I have been very lucky to experience little in the way of sexism and misogyny as a woman quizbowl player. The two notable times that I have— senior year of high school, when a new teammate repeatedly questioned why I was team captain instead of either of the other (guy) seniors; and when our (female, incidentally) former club president at W&M assigned me to essentially manage the emotions of a badly-behaved male teammate for an entire academic year, and made me apologize to him when I told her I was uncomfortable with that —are not events I’ve discussed outside of the confidence of a few friends. I believed that in the grand scheme of things, my experiences paled in comparison to those of other women in quizbowl. I respect them deeply for sharing their stories and didn’t want to equate mine to theirs.
It took a long time before I realized that my experience is the exception and not the rule. It also took a long time before I recognized that what I experienced may not have been actual physical assault or severe harassment, but it was still not acceptable behavior, and that sharing my story didn’t diminish the ones of those who faced more serious misconduct.
I say this to make one thing clear. If someone like me— who has the privileges of playing on a very diverse team (in terms of both race and gender identity), who does not feel like teammates see her as a disadvantage by virtue of her gender, and who believes in the essential goodness and welcoming atmosphere of this game because her good quizbowl experiences outweigh her bad ones 50:1 —is talking now, we have reached a point of no return. Even I, insulated as I am in all my privilege, cannot ignore how angry I am at the state of our community.
Make no mistake, men of quizbowl: we have reached yet another (hopeful) watershed moment, and it is once again your turn to sit down, shut up, and listen. Now, let’s talk about what I’ve noticed.
THE STATE OF "WOMEN IN QUIZBOWL" DISCOURSE ON THE FORUMS.
Based on a cursory search through these very forums, there seems to be at least one community thread every year, for the past several years, either explicitly focused on gender-based misconduct or the presence of women (and other underrepresented genders) more generally:
- The two recent threads started by Heather: a list of action steps on creating and enforcing a community-wide code of conduct, and the current "Y'all need to pay attention to your community" post.
- The “How We Treat Each Other: 2019” thread, which was started by Mike Cheyne but has excellent contributions about women in the game from Alex Damisch, Caroline Mao, Connie (Prater) Tzeng, and Joelle Smart.
- Chloe Levine's “I Love You, QB, So Please Get it the F*** Together” and Lauren Onel's “How to be Better at Being an Ally” from 2018. (Also, Chloe’s excellent independent report on gender and sexuality in quizbowl communities.)
- Joelle Smart’s 2017 statistical analysis on women’s participation at ICTs.
I point this out to emphasize that it seems like we have the same discussion on gender-based misconduct, like clockwork, every year. I’ll quote Frances Clark-Murray’s comment in Heather's “Y’all need to pay attention...” thread, because I think she does a great job explaining the current cycle:
I think that quote also puts into words another thing I noticed in that same thread, and in discussions on various quizbowl Discords I’m a member of: there seems to be less discussion among quizbowl men about action steps they can take to help make the community more welcoming, and more discussion about how the discourse makes them feel. This ranges from cursory acknowledgment of the thread to tone-policing women’s replies to the thread to self-flagellating about how they’ve been complicit and need to learn to do better. (The last one I find to be especially insidious given how it tends to put the onus on the disadvantaged party to "not-all-X" the situation and offer comfort or validation.)“This is the umpteenth thread like this that has been posted, usually in response to some egregiously vile thing that some guy in quizbowl has done. Almost without exception, the substantive contributions in these threads will come from women. Quizbowl men, be they elite college/open players or freshmen in high school, may wander in and post agreements, or condemn misbehaviour (as is the bare fucking minimum), but it's obviously a far more important use of their time to argue about proper protest resolution methods, powermarking or the best way of subdistributing the literature.”
INTROSPECTION IS NOT ENOUGH.
In the same “Y’all need to pay attention” thread, Clare Keenan wrote:
I respectfully disagree that I haven’t seen any introspection on the men’s part, because I would consider the discussion of how the discourse makes them feel to be introspection in its own way. But I do think that the current state of the discourse on their side shows a worrying trend. Acknowledging that your behavior has hurt others (whether it was actively causing harm to others or sitting complicit while others caused active harm) and apologizing for it is a good step, but it’s a first step. However, those first steps seem like they do not pan out into anything. Many of the same names as today appear in the old forum threads— I should not need to tell you that this is a massive problem. Recognizing that there’s a problem is essential, but how you proceed once you recognize the problem is much more important."I’m seeing a lot of men in quizbowl discussing the problem of harassment and sexism in qb but I’m not seeing any introspection.”
I understand that even though it’s not always at the forefront of discussion, this has been a hot-button issue in the greater quizbowl community for many years. Personally, I would argue that one can trace this discussion back to 1966, when a team from Agnes Scott College (a not-super-well-known women’s college in Georgia) beat Princeton in an upset on GE College Bowl. Simply searching “women” in the forum archives gives me results talking about how the community treats women going back to 2005 (even if this one is likely trying to be offensive.) Sam Luongo made an excellent comment about the state of women in quizbowl in 2012 and a short follow-up in 2015. Those posts are from eight and five years ago respectively, and they still read as though they could’ve been written today. Once again, I should not have to tell you that this is another massive problem.
I recognize that the current discourse is primarily focused on gender, but there is plenty of evidence that BIPOC members of our community feel this to an even greater extent and we should not act like quizbowl is a bastion of racial equity. I understand that institutional change often moves at a glacial pace, and that underrepresented groups need allies from the majority group (so, in this case, [white] cis men.) I understand that gaining the knowledge and sensitivity necessary for effective allyship is something that also takes time and requires education (from willing members of the underrepresented community, existing material, or some combination of both.) But that kind of thing should be the bare minimum, and to be frank, I’m just not seeing it in this community right now. I also understand that there are likely very small circuits dominated by men where it’s plausible “women in quizbowl” is simply not a topic that comes up, or that there people who are not Very Online in quizbowl spaces like us who have no idea this discourse is happening.
To be clear, I’m not telling any player of an underrepresented gender in this game, who’s too frustrated to continue making the same points over and over in the hopes of getting through to male players, that they have to suck it up and continue to do it. I merely bring up this point to emphasize that these theoretical and discursive conversations are happening among a very small group of people once again, despite the urgent need for wide-ranging, structural change in how we conceive of quizbowl as a community.
The vast majority of us here are young adults (or true adults) with critical thinking skills, who should be able to synthesize information and create and implement responses to that information. We have years’ worth of information about how underrepresented genders have been treated in the greater quizbowl community. Now we need to synthesize that information, create a unified response to it, and implement it. To do that, we need the men of quizbowl to acknowledge the overall harm they’ve caused (either directly or implicitly), vow to do better, and then actually do better.
I am heartened by the current push to create a community-wide code of conduct and draw greater attention to the existing misconduct form. But at the same time it’s bittersweet, because so many of the people I see getting very involved in those initiatives are high schoolers. We, as the older generation, should be doing this work ourselves so we can hand it down to them. We adults should be the ones guiding the community. That doesn't seem to be happening, because too many (male) members of this community would rather debate respectability politics and highly theoretical situations in forum discussions than come up with plans to the real issues underlying these theoretical situations that they generally have the luxury of ignoring.
Having a conversation (and by “having a conversation” I mean “really listen to what the underrepresented-gender players are telling you”) is a good first step. That’s the absolute baseline, and I think it says a lot that my gut instinct wants to applaud you for taking the most basic step— because it is a very basic first step, and in my jaunt through the forum archives today I’ve seen these first steps repeated over and over again for years. And where do we end up? Clearly, since I felt the need to make this post, right back where we’ve started.
I hope that this ends up being a watershed moment, the beginning of the end of the status quo, and that we can repair this community. I want to end by quoting Clare again:
We don’t need to have these conversations every year like clockwork if we can make changes now. It should also not be up to female, transgender/nonbinary, and other quizbowlers who are members of underrepresented groups to fix things by ourselves. Men of quizbowl, you’ve once again recognized and acknowledged that there is a problem with gender-based discrimination and misconduct in our community. Excellent. You’ve realized that the current status quo cannot be maintained. Good. Now that you’ve done that, take the next step that so few of you have actually taken and ask yourselves, how are you going to contribute to fixing it?“We’ve had this conversation on the forums roughly once a year for as long as I have been in quizbowl. Are your memories really so short? Are you never talking to women in between these discussions? Do you really think the training you get in your school or workplace doesn’t apply to quizbowl as well?”
(Special thanks to the girls' quizbowl Discord for workshopping this with me, especially Lauren, JinAh, Liberty, Caro, Heather, Frances, Karen, and Manasvi.)