Please welcome honored guest, award-winning author H.M. Jones. Her latest release, Monochrome, is now available from Feminine Collective Publishing on Amazon. Read it. Amazing book.
Many people listened to the most recent U.S. presidential debates. People picked “the winner” and “the loser” of the debates not long after in polls. This is not a political post, so you may stay and play with me, if you will. No this, readers, is a post on our notions of debate and argumentation, and how they are based largely on masculine ideals of power. So this is a feminist thing instead of a political post? Yes. It is. You may leave now, if you wish.
Those of you who are still with me, let’s talk, and by talk I mean let’s think. That’s what talking is to me, it’s thinking. To many of my female friends and colleagues, talking through something is thinking through something. It’s not the sort of talking that is loud and full of gestures, that barrels over the ideas of everyone else. It’s the sort of talking that weighs pros and cons, adds stories and learnings and ideas, and asks for participation and input.
Debates: As Defined By Men
Just following the debates, and during the debates, people largely believed that because Mr. Trump had more talk time, a louder presence and wouldn’t be silenced (even when it might have been better for him to be silent), he won. What does “winning” in this manner mean? Where do our ideas of “winning” when it comes to debate come from? Men in power. That’s traditionally who debated, who have been given the space and the attention for generations. They set the rules.
The louder you speak, the more confident you speak, the more you speak (as a man) portrays power.
So, as women, should we follow these same rules? I’d say no, for a few reasons. For one, I don’t think that bowling over people is an effective way to deal with others. It stops up communication and leaves people feeling unheard. If the point of debate was to sway the public based on reason, facts and substantial research, bowling over other voices would be bullying behavior.
What Are Debates About, Really?
Let’s face it, debates aren’t about revealing truth or dealing in reason. Debates are the first instance of Reality TV. These “debates” are meant to deface and point fingers. They are unsubstantial and loud. I turn them down and sometimes off because they just make me frustrated. I don’t care for verbal fist fights.
If that’s what debates are, shouldn’t women just show that they can be loud and abrasive, too? I suppose if a woman likes that type of argumentation, she can do so. I think we need to push away from this form of argumentation. It was not created by women, and it feels an awful lot like mansplaining when it’s done. Because it is, really. Do we really want to carry on with what is wrong about debates already? Or should we try to bring some civility, some actual intention to these spaces? I would like to see what that looks like. Women who try this tactic, however, are called out as weak, ineffectual, as “losers.”
The Male Point of View vs. The Female Point of View
When I was in grad school, I had mostly older male teachers. When writing for men, I wrote in a more aggressive way. I poked holes in the arguments that others presented in a forceful way. I made them seem small. I talked my own theories up. I hated those papers. I hated that game. I could do it, and I did it well. I was one of the top students, singled out by respected professors, was prized by my male colleagues with the way I could debate verbally and in the written word. It is the way of writing papers in the game of higher education. So I did it. Until I didn’t.
I had a female professor who questioned that way of writing, who called it preening. And I realized, as my heart grew lighter, that I agreed. Writing in that way was counterintuitive to my own understanding.
The person I respect most in life is my mother. Where many male role models in my life would often blow up and shut conversation down when we butted heads, my mother would sit, discuss, ask questions, listen. She directed her questions in a way that made me see things the way she saw them, without telling me I was wrong. She didn’t run over me when she spoke; she made me want to speak by creating a level playing field and inviting my ideas in. I would often concede wrong, at the end of our talks, as would she to some extent. We would meet in the middle and solve our problems. We still do.
Except the couples of times when I bowled her over, when I spoke over her and dismissed her. As I got older and more learned, I began to do that more often. It was something I learned was effective in this world. A power grab.
In that class my teacher told me to tell a story to open my paper, to invite my reader to empathize before hearing my stance. When I put research into the paper, she asked me to give more precedence to strong voices in support of my stance, to talk of opposition but not to shoot others down. She wanted me to show the other side in a fair light and reveal where I differed. She asked me to treat my reader and those who think differently respectfully, and they will want to listen to you.
It wasn’t about winning or losing an argument in that paper. It was about connecting emotion, empathy, facts and research in a respectful way. It was my favorite paper to write. I was nominated for the graduate research essay prize for that paper. I didn’t win. One of my male professors suggested that my paper could have been more “assertive.”
Are Male Debates Sexist?
Is this a sexist post, to suggest that women might have a learned strength in debate that most men are not asked to have? No. We have had to learn to navigate for power, since we were not handed it. We were accessories, property. We could not throw aggression and gestures behind our words, or we would be presumptuous, even in danger. Instead, we learned to listen, to reach people on a deeper level, including the people in power. We learned negotiation.
So, how do we reveal our strength as such, when, currently, it is seen as a weakness?
How do we ask people to change the perception that louder, more aggressive and snarkier language is more correct? Will we have to learn to play the game or can we change the way the game is played by refusing to verbally knock our opponents around?
I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I know that I wish so much that this life was less about competition, aggression, and tackles than about reason, empathy and love.
Thoughts on this post? Please comment politely below. Trolls will be happily salted and melted like snails.
I’m honored to guest this week on H.M.’s blog! Head on over to read my post: This is the Reason Interrupting is Sexist
royalty-free photos courtesy of unsplash and morguefile
Author H.M. Jones is a B.R.A.G medallion honoree for her debut novel, Monochrome, re-released as a third edition by Feminine Collective. She writes poetry, new adult, young adult, fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or her website.
kathy kolada saysOctober 24, 2016 at 6:09 am
Great article. I think the whole debate idea has devolved into chaos and I suggest we go back to the Lincoln-Douglas format. Each gave a 1-hr. speech giving his vision for the country. That’s it, no questions.