Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fight Like A Girl

Do me a favor and read the whole thing before you comment, okay?

If you haven't seen it, Proctor & Gamble came out with a brilliant ad recently:

This ad resonated with me for a variety of reasons, and I hope it resonates with you, too.

It's not uncommon, in the martial arts world, for people to consistently imply that being associated with female qualities is inferior.  Yes, we are in a testosterone-driven, highly physical environment, in which we are learning self defense and fighting skills.  Yes, this tends to be associated with male qualities, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But  it doesn't mean that therefore so-called "female" qualities are automatically bad.  

Let's take the use of the color pink, which in modern times has come to be associated with women (a recent development - read this for the evolution of how colors became associated with gender When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?) Here's an example of this attitude in this thread at Martial Arts Planet: Pink Belt?

You can buy this belt here.

So, let's force a student to wear a color typically associated with women as punishment.  It's worse than being a white belt - being a pink belt is being the lowest possible thing you can be in a dojo.

What, it's the only color not available in the regular rank color structure?  Really? We don't use GRAY.  Why not a gray belt? Why not some pattern, like the camo belt?  Why not some completely different punishment?

If you have to punish someone in your dojo, associating them with a "girl" color is the worst thing you can think of to do?  Really?

Of course, there's the famous pink gi worn by Gene Lebell.

Gene Lebell can wear anything he wants.   Image found here.
The association of a feminine color with such a highly skilled player can be seen as empowering if you look at it one way, but put another way, it's saying, "I dare you to call Gene Lebell 'girly' or 'weak' to his face because of his pink gi." Nobody is stupid enough to do that, are they?  He's GENE FREAKING LEBELL.  Because in the martial arts, pink - or being associated with a girl - equals weak, and everybody knows that Gene Lebell is the opposite of weak.

Friends, what message does this send to your female students?

Think about it.  Put yourself in the female student's shoes and think about it.

This is particularly sad, as I am hard pressed to name an environment where women are more welcome than the martial arts - from your local karate dojo up to and including shooting ranges(maybe especially shooting ranges).  Indeed, many martial arts schools struggle to find ways to attract and retain female students - they want them in their studios.

In my experience, I have found men to be helpful, supportive, and overall a real pleasure to work with in just about every martial arts training environment I've ever been in.  When the odd tough guy - too tough to be uke for a woman - shows up, men in the class are usually disapproving of the tough guy, not the woman.  Like racism, blatant sexism on the mat is generally frowned upon in our modern martial arts culture.

Indeed, there may be no more empowering place than a martial arts studio for a woman.  As a community, the martial arts world is possibly better than most other subcultures in this regard, and over the past ten or fifteen years, it's been getting even better.

But there is still room for improvement, and it doesn't mean removing the toughness.

Stop associating things that are female with being weak, or lesser, or low rank.  You're telling your female students that they'll never measure up, that being their gender (something outside of their control) makes them automatically lesser and lower rank.  Don't use pink as punishment.  Don't tell people, if they aren't performing up to your standards, that they are girly or womanish to mean "weak".

One group starting to do it right is the Gracie Academy.  Read about their use of the pink belt here.  I've also seen pink gis becoming more acceptable (again, in BJJ). I've heard of others, including those who wear pink belts for charity, which is a step in the right direction.

We can do more, though.  What would happen if you made a pink belt a reward?  What if we started associating pink with being a badass - that you, too, with hard work, could be as tough as Gene Lebell... or Rhonda Rousey?

Tell HER to her face that she's weak or inferior.  Make sure you get it on film.
Image and pink gi found here.
If you believe - truly believe - that women can and should be training in the martial arts, this is one thing you can do to walk the talk.  Don't ask women to train, and then tell them that being associated with their gender is humiliating.  Don't train women to be tough, then imply that since they are missing a "Y" chromosome they can never be tough.  Don't imply that any rank associated with a woman is the lowest thing you can be.

This isn't a huge change, friends, but it's something that might make a big difference in attracting - and retaining - women in the martial arts.

Let's make fighting like a girl to be a good thing - because girls are kicking ass.