Fall Photo Essay: Debatable Clothing
When one thinks of debate, the stereotypical notion is a group of high school kids who are affluent, predominantly white, predominantly male, argumentative, aggressive, and viewed as “preppy.” The attire that most people imagine, to go along with the person described above, is most akin to this:
In entering the debate community, I was surprised and glad to know that debate offers opportunities to a large range of people and had platforms for everyone to speak on; race, gender, sexual orientation, identity, religion, etc. Debaters incorporate their identities and fashion sense into their arguments to make statements about the current situation of society.
The term “debater,” like any term that categorizes a large group of people, is too wide to be tied down to one set of preconceived notions. However, despite being a community that embraces difference and celebrates identities, the activity still maintains small aspects of its foundations; debate was originally only accessible to straight, white, cisgender, affluent, non-immigrant males.
As a novice -- this is what first year debaters are called -- I was asked by coaches and advised by judges to wear clothing that would impress people until my argumentation improved. It was the idea that, because all novices are learning, they should at least look presentable. Ignoring the problems within this very concept of superficial presentation, I found myself bothered by a more obvious issue: oftentimes male novices would be exempt from this request.
|Pictured Above: Sarah (left, foreground), who is from Glenbrook North High School, IL, was receiving tips from her coach. When asked about her between-round demeanor, she said, "It's a really stressful time. Everyone who is waiting [have] either won or lost their last round and they're all preparing for the next one." Zachary (center), in the orange tiger costume, is from New Trier High School, IL, and was looking at Twitter. When asked about his between-round demeanor, he said, "You know, after 2 hours of strict argumentation, I just want to relax. Sure, I know I'll have to debate again, but I don't feel the need to prep every single minute of every single day."|
Roland Kim (photo 1), a sophomore at New Trier High School, describes attire as a supplement to confidence and intimidation. If that's the case, when male debaters choose to not follow their coaches' instruction nor a judge's advice, when they choose to dress casually, does this mean that they already have all the confidence they need? Or, is it that people automatically view males as more intimidating or confident than females? And, if it's the latter, why hasn't a community as diverse and progressive as debate ceased this sexist double standard?
The Debaters' Arguments:
Haley, from Glenbrook North High School, IL, was working the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament wearing their team shirt and leggings. When complimented on her attire, she laughed and said, "I would debate in this if I could!" She continued, "...it just wouldn't happen. My coach, the other team...I don't know, people already view me as some little girl."
|Pictured Above: Madison (left) and Haley (center), two debaters from Glenbrook North High School who were working at the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament, conversing on the left. Roshni (right), a debater who was debating, walking past.|
Parker, from Valley High School, IA, was wearing sweatpants and a Foucault shirt as he entered the elimination rounds of the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament. He said, "the dress code is f---ing dumb. I don't see why you shouldn't debate in what makes you happy." He pointed to his shirt with a laugh, "this guy makes me happy...screw perceptions, I wear what I want."
|Pictured Above: Parker, from Valley High School, IA, before he headed into his elimination round.|
Patrick, from Niles West High School, IL, doesn't believe there is a double standard within the dress code. "The way I see it," he said, "everyone has to pay their dues. I don't like wearing these pointy shoes any more than you like wearing that pencil skirt, but we all got to do it."
|Pictured Above: Patrick (center), from Niles West High School, IL, giving a speech.|
Lily, from Valley High School, IA, gave up on following the clothing expectations. She said, "...this whole thing is so dumb. I gave up on it halfway through my novice year. If I can't wear what I want to wear, then what's next? Should I not argue what I want to argue? Not run 'queer pess'* because it makes a bunch of old-school people uncomfortable? No f---ing way...I express myself how I express myself, and if people can't respect that, it's their problem."
|Pictured Above: Rachel (left most) and Lily (center), from Valley High School, IA, talking to Larry, from Head-Royce School, CA, after his round.|
|Pictured Above: Manav (left) and Akash (right), a partership from Okemos High School, MI, in round at the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament.|
|Pictured Above: Wagoner (left), a debater from Desert Vista, AZ, and Roshni (center), a debater from Lab School, talking to their judge, Izak (right), at the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament.|
|Pictured Above: debaters conversing at the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament.|
|Pictured Above: A coach prepping a team for their next round at the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament.|
|Pictured Above: debaters at the University of Michigan Tournament, prepping before round.|
|Pictured Above: debaters at the University of Michigan Tournament, en route to their next round.|
|Pictured Above: spectators and judges of an elimination round at the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament.|
|Pictured Above: debaters conversing between rounds at the University of Michigan Tournament.|
|Pictured Above: Michael (left) and Alex (second to left), from Lab School, talking to two other debaters at the Glenbrook Invitational Tournament.|
|Pictured Above: debaters conversing and prepping for their next rounds at the University of Michigan Tournament.|
*Note: "Queer pessimism," also known as "queer pess," is an argument run by debaters to discuss how policies and their implementations would affect queer bodies.