I am standing at my podium. I am relaxed, loose even, my breathing is regular and my body is still. I reach for my notebook, and feel the comforting tightness of a blazer hugging my shoulder. Inhale, exhale. The timer starts.
The words aren’t pouring from my mouth. I am not a faucet, spilling my thoughts through the tube of my throat. No, the words are spinning out. I am a potter, sculpting the clay with just my fingers. These ideas have been created, shaped, solidified by the person standing at the podium, not simply placed into her mouth to be let free. She is the director, not the actress.
I am rapid, assertive, direct in my confrontation. His arguments are flawed, and I intend to make this clear. So point by point, I meet his fire with waves, until I stand alone in the ashes. When I finish, I do not smile. There is no need for mockery here.
I take a seat, rarely a loss.
Up to four times a month, competitive parliamentary debaters pack briefcases and suitcases, purchase airline, bus, or train tickets, and meet hundred of other educated teenagers in foreign universities. We clash over esoteric topics ranging from international conflicts to socio-economic injustices. The pace is quick, the competition ruthless. One team comes out on top, hundreds finish on the bottom, and all crave victory.
The classroom reeks of white privilege. The opposition and judge not only lack pigment in their skins, but a second X chromosome. Then again, there has rarely ever been room for frivolities like X chromosomes and pigmentation at events like these. It’s ironic that this hierarchy is one of the issues most vehemently debated at these championships. Maybe talking is all we’re good for, after all.
His eyes give away the result before his mouth does. It strikes me in the gut, the impact and its tendrils of pain creeping up to my heart. I ask him why the win slipped from between my fingers when I was so sure it was secured. It came down to style, he says. Your speech was too aggressive. You spoke too quickly. I felt attacked. It was hard to listen to. The opposition smirks at me. And him? He was more confident, self-assured. It was easy to follow, I was comfortable. Do you understand now? I nod.
Now, we are done understanding. We no longer accept that the few women ever spotted in a Grand Final are quiet and accompanied by a male partner. We no longer comprehend why he is persuasive and I am combative. How am I stubborn if he is determined? Why is he a hero, and I a slut?
When will we win, and not lose?
The round is about the feminist movement. She speaks of a time that she herself was a victim of the discrimination that entrenches us in subjugation. She tells us why we need this policy: to protect other vulnerable actors like herself.
The trophy slides to the other bench. Personal examples don’t belong in a formal debate setting. True. And evidence not directly pertaining to the case at hand does not belong in a court of law. Complaints of harassment don’t belong in a formal report. Women belong in the kitchen, and not in STEM.
Some platforms are not appropriate stages for our activism. At least, that’s what we are told. This is fine, as long as we are given a platform deemed appropriate. The problem exists when a competition created for teens to talk about society’s shortcomings is perceived to be inappropriate for our activism. Maybe this is just another part of the game.
They tell us that the only way to enact societal change is through a perfect combination of logos and ethos. Pathos should be forgotten. But it is 2018, and my statistics, my facts, all the numbers I have stored within the folds of my skin are nothing but that. Empty numbers. Sometimes, the only way to make someone understand is to show them the tangible evidence. Maybe then, they will put down their weapons. Look at the bruises on my back. This is what he did to me.
I wish we could show them all our bruises.
But perhaps even staring into the eyes of another statistic does nothing for our case.
After all, we’re only worth eighty cents to the dollar, aren’t we?
Fair, considering we are only ever worth second place.
About the Author
Megan Horsthuis is a sixteen year old competitive impromptu parliamentary debater from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She attends Lycée Claudel d’Ottawa where she is always talking about injustice, whether it be in Western Liberal Democracies or the developing world, but she’s frustrated that as soon as she finishes speaking nothing happens at all. She hopes that writing about the discrimination will do more than that, and serve as a reminder that although we live in the free world, equity is still far from reach.