often (I’m assuming due to the stereotypes of better emotional capacity within women). Don’t put all the emotional work on women/ gender minorities (obviously if they want to then let them– but if it’s things like calling out people in your team or your camp lab, a job that you can perfectly fulfill, do that).
Overall, your job as an instructor/ former debater isn’t that different except that you now have more power within team structures to be the voice of reason and to defend the people that you need to defend. Use your position of power to create more inclusive spaces, and safe ones too.
I AM A PERSON IN POWER (ADULT, COACH, TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR, CAMP DIRECTOR, JUDGE) : HOW CAN I CONTRIBUTE TO THE FIGHT?
(I would read the answers to the question before this and the question before that, as both questions have answers applicable to this question).
I think a problem that adults in power fall prey to when it comes to activism in this community is that they often tend to be bystanders, or they often tend to not do enough, not for any malicious reason, but because they don’t understand the issues to a depth that students (that went through these issues first hand) understand them.
Thus, my first advice is to communicate. Talk to your students, talk to the former debaters, learn more about the activity and the ways in which systemic issues can affect people’s experiences.
Don’t make inclusion an after thought. Don’t spend two days on an inclusivity discussion and call it a day.
Do plan inclusivity discussions. They are a great way to introduce inclusive practices. Work with other coaches, former debaters, Beyond Resolved (maybe we should publish a guide on inclusivity discussions), on inclusivity discussions within your team, community, or camp.
Plan more than inclusivity discussions. If you are a camp director, figure out how to train your staff members with more than just regular training, consider how to fight lab atmospheres that endorse the label of “diversity hires” (re: read my answer to the last question). Talk with your students, and staff members, on how to make your inclusive practices on your team or community even better.
Train. Judges. Adults come from a place of power. (re: read my thoughts on training judges two questions ago).
Push institutions to promote change. The NSDA has so much power and there is so much more that they can do. Every tournament director has so much power and the power to implement rules and better reporting systems. Consider being more lenient towards strikes if you can. Implement judge training so that they don’t make comments about clothing, considering that there are often more standards for women (heels, makeup but not too much, skirt but not too long), it’s important to prevent exclusionary experiences.