How to Behave?

What was a difficult obstacle you encountered and how did you overcome it? / Topic of Your Choice

This summer, while attending a camp designed for the best high school policy debate students in the country, I noticed that only one-fourth of the participants in this camp were female. In the three and a half years I have committed to policy debate, I have never thought the activity was hostile towards female debaters. Yet female participation was clearly lacking, a fact that both puzzled and bothered me. Realizing this predicament, I began to take notice of the expectations many in the debate community had for female debaters. Some boys seemed downright surprised that I could be just as, if not more, assertive and confident in cross-examination as them. Others expected an easier win once they discovered they would be debating an all-girl team. Of course, in most cases, this expectation was duly shattered if they happened to be debating me, as they realized I would not conform to their expectations. Finding success at the top levels of policy debate has been one of my most satisfying experiences—not just because of the wins, the education, or the skills gained, but also because of the inaccurate stereotypes I’ve helped correct. The issue of female participation in debate was a difficult dilemma. How should I act now that I have realized there is a covert but prevalent stereotype against female debaters? Some girls find it necessary to balance biases by being overly aggressive and needlessly hostile. This extreme I avoided, since this overcompensation only serves to fuel stereotypes and complaints about female participation in debate. After a few awkward experiments with changing my own behavior around those who seemed determined to intimidate me just by being patronizing, I realized the solution lay not in changing myself, but in changing the perceptions of others. Just being the happy, assertive, optimistic and straightforward person I am was enough. I could show those who wanted to impose a stereotype how wrong they were by continuing my dedication to research and hard work and by earning respect through evidence of my success.Policy debate, an activity that ingrains the essential values and skills of political engagement and critical analysis, should not also be an activity that discourages female participation. If women are truly turned away from an activity just because of the competitive atmosphere, then it would not be unrealistic to expect diminished female participation in broader social contexts, like the corporate business market or national politics. To foster female participation, I have taken countless hours of my time to mentor young debaters and recruit more girls to the activity. Fortunately, thanks to these efforts and the work I and others who recognize this dilemma have put in, the trend for female participation is improving. This year, as the captain of a historically male dominated high school policy debate program, I have demonstrated by example girls can have just as much success in competitive policy debate as any boy.

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