Closing The Gender Inequality Gap In Competitive Debating Makes Debating Boring

Posted on April 7, 2010


Deborah Tannen (1990, 1994a, 1994c, 1998) explained, that many conversational rituals common among men are based on ritual opposition or “agonism”. This is seen for example in “teasing, playfully insulting each other, or playing ‘devil’s advocate’ ” to develop and strengthen ideas (through, for example, challenges, counter-challenges, and debate) (1998:196). Just as troubles talk appears among women cross-culturally, men in disparate parts of the world engage in “war of words,” in which they “vie with one another to devise clever insults, topping each other both in the intensity of the insult and the skill of the insulter” (1998: 194). Tannen stresses that it is the use of ritualized opposition or “agonism,” that is associated with boys and men. Thus, little boys frequently play-fight as a favored game. Whereas little girls rarely fight for fun, but they do fight when they mean it.

As we know, there is an awful lot wrong with competitive debating in Malaysia. Nobody learns to lie anymore, most debaters are like sleeping pills, none of them have scrotums, there are just too many reading and research, manner is almost nonexistent and too much emphasis is placed on matter — it’s a debate, for crying out loud, not a session in court.

But the thing that’s wrongest of all is that, so far as I can tell, nobody at debates make fun and poke at their opponents any more. Most debaters bring their friends round to tournaments and all of them are known by their real names. Even if they are enormous and nerdy.

There was this one girl we called Gargoyle. Not because God made her incredibly ugly, she was ravishingly beautiful in every single respect … except on a bloody hot day – which is almost all the time here. Her face would melt and it would erode like butter. Then there was a boy who, because he hadn’t swallowed an apple whole at the age of 21, was referred to as Missy.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this simply wouldn’t be allowed any more. Calling a boy “Missy” would undoubtedly be an infringement of his human rights.

We still see funny, humiliating nicknames in the army and I’m delighted to say we still have nicknames in the office where there is “Bachan” — which is a bit annoying for the poor soul because he’s not Indian. But he sounds Indian to us.

Elsewhere, nicknames are found on blogs, Facebook and porn, and that’s not right at all. You cannot give yourself a nickname, because it will be Pretty Face or Massive Mandingo, and that’s completely wrong. You have a real name, which is bestowed on you by your parents, and you have a nickname bestowed on you by Old Praba, aka Lucifer. It must therefore be funny and insulting.

I realize, of course – from Tannen’s work, that nicknames are exclusively a male thing. This is because boys rejoice in the downfall of others. We like to watch our friends fall over and say the wrong thing at the wrong time. We love it when they come out of the loo having not shaken their old chap properly. The boy-boy bond is glued together with teasing, and insults are part of that. As a general rule, girls console one another when they fall over. They ring one another for uplifting chats. The girl-girl bond is glued together with something fluffy and pink and my little ponies. That’s why a girl who accidentally farted in a lift is not known by her mates for the rest of life as Windy.

And that brings me nicely on to the thrust of this morning’s missive. Does the female communication trait forwards a civic form of intellectual discourse? Why does a man like to listen to his own voice? Or most importantly, how in the name of all that’s holy has debating got to become extremely boring?

This is why I am leaving debate for stand up comedy. Frankie Boyle and Al Murray is so much more funny and worthwhile listening to.