Tag Archives: traditions

A moment of “bruised male pride”

1As I’ve made clear on this blog, I generally have only positive feelings about my wife being a martial arts professional and a self defence instructor and I am very proud over her achievements. However, there are some occasional – rather random – moments when I guess my “inner caveman” emerges and I feel a bit frustrated or even embarrassed. One such moment happened this summer. Not at all as a result of any dramatic or unusual event, but a simple comment “triggered” my ego and “male pride”.

Me and Leticia (my wife) were at the beach together with another couple about our age, who are friends of ours. We were having a nice time in the sun doing some catching up and talking about everything and nothing. At one point the other woman brought up the subject of Leticia’s martial arts training, asking about how her practice was going, if she was having a lot of students etc. After discussing that a bit with Leticia, she looked at us guys and said “wouldn’t it be great to know hapkido too and be able to kick butt like Leticia?”. We both laughed and agreed, but I felt I was blushing a bit and I could tell my fellow male at the table was blushing too. We looked at each other for a second and though neither of us said anything it was obvious we both felt about the same – slightly embarrassed and “uncomfortable”. Just because of that simple statement implying that Leticia is better than us at fighting and self defence.

Her comment was perfectly innocent and well meaning. Leticia is obviously by far the best fighter of us four, as she is the only one of us who has any hand to hand combat training – and she is an expert at that, with a 4th level black belt and having practiced since childhood. Yet there we were, two guys blushing as if some embarrassing secret had just been exposed. I guess that just goes to show how deeply gender roles – in this case the expectations that men should be the “protectors” – and the norms of society are imprinted in (most of ) us humans.

“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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Being the “protector” in a relationship

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Today I’ll write about a particular incident that really made me notice and think about how gender roles can be influenced when a woman practices martial arts. 

About a year ago, I went out with my (then future) wife. We went to a restaurant for dinner and we had a really nice evening. On our way home, quite late at night, we suddenly found ourselves alone on a rather dark street in front of an empty park, with two very suspicious looking guys standing on the park side of the street, in front of us. They were menacingly staring at us as we walked by. We pretended to ignore them.

I immediately felt a burst of adrenaline in my body and my heart beating faster, as this was obviously a potentially dangerous situation. Then the next second I remembered that the woman beside me holding my hand was of course a martial arts expert and self defence instructor. I had her hapkido demonstrations with me fresh in my memory – and as I remembered that, I suddenly felt much safer, calmer and more confident. I knew she could likely handle any situation that might arise all by herself. Not that I would just stand there doing nothing of course, if something would happen. I remember we glanced at each other, knowing we would have to be prepared for things to get ugly. Nothing at all did happen though – the sinister looking guys followed us with their weird glare until we were out of sight, but they left us alone and we got home safely.

At home I started thinking about what had just happened. And I realised that in the face of danger from two possibly violent men, I – a tall, fit, perfectly healthy man – had basically looked at my girlfriend for protection! Objectively, this isn’t strange, as we both know she is a way better fighter than me. But it still felt weird and confusing for me as a man, and I could feel that I was blushing. It was like I had this inner voice screaming at me that I should be the “protector” in the relationship. But at the same time that doesn’t make sense, when she is the one having practiced martial arts since childhood and who had recently proved that she can easily wipe the floor with me in a fight. So there were some very conflicting feelings for me after this incident.

Again, I am very happy and proud over my wife and that she has the skills and capabilities to defend herself. I definitely don’t wish that things were different. But I guess it can be quite confusing and complicated for us human beings, when things like traditional gender roles and norms in society gets turned on their head like this.

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