The Complaints about Dudeless Debater Prove its Necessity
A Rebuttal to 'Make Debating Great Again'
By Helen Whalley, External Convener for University of Aberdeen Debater.
Credit to The Debater
When I first pitched Dudeless Debating to my fellow Council members, I never could have foreseen that I would be forced to compose a rebuttal to a negative piece in the Gaudie. Part of me is reeling at the idea that this remains a controversial issue, and that the complainer feels strongly enough to write an 800-word opinion piece. We must ask ourselves why Dudeless Debating is getting so much backlash when previous debating sessions that were solely male received no comment. Yet, here we are. In response to this attack, it has become necessary to discuss the justifications for Dudeless Debater, as well as debunk some of the falsehoods the complainer perpetrated.
Many complaints, posed both in the Gaudie article and elsewhere, indicate to me that the complainers did no more than read the graphic that was posted - if that. In addition, the complainers show a lack of empathy for anyone who isn’t coming from a position of privilege. There are debates that we treat with caution because a person’s stake in them is determined at birth and therefore comments in opposition are usually personally insulting. I imagine the complainer would be enraged to discover a table of non-men discussing whether they should be allowed to vote.
Furthermore, a Facebook comment section is not a debate stage. Debater reserves the right to delete hurtful, threatening, abusive, misogynist, and transphobic comments off our posts. We have had to remove 90 such comments from a mere announcement post. The toxic environment created by complainers who feel that they are being excluded shows me exactly why we need inclusivity initiatives in debating. These “proponents of free speech” have been trying to shut down an activity they don’t like, simply because it isn’t tailored exactly to their personal politics. Ironic.
So why has Debater introduced Dudeless Debating? Why now?
My fellow female debaters and I are very aware of the “boys club” reputation that debating gets. I came up with Dudeless Debating to serve a key need. There is a severe lack of representation in Debater: there are more privately educated Council members than there are female Council members; men outnumber women, and ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented. This extends beyond Council. Of the events we ran this semester, only a third of the participants were non-male. For a diverse campus such as Aberdeen’s, this is concerning. It is part of an ongoing trend downwards. Last year, there were 6 women on Council; this year there are only 3. This is a historic low for Debater, and action must be taken to ensure that we are able to bounce back.
From birth, women and non-binary people are discouraged from debating. We are told not to talk back to boys bullying us. We watch people being labelled “crazy feminists” and being ostracised for daring to stand up for themselves. We see the impossible double standard of women (criticism of Kamala Harris’ debate performance springs to mind). We see the sexist and transphobic abuse women and non-binary people receive online daily. It is enough to make even the most confident speaker think twice before putting themselves forward.
However, public speaking is an essential skill and debating is a great way to develop it. I want Dudeless Debating to be a place to practice public speaking free from the fear of judgement. This is important because many women and non-binary people’s only experience of “debating” is from high school, where a baffling number of teachers decide that the rights of women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ people should be up for discussion. I remember clearly being one of only three girls in class discussing women’s rights and having to argue about my own lived reality to the amusement of some of the boys. It was infuriating.
Speakers who need to build confidence or who want to learn the rules at their own pace are understandably daunted by the prospect of facing a room full of men who may write off everything said by a woman merely because she is female. A space free of the fear of judgment is perfect to nourish talent, grow confidence, and learn without needing to go through the emotional labour of navigating patriarchal standards.
The online format of society events presented a unique opportunity. We can reach many more people who might be curious about Debater but are nervous about the idea of not being taken seriously or patronised. I envisage Dudeless Debating to be a place where people can learn that Debater has their back, and that female leadership will be passionate and committed to making sure their voices are heard and respected.
Above all, the backlash we have received has proven to me beyond reasonable doubt that Dudeless Debating is vital. It has only entrenched my belief that this space is needed, appreciated, and valued. I will not stop advocating for space for women and non-binary people. I am prouder than ever to run Dudeless Debating. I hope to see you all there.