"Penguins," I told my mother, while driving to my first debate competition. "They all look like penguins." I was referring to the waves of high school students in suits and skirts, unloading from minivans and filing into the gymnasium.
Like mini-senators, the young debaters strutted through the parking lot, shuffling through papers and doing vocal exercises. Most were guys. I didn't think too much of it then, but that gender dynamic would end up being one of the reasons I quit debate.
The blatant stares from guys checking me out as I walked between rounds had me hiking down my skirt and clutching my notebooks to my chest. As I nervously reviewed points with my partner, two guys from an opposing team laughed and said, "Take it easy, baby," which left me stuttering at a loss for words.
I once complained to a girl on my debate team about how I had four phone numbers slipped to me before the end of my third round, and she shook her head and scoffed: "That's what happens when you take a bunch of high school nerds and put them together with just a few girls -- they think they own us."
After one particularly rough tournament, I angrily threw my bags into my mom's car and complained to her about the guys I had to deal with. I was looking for sympathy, but instead to my surprise she told me to get used it.