Tag Archives: sexism

11 comments female martial artists are tired of hearing

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I talked to my wife about annoying and stereotypical comments about her martial arts training that she gets from time to time. And here – in no particular order – are 11 such comments, together with her answers.

1. “You are too small to fight!”
Well they say don’t judge a book by it’s cover – and that good things come in small packages lol. Seriously though, hapkido is designed mainly to be used for self defence and to overcome stronger and even armed attackers. Contrary to what many people believe, size, height, weight, muscle strength and testosterone are not the most important features to become a good fighter. In fact, agility, speed, balance, experience and above all skills are much more important factors. And using some techniques actually allows a smaller woman to use a larger man’s size and strength against him, to her advantage. 

2. “Could you kick my ass?”
This question is generally posed by guys who have no experience at all from training martial arts, just after they hear that I am a martial arts instructor. Usually, I think, they don’t really mean anything bad with this, at all. It’s probably just ignorance. But it can still be a bit annoying and I sometimes do feel the urge to counter that with a “well what do you think?”. And would they have asked this if I was a man? I think not…

3. “You do martial arts? That’s so cute!”
This is such a condescending thing to say! It sounds like he’s talking down to a small child…

4. “I’m sure I could beat you in a fight anyway. But I don’t hit girls.”
It says a lot about the arrogance of a man, who even though he has no training whatsoever, still assumes that he can beat a highly trained martial artist, just because she happens to be a woman. And with the added condescending and fake gentleman twist of pointing out that he doesn’t hit girls. Well, he doesn’t need to worry about that though cause most likely he wouldn’t be able to hit me even if he tried. I admit that the “evil” part of my inner thought process tells me to just throw him on the floor and make him tap out, but obviously I never do that.  

5. “Wow! So you’re a dangerous girl!”
No I’m not dangerous at all. Unless maybe you had planned to be violent against me. 

6. “I’m sure the guys you train with go easy on you.”
Again, more condescending “macho” man talk from guys who believe women aren’t capable of martial arts fighting. In training, we all go easy on each other in the sense that we take care not to seriously injure each other. However most guys who practice martial arts do not see their opponents as men or women, but simply opponents and you don’t go easy on anyone regardless of gender unless they are at a very much lower level in terms of skills and experience.

7. “Doesn’t it get awkward and sexual when you’re on the floor with a guy?”
Other women in martial arts that I know aren’t bothered by this at all. I guess I am a person who is rather sensitive to people invading my personal space, so I remember in my early teens I actually did feel a bit awkward sometimes when practicing with guys. And it sometimes that still can feel a little bit weird. But on the whole, it is no problem at and no it definitely never ever gets sexual. We are all there to practice martial arts – nothing else.

8. “I don’t want to practice with you because I don’t hit girls
Most of the time, this kind of comment comes from “macho man” guys who believe that being a guy automatically makes him far superior to any female at hand to hand combat. Thus, training with me would be beneath his dignity and a waste of time. Depending on the situation, it can actually be quite fun to prove this kind of guy wrong, especially if it’s an arrogant newbie with a far to big ego. Sometimes I feel engaging with him would be a waste of my time.

9. “I don’t want to learn from a girl”
This has happened to me a couple of times since I started teaching, with the comment coming from male teenagers. 

10. “But you look so feminine!”
I try to take this one as a compliment – because looking feminine is very much a positive thing in my book. Though of course I get the comment in the context of having told someone about my martial arts training and this person is apparently shocked that practicing martial arts as a woman doesn’t automatically result in you looking like a brute man. And that attitude can get a bit tiresome after a while. 

11. “Don’t your boobs get in the way when you fight?”
I guess this one would be hilarious if it wasn’t so prejudiced. While I do have rather large breasts, they aren’t anywhere near as humongous as they would need to be to in anyway affect how I perform martial arts. Besides, there is something called bras, and they are widely available for women use. The first time someone asked me this I thought it was meant as some sort of sexual pick up line, but apparently there are men who seriously think that having boobs might actually interfere with your fighting abilities…

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“Beaten by a girl” – why would that be embarrassing, really?

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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.

Genetic heritage
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.

Sexism
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!

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