Wilson Juniors Debate About Feminism



Juniors Gavrielle Jacobovitz and Eva Shapiro debated their way to semifinals at the Lakeland Westchester Classic debate tournament on February 27, earning them a bid to the prestigious Tournament of Champions.

The debaters’ wins put them in the top four of the 46 teams that attended the tournament, which was held in Westchester County, New York. Their winning argument was about how Western masculinity constructs a woman’s sexuality and voice– a heavy topic for two high school girls, but Jacobovitz and Shapiro are no strangers to feminist philosophy. They read Bell Hooks and Kimberlé Crenshaw to prepare for debating and cite primarily women authors, a strategy they’ve formed in response to the sexism they have experienced in the debate community.

“Everything you do or say is viewed through the lens that you’re a woman,” says Jacobovitz. This sexist attitude can be seen everywhere from schools to homes, but she argues that it is “amplified in a forum of white masculinity,” like debate.

Jacobovitz and Shapiro see debate as a way to reclaim their voices as women. They read narratives about mermaids and sirens, strong female characters that have traditionally inspired fear in patriarchal societies. Shapiro says that the fact that they can argue about an issue they believe in is what makes debate enjoyable to her– the wins are much more satisfying than if she were debating about an obscure or irrelevant topic.

Debate can be a way for students to talk about their own unique experiences, or even just to gain new skills. “I think you definitely get exposure– you read a lot and you get to talk about different issues you might not hear about at school,” says Shapiro.

The idea of standing up and arguing your point in front of a judge may seem intimidating, but like all sports, Jacobovitz and Shapiro maintain that the most important thing is to practice. Both girls began debating in middle school, Shapiro in sixth grade and Jacobovitz in eighth. However, it wasn’t until this year that they began to insert their feminist views and opinions into the majority of their arguments.

Next up for the Wilson debaters is a national tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which will take place in May. The team is still looking for new recruits for the upcoming year and are optimistic about the future. Both Jacobovitz and Shapiro say they are working hard to grow the team and engage as many new voices as possible.

Interested in debating at Wilson? Email teacher sponsor Leslie Maddox at [email protected].