Mastering Feminism Debates in High School: A Comprehensive Strategy Guide

8 March 2024

Navigating the delicate intricacies of feminist discourse is no small feat. Inside and outside of the classroom, debates surrounding gender equality can spark deep, meaningful dialogue or erupt into contentious battles of ideologies.

To those at the starting line of their debate careers, particularly in high school where belief systems are being shaped and hardened, understanding the various elements of feminism can be daunting, regardless of one’s gender.

Read on to learn more about how feminism debates can be tackled in high school competitions!


The Pursuit of Equity Over Equality

Debates on feminism must transcend the mere principle of equality.

In our world, equality itself isn’t enough – striving for equity becomes the true north, for it envisages a state where everyone experiences the justice they deserve, tailored to individual needs.

This philosophy lies at the intersection of formal equality— where the same rules and resources are uniformly applied to all — and substantive equity, which focuses on customised fairness that could rectify historical and social imbalances.

In practical terms, equity-oriented feminism is about creating systems that address past discrimination and value diversity.

When students engage in such dialogues, they should aspire to foster environments where all genders, not just cis women, can thrive. This approach empowers debaters to make nuanced arguments that acknowledge individual experiences and the intersectionality of gender with race, socioeconomic status, and other facets of identity.


The Spectrum of Feminist Ideology

Within feminist discourse, a perpetual debate simmers between broad and narrow definitions of the movement.

Broad feminists advocate for an inclusive platform encompassing a wide array of issues and perspectives, recognising that a diverse movement can yield rich, multifaceted solutions.

On the other hand, narrow feminists propose a more focused agenda, cautioning against the dilution of core objectives through expansive inclusivity.

In pursuing victory, debaters must carefully distinguish where their topic falls on the spectrum. For example, on the topic That the feminist movement should actively encourage male leaders, the Affirmative is aiming at a broad feminist movement, whilst the negative is restricting its leadership to a smaller population. Arguing for either breadth or specificity requires a strategic approach.

For instance, defending a broad feminist stance might involve championing comprehensive policies that accommodate a variety of experiences and challenges commonly faced by women, or the inclusion of men within the feminist movement. Conversely, advocating for a narrow feminism can allow for concentrated efforts and, in their subsequent success, a ripple effect that benefits all women.



So what are the common arguments involved?

When arguing for broad feminism, you may want to look at the following:

  • The ‘marketplace of ideas’ argument – essentially, the more views and perspectives are discussed, the more likely the best ideas will rise to the top and be adopted.
  • It allows for a more nuanced understanding of how the movement works – women can agree on some things (e.g. equal pay), whilst disagreeing on others (e.g. pro-life stances, quotas). By allowing all women from different walks of life a seat at the table, you’re likely to hear a greater number of perspectives – given the overarching goal of feminism is to maximise the individual choices of all women, this is a net good in itself.
  • A larger movement means greater advocacy, as it has more champions. It also leads to less animosity, as the movement has not shunned other individuals, meaning there is less opposition overall.

On the other hand, if you’re arguing for narrow feminism, you may want to consider the following:

  • A broad house splinters the ideas and goals that feminism is seeking to achieve, meaning that we don’t end up achieving any of them – political capital is limited, and trying to persuade the government to do too many things simultaneously means that nothing is achieved.
  • Including a larger number of individuals (e.g. rich white women) almost always means that you’re including some who won’t necessarily require the same protection from the movement. This dilutes the movement’s goals, and trade-offs between the different sub-groups mean the important things get pushed to the side.
  • A more singular vision makes it much easier to coordinate and lobby governments and/or decision-makers, leading to a greater number of goals being achieved.

Importantly, the debate between narrow and broad feminism within high school competitions is not just an academic exercise but a reflection of the broader discourse occurring in society today. Both perspectives offer valid points that merit consideration – which is what debating is all about.


Common Clashes in Feminism Debates

When considering feminism and gender debates, there usually are three broad clashes where the affirmative and negative will have conflicting views:

  • What are the movement’s goals and what are we trying to achieve for women?
  • Does this policy help them achieve these goals?
  • What impact will this have on the movement as a whole?

Depending on the debate, these clashes may take many different forms – and in some debates, there won’t be any conflict over one or more of these clashes.

As with any debate, there’s no way to be sure what the other side will raise before you get into the room, so make sure that you apply the clashes that actually occur within the debate!


Going Against Feminism?

In virtually every debate, it is unwise to go against feminism – it is generally accepted (as it should be) that obtaining equity for women and gender minorities is a good thing. It is almost never a good strategic (or moral) decision to seek to abolish feminism in a debate. If you read a topic, and feel you’re on the ‘anti-feminism’ side, you’ve probably not read the topic properly.

So, do the concepts in the topic help or hinder the feminist cause? What should you do when a topic suggests that you should oppose what appears to be a good idea that might just help? D

When on the negative in these types of debates, it is generally wise to either propose a countermodel (making sure that it is mutually exclusive and properly explained!) or demonstrate why things are progressing well under the status quo.

If you go with the latter, there are lots of examples that you can refer to – for example:

  • Sport – The Women’s World Cup was held in Australia last year, and was the biggest Women’s sporting event ever, with over 1.7 million tickets sold (and more people tuning into the opening match than the Men’s Ashes). This has continued since the World Cup, with all Australia-based Matilda’s games sold out. There is also a movement towards equal winnings from the 2027 Football World Cup.
  • Politics – All state and territory governments have had a female Premier (except SA), and around 50% of both the Federal and NSW Governments are women.
  • Legal – Until recently, the majority of the High Court of Australia (our highest court) was made up of female Justices, including Chief Justice Kiefel (since her retirement, it is now 3 of 7).
  • Business – We’ve recently welcomed the first female RBA Governor (Michelle Bullock) and QANTAS CEO (Vanessa Hudson). Women’s participation rate in the economy has increased (74% in 2021, compared to 50% in 1980 and presently 82% for men). The number of Fortune 500 companies with a female CEO has increased from 20 to 50 in the past 10 years (150% increase). The gender pay gap has reduced by nearly 24% in the past decade (28.6% to 21.7%).
  • Socially – There has been a massive rise in awareness of female issues, e.g. Rosie Batty, Grace Tame, Britney Higgins, #metoo movement, increased number high profile sexual assault prosecutions

Keep in mind that, if you’re going with the status quo, the most important thing is to establish that we’re heading in the right direction (not that we’ve solved all the issues facing women and gender minorities) and that further intervention may harm this trajectory – it isn’t enough to just do the former!


Common Gender Topics from Debating Competitions

With the above in mind, it’s finally worth exploring some topics, most of which have previously come up in debating competitions – we’ve compiled a list of 25+ below!

If you have some spare time, consider whether each asks for a narrow or broad interpretation of feminism, what clashes might come up in each, and how you might justify the status quo (or propose a countermodel) as the negative side.

We’ve grouped similar topics together, so you can see iterations on similar concepts!

  • That we should ban movies without major female characters
  • That we should ban video games without playable female characters
  • That we should introduce a quota for female characters in children’s books and television shows
  • That films that do not meet the Bechdel Test should be denied classification
  • That we should ban the advertising of makeup and beauty products
  • That women should pay lower rates of tax than men
  • That we should offer tax cuts for companies with female executives.
  • That parents should not be allowed to choose the gender of an adoptive child
  • That airbrushing in fashion magazines should be banned
  • That we should ban beauty contests for children under 18
  • That children’s sports should have mixed-gender teams instead of separate boy and girl teams
  • That broadcasters should be forced to show equal amounts of men’s and women’s sport
  • That we should ban out-of-court settlements in sexual harassment and discrimination cases
  • That the government should provide incentives to female artists
  • That seats in Parliament should be reserved for women
  • That there should be a quota of women on corporate boards
  • That the feminist movement should actively include male leaders
  • That the feminist movement should actively seek to exclude conservative voices
  • That feminists in the developing world should seek to distance themselves from Western feminism
  • That we should tie development aid to the women’s rights record of recipient countries
  • That capitalism does more harm than good for feminism
  • That, as a feminist parent, we would choose to send our daughter to a single-sex school
  • That film companies should produce remakes that replace traditionally male characters with female ones (e.g. ‘Jane Bond,’ the all-female Ghostbusters etc)
  • That we prefer global feminist movements to local ones
  • That we should remove gender from all official documents and forms
  • That we should abolish gendered categories in awards ceremonies (e.g. Best Actor and Actress replaced by Best Performance)
  • That we make prenuptial agreements mandatory
  • That feminists should actively advocate for men working in traditional female industries (e.g. teaching, childcare, nursing etc)


Concluding Thoughts

Navigating the intricacies of feminist debates is an invaluable skill for high school students, not only because it comes up almost every year in debating competitions, but because it’s also important for life more generally.

By understanding the nuanced distinction between formal equality and equitable outcomes, recognising the spectrum of feminist ideology, and developing comprehensive strategies for success, young debaters can engage in this vital discourse with clarity and impact.

There are so many more topics you can cover in feminism – from feminist waves to intersectionality to choice feminism – but we unfortunately don’t just don’t have room in this blog, so watch this space!

The path to winning feminism debates is paved with rigorous preparation, steadfast empathy, and an enduring commitment to gender equity.