Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

FMLA brings controversial feminism topics to debate team

Published: November 15, 2013
Section: News, Top Stories

On Monday night, Brandeis’ Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) and Brandeis Academic Debate and Speech Society (BADASS) collaborated to co-host a public debate. The debate held in Olin-Sang 101 at 8 p.m. focused on the portrayal of women in the media and each side consisted of two BADASS members arguing whether or not it is better to have realist or idealist portrayals of women in powerful roles on TV.

The debate was held in formal debate style: Each side had an initial seven minutes to present their position followed by a five-minute round of rebuttals, an open forum to attendees and final remarks from each side. Amelia Katan ’15 had the initial seven-minute presentation arguing for realistic portrayal of power roles held by women, and Shira Almeleh ’14 followed for seven minutes, arguing the merits of depicting women in idealistic roles of power. Michael Norton ’16 and Russell Leibowitz ’14 argued with rebuttals for the realistic and idealistic portrayal sides, respectively.

FMLA Vice President and BADASS member Cecile Afable opened the debate. She introduced the debaters for each side and briefly explained the format of the event.

On the side arguing for the merits of realistic portrayals of women in power roles on TV, Katan and Norton presented several arguments: TV should show the struggles of real women providing a contemporary media outlet, and seeing the struggles and successes of real women helps gain momentum for the feminist movement. The two debaters discussed that idealistic TV shows often minimize the sensitivity of issues such as abortion, rape and sexual assault and how these depictions harm women overall and promote the rape culture many are trying to eliminate. In her arguments, Katan mentioned a positive portrayal of the psychological burdens and stress associated with abortion on the TV show “Girls” and how real life depictions such as those shown by a main character attempting to get an abortion provide more helpful and relevant information to viewers. Debaters on the realistic portrayal side also referenced that there are powerful women in our society, and we can feature real role models in TV shows, such as Hillary Clinton and Oprah.

On the side of idealistic depiction of women in powerful roles, Almeleh and Leibowitz presented arguments saying that idealistic TV shows are necessary to normalize the presence of women in positions of power, that TV is a method of social change and that TV provides a unique opportunity to depict a better world. They noted that in modern society women in powerful roles do not represent all different types of women and their struggles. Almeleh made particular reference to the concept that TV in its idealistic depictions of women in powerful roles could provide role models and sources of experimentation for different ways of tackling and overcoming sexism. They also discussed the notion that TV shows could provide a guide for men and male allies of feminists to engage in discourse of women’s rise in positions of power and how to help them get there.

While the event certainly provided an interesting discussion, its formal structure was somewhat confusing to follow and understand for a first exposure to the debate scene. Despite this lack of clarity in structure, all attendees seemed engaged and interested in the debate. Several attendees volunteered to offer their own opinions on the issue in the open forum portion of the debate.