The Vagenda

The Penis Perspective: Women In Debating

Rebecca Meredith, one of the two female debaters who was heckled at the Glasgow Ancients competition
Two girls from Cambridge University recently complained about sexist heckling at a Glasgow University Union debate, which was so severe that Cambridge vowed never to send delegates again. Gerald Warner’s piece in the Spectator suggests that they should shrug it off like proper women. All quotations below are taken directly from Warner’s article, ‘IF CAMBRIDGE’S DEBATING GIRLS CAN’T STAND THE HEAT, THEY SHOULD STAY OUT OF GLASGOW KITCHENS’.
Calling all Deb8ting Gurlz (that’s right; y’all just got commodified). Certified equality guru Gerald Warner – for it is he – has set a progressive tone by lamenting your graceful presence in a prestigious kitchen. Makes a change, you say. But wait! Said kitchen is not of the usual variety, for this is the kitchen of debate, and it issues food for thought: today’s special is a generous helping of political disqualification, with an accompanying dollop of endorsement for those ‘well-poised women’ who so admirably ‘laugh off the schoolboy chauvinism of male adolescents’ (KATE MIDDLETON WOULD HAVE JUST LAUGHED). For wherein lays the fault? ‘Tis not with the baying juveniles of Glasgow’s debating club, but with the female speakers, ladies and gentlemen! And ladies in particular; take note, girls, because yet again – says Mr. Warner – you are entirely to blame.        
And let’s face it. You uppity-debatey women just won’t do yourselves any favours! That aversion to banter, that characteristic recourse to ‘feminist rhetoric’ (perish the thought); it hardly recommends you for inclusion at the most prestigious levels of argument and exchange, now, does it? The point is this: a ‘health-and-safety, equality-and-diversity, cellophane-coated culture’ is ‘spreading its Stalinist [yep, Stalinist] tentacles everywhere’, and it is this culture that explains the hysterical reactions of ‘sheltered’ female debaters who deride allegedly sexist heckling. What have the complainants got to moan about, anyway? After all, they’re both quite fit! The zenith of girlhood! According to Warner, ‘photographs of the two finalists do not suggest they have anything to fear from assessment of their looks’; well, that’s fine then. Glad we’ve cleared things up. Cheers Gerald. Thanks for taking the time to assess these beautiful rebels. No doubt you’ve studied them closely, perhaps for hours, before coming up with a judgment that has really added to human discourse. You’ve rendered a great service. As have the complainants, by looking so nice and by catching your eye.     
There’s more – Warner offers an observation that is akin to that of the racist football fan who claims to value the black players in his club for their perceived athletic prowess, but who simultaneously derides the presence of non-white players in opposing teams as an undesirable aberration. Glasgow University’s renowned union has apparently hosted a ‘number of women speakers who have received uproarious applause’ (bless them). They’re fine. They roll with the banter. Sometimes they even offer ‘funny put-downs’ to silence a cheeky bit of casual, well-intentioned misogyny, and are accordingly commended with a ‘rapturous’ reaction (one can only assume that this reaction is a grateful, sigh-of-relief reward from the union floor, designed especially for women who choose to laugh and not to sue). 
The problem is with those women who have the temerity to transgress, to resist. We even get a sort of knowing, wink-wink nudge-nudge joke that is specifically aimed at Warner’s proper women, the little darlings; rowdy male criticism of the clothes worn by female speakers is said to have ‘usurped the prerogative of the women members of the audience who could have been relied upon to execute a far more informed and incisive hatchet job’. Oh, ha ha, right on, Gerald! Women and their sartorial expertise. Did anyone actually engage with their arguments, or were the clothes too loud? 
Doesn’t matter; they were heckled, so you wouldn’t have been able to hear anyway.  

7 thoughts on “The Penis Perspective: Women In Debating

  1. This is a problem I’m having at the moment. I got outraged when I was on the receiving end of some very overt sexism from a director at work (comments on my appearance etc). Everyone seemed to think I am overreacting and that the right thing to do in these situations is to be able to laugh it off, ‘roll with the banter’. I’m having such a hard time explaining to people why I don’t want to do that, without being seen as pathetic and weak.

  2. This seems like the exact same bullshit defense of street harassment – that the recipients of the abuse (because that’s what it is) have ‘taken it the wrong way’ or ‘aren’t seeing the comments for the light hearted, jocular quips they are.’ That kind of mentality is akin to thinking that you can punch someone in the face, and then tell them how much it hurt them.

  3. I really really wish I could believe his article was sarcastic trolling…. But I can’t quite. *Rages*. On the bright side, the debating community has responded really positively to this, starting research into these issues and renewing efforts to tackle them. Still, depressing it had to happen to such high-profile, leading debaters before it was payed attention to. It’s quite a hierarchal structure.

    Michael Rolfe: I’ve judged in national and international debating competitions, and while heckling is part of some, debating is a game like any other, and just like a sport, it has RULES. The reason it’s debating, and not ‘abuse hurling’, is because critiques should be logically linked to the concepts in the argument. You are actively penalised for raising irrelevant points in debating. Likewise, through the important role of Equity officer (which exists in every competition, and is a majorly respected appointment, since it’s really crucial, especially in international competitions where we need to preserve goodwill across different cultures and networks of students internationally to keep the competitions GOING for the future), issues involving comments or differential treatment on the basis of gender, race, sexuality etc should be dealt with punitively, through a range of measures from banning attendance at future competitions, kicking you out of this one, docking your points/putting you last, or removing your right to compete for part of the competition. Debaters are in principle expected to remain respectful towards one another at all times. We are also expected to use our intellects in stringing points together convincingly (this is distinct from just drowning other people out with our loud voices and knowledge of swearwords. A bullying approach will lose you points with the judges; we are interested in your analysis and clarity, not your ego).

    In a competition, this means NOT resorting to crude personal attacks, but focussing on demolishing the opposite team’s ARGUMENTS (not their vaginas). To be successful, our analysis needs to be strong, clear, coherent and convincing. We’re not (in my experience, obviously some societies fail in this regard GLASGOW) expected to make excuses for our race or gender to win debates… That’s just the rules of game :)

  4. As a long-time Scotland On Sunday reader (my parents took it, I’m more of a Herald man myself), I can tell you this- Gerald Warner is a deliberately offensive dinosaur, a broadsheet troll. His columns are collections of mutually-contradictory half baked leftie-bating. Apparently he’s now written one too noxious for the SoS and it has been composted in the Spectator. I don’t really think it’s worth your time shooting him down.

    From what I read, GUU is a similar relic, which is a pity. GU is probably the third-or-fourth best university on Scotland and deserves a union to match.