For a change in pace, here is a story from my life:
4/9/15: I just came back from the Sydney Grammar v Sydney Boys High 1st’s GPS debate. I go every year - it’s brilliant. A week’s worth of lead-up banter, amazing puns, pretend gambling odds, hilarious jokes about the speakers’ personal lives, and of course a really solid-ass, highly intellectual debate. The debating community are pretty great too; mostly feminist, social liberals. The Grammar-High Great Debate is literally everything I love.
…so then why does it feel so ostracising?
Sitting in the audience listening to the commanding, authoritative tones of young men while wolf whistles and deep laughter soundtrack the debate makes it pretty clear that this elite level of high school debating and intellectual popularity is no place for women. Poetic description aside, there is a certain atmosphere of respect and reverence for boys’ debates that simply doesn’t exist in a girls’, or even mixed division. As we watched the boys stamp and clap in a human archway when the debaters paraded in, I could not possibly imagine this sort of attitude towards one of our debates, despite my *female* friend being a better speaker than anyone present tonight according to official world debating rankings. So if it’s not skill level that dictates which debates get all the hype and which don’t… what does?
I think there is a certain pre-existing acceptance that boys’ events are a bigger deal than girls’, even in areas which have roughly equal participation from both genders. Of course girls’ netball and gymnastics will get more attention that the men’s because these areas have become typically “feminine” (a problem in itself), but in an activity with basically equal accessibility and involvement of girls and boys such as debating, the boys still get more airtime.
Why? Off the top of my head, a few reasons:
- Specific to debating/public speaking, men have deeper voices, which command more respect and attention than women’s due to sexist standards in our society. For an analysis of how our perceptions of capability based off voices are prejudiced, click here. And so naturally, listening to an all-male speaker bench sounds so much more official and important than their squeaky female counterparts. Following this train of thought, since the political landscape and parliamentary debates are all male dominated, a boy’s debate appears to mimic “real life” more than the girls’, again adding to the prestige of men’s debating.
- The “banter” and humour associated with elite Sydney high school competitions is an area literally only accessible to boys. Most of the jokes and “top bant” are not funny purely due to their content, but heavily rely on the status of who said it. I have never heard a girl called a “legend” or “banter queen” in regards to these kinds of conversations, because they are labels reserved specifically for the boys who have had their popularity built by... *drumroll* other boys. And especially considering some of the funniest and most sarcastic lines are based around “his fraternisation with girls” or “his interaction with ladies”, it’s no wonder I feel like I will never be able to participate in these circles, despite my perfectly compatible interests, skill, and even sense of humour. How does this result in more respect for the boys’ team? It’s funny, it reflect male pride and it often objectifies girls (though mostly not maliciously). Those three things are enough to draw in any audience in this society.
- Boys receive more attention when they build up hype for an event on social media. The analysis for this one is pretty similar to everything written above, so a scroll through Facebook is likely enough proof.
I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this except to say that it saddens me that I constantly find myself locked out of areas I would otherwise love to participate in. I want to be able to woof and yell and whistle and join in, but I feel too strongly like it’s “just not my place”. Poor Hannah. Of course this kind of attitude builds and adds to an overall sexist society where women continue to be respected less than men in more harmful ways than school debating, but that’s for another post.
Apologies if this post is 0% relatable, it is fairly specific to elite Sydney debating culture, but I’m sure there are parallels in many other areas. Also let me know if you like this more casual personal post, or if the analytical articles are more your thing.