Tournaments/Being Competitive

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Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Aaron's Rod » Sun Nov 09, 2014 11:17 pm

I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing that the staff was looking for in this subforum, but if so and this gets approved, I'd be interested in hearing peoples' thoughts.

A rather long backstory to get to the point: On the way to Fall, I was suddenly reminded that I hadn't warned Abby, a freshman who was about to play her first tournament, about the whole quizbowl gender thing. Lawrence has always maintained quite a balanced gender ratio, and since few to none of our players had high school careers or were previously knowledgable about the quizbowl world, going from that bubble to a tournament can be a culture shock. As someone who was used to women being some of the top scorers in practice, the demographics at the opening meeting for my first tournament were really a wakeup call. I told Abby that usually you can count the number of women you'll play against all day on one hand, but that the Minnesota area was a little better than, say, the Chicago area (as was my personal impression).

Boy, did I ever eat my words yesterday! There was one non-Lawrence woman at the tournament, Rachel Busse on St. Thomas B. (And on the other count, I've forgotten that Chicago now has a couple of freshman women who are not to be trifled with.) St. Thomas fielded several women at Fall last year. When we played St. Thomas B yesterday, I told Rachel "You guys brought so many women last year! It makes me sad to see that it's just you now.” She responded that "they didn't want to come."

That really stuck with me, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Now, it's possible that people had other things going on this weekend, or particularly busy semesters, etc. But here we have women who went to a tournament last year--possibly helped with hosting duties, even?--and from the sound of it, may very well still be going to practice, but who didn't want to attend a tournament at a university that's literally within walking distance from their own.

I know that there has been some mention of and talking around the stereotype of women as "casual" players. So even if the women of various Twin Cities-area colleges all had other obligations and would have otherwise attended Fall, I'm really interested in exploring that. Many programs probably have people who have a decent presence at practices but just plain don't like tournaments; I know we do. Do we think that those people are disproportionately female? If so, why?

With some fun exceptions, people at tournaments aren't really throwing gendered insults/language at or around women, although in my experience you may get some non-gendered side comments that your male teammates never seem to get. True, being one of few women at a tournament can be uncomfortable, and for some people it's prohibitively uncomfortable. There may be a societal issue here that a competitive nature is not fostered as much in women as it is in men. But other than the obvious issue of numbers, is there something about the quizbowl tournament experience (or idea, even, for those who never attend) that may be turning women off?
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Sun Devil Student » Mon Nov 24, 2014 12:26 am

Aaron's Rod wrote:I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing that the staff was looking for in this subforum, but if so and this gets approved, I'd be interested in hearing peoples' thoughts.

A rather long backstory to get to the point: On the way to Fall, I was suddenly reminded that I hadn't warned Abby, a freshman who was about to play her first tournament, about the whole quizbowl gender thing. Lawrence has always maintained quite a balanced gender ratio, and since few to none of our players had high school careers or were previously knowledgable about the quizbowl world, going from that bubble to a tournament can be a culture shock. As someone who was used to women being some of the top scorers in practice, the demographics at the opening meeting for my first tournament were really a wakeup call. I told Abby that usually you can count the number of women you'll play against all day on one hand, but that the Minnesota area was a little better than, say, the Chicago area (as was my personal impression).

Boy, did I ever eat my words yesterday! There was one non-Lawrence woman at the tournament, Rachel Busse on St. Thomas B. (And on the other count, I've forgotten that Chicago now has a couple of freshman women who are not to be trifled with.) St. Thomas fielded several women at Fall last year. When we played St. Thomas B yesterday, I told Rachel "You guys brought so many women last year! It makes me sad to see that it's just you now.” She responded that "they didn't want to come."

That really stuck with me, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Now, it's possible that people had other things going on this weekend, or particularly busy semesters, etc. But here we have women who went to a tournament last year--possibly helped with hosting duties, even?--and from the sound of it, may very well still be going to practice, but who didn't want to attend a tournament at a university that's literally within walking distance from their own.

I know that there has been some mention of and talking around the stereotype of women as "casual" players. So even if the women of various Twin Cities-area colleges all had other obligations and would have otherwise attended Fall, I'm really interested in exploring that. Many programs probably have people who have a decent presence at practices but just plain don't like tournaments; I know we do. Do we think that those people are disproportionately female? If so, why?

With some fun exceptions, people at tournaments aren't really throwing gendered insults/language at or around women, although in my experience you may get some non-gendered side comments that your male teammates never seem to get. True, being one of few women at a tournament can be uncomfortable, and for some people it's prohibitively uncomfortable. There may be a societal issue here that a competitive nature is not fostered as much in women as it is in men. But other than the obvious issue of numbers, is there something about the quizbowl tournament experience (or idea, even, for those who never attend) that may be turning women off?


My impression has been that if it's even slightly uncomfortable, that is enough to drive away the vast majority of women unless they have some other reason to stay. At my undergrad club some women quit because they found the guys' harsh/demeaning trash talk (to each other, not directed at the women) to be unpleasant/upsetting, leaving us with no women for a long time. Not having picked up on this soon enough to stop it is one of my greatest regrets to this day.

After moving to Chicago I came across an article about "nerd culture" talking about problems with sexism at places like video game conventions/certain fields of science/other places with extremely male-skewed gender ratios, and since then I've come to suspect that these issues are a major issue in quizbowl, as well. One of my feminist classmates has talked about never feeling safe because even if only 4% of male college students are rapists (from one recent study) she has no way to know which 4% they are, and they also usually get away with it because of various problems with our wider culture (victim blaming, lack of prosecution, etc). There's also the issue raised in this article, suggesting that assaults may actually account for a lot of quitting in certain academic fields (I'm sure it differs among fields and have no idea how much it applies to quizbowl, but I'm starting to suspect it's much more common than we think almost universally).

The problems with sexual jokes and other such hostile-environment-creators, as best I can tell, happens at both practices and tournaments, so I would be surprised if it was causing women to attend practices but not tournaments.

Certainly, this is an under-recognized issue with many complex moving parts and I wish I had some ready solutions for it. Good luck...
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby The Time Keeper » Mon Nov 24, 2014 8:34 pm

Sun Devil Student wrote:
My impression has been that if it's even slightly uncomfortable, that is enough to drive away the vast majority of women unless they have some other reason to stay.


If it's even slightly uncomfortable then you have done something wrong.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby naturalistic phallacy » Mon Nov 24, 2014 8:37 pm

Sun Devil Student wrote:My impression has been that if it's even slightly uncomfortable, that is enough to drive away the vast majority of women unless they have some other reason to stay. At my undergrad club some women quit because they found the guys' harsh/demeaning trash talk (to each other, not directed at the women) to be unpleasant/upsetting, leaving us with no women for a long time. Not having picked up on this soon enough to stop it is one of my greatest regrets to this day.

After moving to Chicago I came across an article about "nerd culture" talking about problems with sexism at places like video game conventions/certain fields of science/other places with extremely male-skewed gender ratios, and since then I've come to suspect that these issues are a major issue in quizbowl, as well. One of my feminist classmates has talked about never feeling safe because even if only 4% of male college students are rapists (from one recent study) she has no way to know which 4% they are, and they also usually get away with it because of various problems with our wider culture (victim blaming, lack of prosecution, etc). There's also the issue raised in this article, suggesting that assaults may actually account for a lot of quitting in certain academic fields (I'm sure it differs among fields and have no idea how much it applies to quizbowl, but I'm starting to suspect it's much more common than we think almost universally).

The problems with sexual jokes and other such hostile-environment-creators, as best I can tell, happens at both practices and tournaments, so I would be surprised if it was causing women to attend practices but not tournaments.

Certainly, this is an under-recognized issue with many complex moving parts and I wish I had some ready solutions for it. Good luck...


Oh, I'm so glad that you talked to one of your "feminist classmates" about "your biggest regret" and the best you have to offer is "good luck".
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Mark Wolfsberg » Mon Nov 24, 2014 10:42 pm

naturalistic phallacy wrote:Oh, I'm so glad that you talked to one of your "feminist classmates" about "your biggest regret" and the best you have to offer is "good luck".


As a woman in QB, do you have any thoughts or suggestions that can help to either advance the conversation or make women feel comfortable and safe in QB ? I keep telling my son that they need to actively recruit women to their HS QB team. Though I have never heard a sexist or derogatory remark from any of them, I wonder how the team cam make QB more attractive to women.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Amizda Calyx » Mon Nov 24, 2014 11:05 pm

A) "Discomfort" is relative, and anyway you should not infer some causal link between someone quitting the team and some "uncomfortable" situation you've observed because most of the time there are underlying issues beyond that.
B) People in general are driven away by disagreeable situations or people, it just might be more noticeable when women leave because they stand out more when they are around.
C) The people causing the discomfort may be completely oblivious that they're the ones driving others away...
D) ...Or their behavior is more repulsive than they thought.
E) The vague threat of 4% of some sample population being rapists is not what is driving people away.
F) Stupid immature practices like team initiations (with or without female teammates) involving fuck lists or whatever, or open discussion about women's attractiveness or any other offensive comments in practice/during tournaments/on the road/at any point when you're interacting with teammates who have not given any indication that they are or would be comfortable with this line of discussion, are what drive people away.
G) Women do not need to be coddled and demeaned by having practices, etc. run as stiflingly explicit "safe zones" devoid of any casual chitchat; having a welcoming atmosphere should just be standard for all teams regardless of gender makeup, and people who behave like assholes should be punished. There aren't any extreme accommodations or considerations you have to implement to have a team with women on it. Just be mindful of the people around you and don't assume a lack of a negative response to a comment means everyone is fine with it
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby naturalistic phallacy » Mon Nov 24, 2014 11:27 pm

Mark Wolfsberg wrote:
naturalistic phallacy wrote:Oh, I'm so glad that you talked to one of your "feminist classmates" about "your biggest regret" and the best you have to offer is "good luck".


As a woman in QB, do you have any thoughts or suggestions that can help to either advance the conversation or make women feel comfortable and safe in QB ? I keep telling my son that they need to actively recruit women to their HS QB team. Though I have never heard a sexist or derogatory remark from any of them, I wonder how the team cam make QB more attractive to women.

I absolutely abhor falling back on something so simplistic, but just treat people as you'd want to be treated. All these calls for "special consideration" are fraught with faux-feminist concern that does literally nothing except advance the horrendous lie that women are delicate ladyflowers needing a man's protection. While I get that teenage boys are not the most sensitive and well-meaning of individuals, it is imperative that anyone with any sort of influence instill in their charges the need to treat newcomers with respect, cordiality, and a bit of patience, regardless of gender (or whatever other difference may divide us at any given moment).

In addition, all of us in the quizbowl community have the duty to call out any bad apples that we may (and will) encounter. If you see shitty behavior towards anyone, don't tolerate it! Instead of tacitly accepting that certain attitudes or actions are "part of life", we should stomp them out before they infect our community.*

*This should not be taken as carte blanche to complain about anything, nor should we tolerate those who constantly cry wolf. I know I am far too optimistic to expect complete respect of such principles, but really, it's not hard to try.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby AKKOLADE » Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:29 am

The University of Kentucky has something like 30-50% of its players that go to tournaments are female. I think Rahul et al have accomplished this by establishing a warm, welcoming environment for everyone and not trying to establish an atmosphere that is insulting to women or condescend to them.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Mark Wolfsberg » Tue Nov 25, 2014 6:10 am

Thank you Joelle & Bernadette,

I intend to copy your remarks & e-mail them to our all male team.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby theMoMA » Tue Nov 25, 2014 9:22 pm

I certainly don't disagree with anything that Joelle or Bernadette has said, but I think Kenneth's post deserves some credit for raising important points (that Joelle and Bernadette have since identified and expounded upon). First, it's usually small and insidious things that drive outsiders away from cliquish groups, not big and memorable events. Second, there aren't any easy answers, because no one person, no matter how well-intentioned, can create by themselves the kind of atmosphere in which women feel welcome.

Finally, I don't think it's beyond the pale to say that the well-documented prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses could play a role in women historically being underrepresented in quizbowl. Quizbowl requires its participants to spend time on the road together, which often involves male and female quizbowlers being in close quarters, sometimes even sleeping in the same room. That's probably pretty awkward for one woman in a group of many men as it stands. But as more and more statistics come out about just how widespread sexual assault at colleges is (and as stories continue to be published about sexual assaults among traditionally male-dominated, intellectual/pseudo-intellectual communities such as freethought and atheism) it seems entirely reasonable to me that some female participants could see such travel and sleeping arrangements as an unacceptable risk. Awkward male behavior in a male-dominated pastime is one thing at a quizbowl practice, where anyone feeling uncomfortable can simply leave. But set against the specter of sexual assault on campus, female participants may feel very differently about traveling and staying in the same hotel (and possibly even the same room) as men whose behavior makes them feel uncomfortable.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Tue Nov 25, 2014 9:53 pm

The reason the last few discussions were shut down, and the reason that this one is supposed to be more heavily moderated, is and was a preponderance of well-meaning (and sometimes not) men strolling in and explaining how they think everyone else feels and acts. Let's back away from that, please.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby ValenciaQBowl » Wed Nov 26, 2014 11:35 am

Well, I certainly won't try to act like I know how women "feel" about playing QB or being on QB teams, but, sigh, I will bore everyone again by pointing out how much more female participation there is in CC quiz bowl. My current team features six females and six males (we also feature a majority of players of color, but Valencia is only 50% Caucasian overall, so that's to be expected). And this is true throughout the Florida CC circuit. So yeah, colors of Benetton, etc.

But seriously, I and my other two coaches don't do anything special to create an environment conducive to female participation. We have enough trouble keeping half of the 20 folks of all types who usually come out for the first couple practices. We lose players because they're scared by a combination of the questions (which they fear they will never be able to answer) and the returning players (who, if I let them, will play aggressively and make newbies run away), not from any gender or race issues. So I work to create a friendly environment for students--period.

But that speaks to the main difference with CC team--our institutions require us to have faculty coaches (many of whom are female--probably half, though I'd have to count), and maybe just our presence makes it seem more like a rowdy class meeting to new players, so people of any type feel more easy about being there. I'm not sure.

However, anyone who's ever been around the Valencia team knows that most of the players are profane and love to tease each other even about usually taboo issues like race and religion (especially race and religion with us!). This comes, though, only after players have been around for awhile and gotten to know each other. Some of our students don't cuss or tease the others about usually off-topic characteristics, but some do, including some of the female players. And the ones who don't instigate such talk don't seem to mind it; at least they don't leave the team!

One thing, though: when I go to Chicago Open, I don't see many folks going out of their way to talk to people they don't know. Of course, those who are already QB friends do plenty of talking to each other, but I just don't see many players starting up chit-chat during between-game delays or the opening wait time, being active in passing the time in conversation with someone who shares love for this game. And frankly, sometimes an effort to start random conversation in that crowd is met by a kind of confused frown, as if one is wondering why some person is talking to him. Now me, I'm like a slobbery Labrador who loves talking to strangers, and my ego isn't bruised by any rebuff; however, considering the CO field nowadays includes the cream of the crop of player-leaders from the top schools, it does make me wonder if people really do talk up new players, male or female, when they come in. Taking time to stop a match if a new player comes in, introduce people playing, ask how they heard about the team, briefly explain how the game works, etc., all are great ways to make someone feel wanted. Further, whenever a new players leaves, or when practice is over, I always address them by name and ask what they thought and tell them I hope to see them at the next practice.

Standard disclaimer: yeah, I'm not saying this is everyone at CO, and yeah, there are tons of other factors involved in the dearth of women at the four-year level, but I'll see y'all at ICT with my female players, and though they may not always succeed, they'll be there wanting to kick some ass.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Nov 26, 2014 7:21 pm

That's something I think we should all collectively try to do more - talk to your opponents during and after games, compliment them on their buzzes, etc. I remember feeling kind of isolated from everyone except my own teammates (and a couple people I knew from the high school circuit) during the first several tournaments I played in college, rarely talking to anyone else, and it meant an awful lot to me when someone would say something like "good buzz."
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Bartleby » Wed Nov 26, 2014 8:11 pm

While I won't pretend to know much about the social dynamics of quiz bowl in the US, I think that Chris' post raises a pretty good point overall, which is that the best way to find out how someone feels is to ask them. This thought occurred to me when I read Kenneth's post as well, in that it made some fairly sweeping generalizations on behalf of 'women in quiz bowl.' I think that at the beginning of the year, particularly in larger clubs, it's probably pretty easy to focus on the new members who choose to stick around, but it might be prudent to -- particularly in the case of new, or even more seasoned female club members -- have a club officer reach out if someone has come to a few meetings and then just drops off the face of the earth. It could simply be that the individual in question is swamped with exams, but at the very least, a "Hey X, Haven't seen you at meetings in a couple of weeks, hope everything is OK and that we might see you again soon!" is a a good faith effort to show that the presence and participation of club members is acknowledged and appreciated.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Sun Devil Student » Sun Dec 07, 2014 9:06 pm

naturalistic phallacy wrote:Oh, I'm so glad that you talked to one of your "feminist classmates" about "your biggest regret" and the best you have to offer is "good luck".

I never knew how much I didn't know about gender issues until I came to medical school. I apologize for once having been a clueless and ignorant male undergraduate.

For the record, here's what happened when I was at ASU. Because I was oblivious at the time, I have only my former teammates' after-the-fact accounts of the situation to inform me. I was told separately by two of the women that they left specifically because there were 3-4 of the men who frequently chewed each other out in very harsh language for missing questions (e.g. one of them missed something another of them knew, and he would yell "you idiot!" or "dumbass!" across the room). Both of the women told me that even though they knew none of the insults were directed at them, it still made them uncomfortable and made the club practice an unpleasant place to be. Obviously, I informed the remaining members of what I discovered and we became more aware of the issue after that, but what I regret is that I did not have the social sense to pick up on some (female) teammates being uncomfortable *before* they decided to leave. Possibly if I had caught the issue very early on, rather than only being prompted by the departure of those club members (who had been coming for several months), we could have prevented them. The male teammates were equally unaware as I was of the impact their behavior had, but because I was the club president at the time, I feel that it was my responsibility as a leader to have noticed such things ahead of time.

The lesson I learned from that episode, rightly or wrongly, was that
naturalistic phallacy wrote:just treat people as you'd want to be treated

isn't always enough, because things that don't bother one person can be noxious to another person. This doesn't even have to be a gendered issue, though our wider culture often socializes people to make it such. But, in cases that do involve gender, men can treat each other the way they want to be treated, in ways they understand among themselves as being friendly, and yet still be creating an "atmosphere" which many women find unwelcoming. This certainly doesn't mean "we should treat all women like delicate flowers" - but rather that turning a blind eye to gender (or any other variable) doesn't solve the problem either. And, as Joelle pointed out, people often don't speak up so we might sometimes have to look for these issues in order to find them.

It was only after I came to Chicago that I began to learn much more about social activism issues like "rape culture" and "color-blind racism" which I previously had only superficial knowledge of. (Also, I think the social issues are getting more media attention nowadays, but that could just be because I'm aware of it so now I see those headlines more often.) And that got me thinking, wondering how much more I might have overlooked in my naive undergraduate days. For example, a number of my women classmates say they and other women they know are socialized to not assert themselves in a roomful of men, to be evasive instead of outright rejecting unwanted advances, etc, and while these aren't necessarily quizbowl related, they demonstrate parts of a perspective that I would never have been able to see through my own eyes, a perspective that fundamentally alters these women's entire experience of life in our society.

Joelle wrote:fuck lists or whatever, or open discussion about women's attractiveness or any other offensive comments in practice/during tournaments/on the road/at any point when you're interacting with teammates who have not given any indication that they are or would be comfortable with this line of discussion

I saw some of this at a recent tournament, though I could not tell if the women present were okay with it since I didn't know anyone personally. The individual men (and women) involved probably know who they are by reading this, so if this was a problem, hopefully seeing this post will prompt them to realize it and work to change it.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Ndg » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:06 am

Sun Devil Student wrote: there were 3-4 of the men who frequently chewed each other out in very harsh language for missing questions (e.g. one of them missed something another of them knew, and he would yell "you idiot!" or "dumbass!" across the room).


Sun Devil Student wrote: This doesn't even have to be a gendered issue, though our wider culture often socializes people to make it such.


Yeah, I'm having a hard time seeing this as a gender issue. I'd say it was more of a coincidence than anything else if the only people you were driving away were women. I would certainly leave a practice where people were doing this. It shouldn't require any kind of sophisticated understanding of gender relations to figure out that repeatedly shouting profanities is off-putting to most people.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Dec 08, 2014 3:23 pm

What I'm not seeing in this conversation is a comparison to other activities. If it is true that "competitive" activities are less likely to appeal to female players, we should see underrepresentation of females not just in quizbowl, but in any other campus activities that have wins, losses, personal performance metrics, etc.

I've never actually done a school-based competitive activity that isn't quizbowl, so I can't speak to whether other things have the same problem. Perhaps some of you might.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby Aaron's Rod » Mon Dec 08, 2014 10:55 pm

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:What I'm not seeing in this conversation is a comparison to other activities. If it is true that "competitive" activities are less likely to appeal to female players, we should see underrepresentation of females not just in quizbowl, but in any other campus activities that have wins, losses, personal performance metrics, etc.

I've never actually done a school-based competitive activity that isn't quizbowl, so I can't speak to whether other things have the same problem. Perhaps some of you might.

Interesting question. I went to a high school that had a strong debate program, so that's what I thought of first. Just skimming the names of high schoolers in the 2014 National Speech & Debate Tournament, it does look like there's a tilt towards a male majority, but nowhere near the disparity we see in quizbowl.
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Re: Tournaments/Being Competitive

Postby bing10 » Wed Dec 10, 2014 8:27 pm

As the founder of a fairly new team and as a woman, I wanted to add my quick two cents.

Our organization was begun by me and a female friend who is our organization's current treasurer. Our faculty advisor is a woman. Our first recruits were some of our close friends, who were also women. Because our organization began with so many women, the inclusiveness of our culture has always been assumed. If one of my two male teammates were to ever make a misogynistic (or racist, transphobic, ableist, homophobic, etc.) comment, they would be called out and shut down immediately (to their credit, neither of them would ever make such a comment).

I also think that because the demographic of our team is visibly female, it was a lot easier for female students to approach our organization. I started quizbowl my junior year not knowing anything about the game or about the demographics of my school's team, which was all-male. If I had known this or about the general male domination of quizbowl, I don't know if at that point in my life I would have been brave enough to venture into a practice for the first time.

Finally, I'll also second Chris's point about teams conversing at tournaments. In high school, the inter-team interactions I saw were generally among the male super-stars of various teams. In college I see less of that, though it does seem that the only time we can successfully strike up a conversation with another team is if that team is also relatively new or if that team has a woman or women on it. In fact, our team has been approached at least twice by women on other teams with some sentiment along the lines of "It's so good to see more girls here!" I don't mean to imply that schools with long-established programs, which tend to be mostly-male from my observations, are unapproachable or sexist but to an outsider it may seem that the culture of quizbowl is more exclusive or "elite" than it is inclusive.
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