One thing that I have thought about during the last few years as I have been in a relationship with a woman who practices and teaches martial arts, is why on earth – in the year 2018 – it still is such a sensitive topic among so many men to admit a woman is better than us at self defence and fighting.
A man who has never played a single game of tennis wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit that a professional female tennis player is better than him at tennis. And a man who has never studied astrophysics would hardly be hesitant to admit that a woman with a phd in astrophysics is in better command of astrophysics than him.
Yet, for many men, the idea of getting “beaten by a girl” in a fight is still a source for embarrassment, humiliation – and even feelings of emasculation! When I have talked to my male friends about it, there have been many jokes, questions and statements that in one way or another points out the supposedly embarrassing situation I am in. And some guys more or less refuse to accept that my wife, as a hapkido expert, is way better than me at fighting and self defence. I have to say though that so far no one has been mean spirited or scornful towards me, which feels good because it was something that I was somewhat worried could happen, before I decided to talk about it. With that being said, two guys I talked to even went so far as to openly claim that they would not want to be dating a girl who has enough martial arts skills to be able to kick their butts, no matter how nice and beautiful she is – because, they said, it would simply be too embarrassing to bear!
My wife has also told me that it’s not uncommon for newbie male students and much lower ranked guys to be visibly blushing after losing to her (a 5th dan black belt and instructor). And there have even been some instances where the guys have quit the martial arts classes all together after being defeated by her or one of the other females there! And then there are the extreme examples of boys and men who just don’t want to learn how to fight from a woman at all – no matter how much experience she has!
It has to be said too though that not all men feel there is anything embarrassing in admitting that a woman is a better fighter than them. In particular, my impression is that men who actually have some martial arts experience generally don’t feel that admitting that a female practitioner is more skilled is any reason at all to be embarrassed.
Personally today, my feelings of pride, admiration, inspiration, fascination, excitement and love for my wife and her martial arts expertise completely drown out any negative feelings of embarrassment. I love that she is a martial arts teacher and wouldn’t want things to be different in any way!
But I remember very well how frustrated and embarrassed I felt after her first martial arts demonstration with me where I learned just how easily she can kick my butt. So in a way I can relate to how many guys feel about the topic.
So what is the reason behind these feelings of embarrassment? They obviously aren’t based on logic, reason and the modern ideas of gender equality that most people share. So I can only guess what’s going on. Here are some of my thoughts.
Gender roles 1 – men as “protectors”
As I wrote in an earlier post, society and men themselves are generally used to seeing themselves as the “protectors” in a relationship with a woman. Thus, fighting is seen as something closely related to the male identity and therefore, when a woman is better at this, it can instinctively be interpreted by a man as if he losing some of his manliness. Obviously this isn’t true, but I believe that’s how a lot of people subconsciously think.
Gender roles 2 – fear of being made fun of
Because of the norms and gender roles we have in our society, a man is generally expected to be better than a woman at most physical activities. Thus, sadly, a guy who loses to a girl at fighting/wrestling/martial arts risks being the target of attempts to tease and ridicule him, like “you throw like a girl” etc. This creates an environment where boys/men are taught that losing to a woman in this kind of activity is embarrassing.
Gender roles 3 – the stereotype of women as the “weaker sex”
Traditionally, women have been seen as “the weaker sex”. The only real life basis of this stereotype is that women on average are physically smaller and not as strong as men. Being strong and tall can be an advantage in many situations. However, there are very few activities in modern life where physical size and strength is the single factor that determines success. Skills, training, experience, intelligence etc are almost always much more important factors. So the talk of women as “the weaker sex” is both wrong and demeaning. Yet, when it comes to things like physical fighting the stereotype is still present in people’s minds and society’s views on gender. And following this (outdated and completely inaccurate) way of thinking, losing to a woman could make a man feel weak and failed in his manliness.
Ignorance about the basics of martial arts
Surprisingly many people still see size and strength as the by far most important factors when it comes to a person’s capabilities of physically defending himself/herself. But in reality, as with most other things in life, skills and experience are much more important. And that’s where martial arts – several of which are even designed specifically to enable a smaller person to defeat a bigger and stronger attacker – comes in. Women are of course just as capable as men of excelling at martial arts skills and techniques – and even have some advantages over men. Yet, the mistaken but common view that fighting is basically all about size and strength can make it seem like an embarrassment for a man to lose a fight to a woman, just because she is smaller than him, when the question really should be who has the most skills and experience.
During the tens of thousands of years that humans evolved as a species, there was no such thing as martial arts. At that time, fighting really was almost exclusively about physical size and strength – and obviously it would have made sense to assume a bigger and stronger man would always have a huge advantage over a smaller woman. I think we, as humans, still have some of those old “cave man” instincts inside of us. Maybe our instincts aren’t yet used to the concept and implications of martial arts.
Lastly, of course, there are some men who are misogynist jerks who look down on women. A man like that would not want to admit that a woman could kick his butt. Fortunately that is very much a minority of all men.
Well I think these are the explanations I can come up with right now. If you have anything to add, you are very welcome to comment!