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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Fight Like a Girl

It's not uncommon, in the martial arts world, for people to imply that being associated with female qualities is inferior.

I don't think that people who are doing this are necessarily trying to send a negative message about women.

But it does get sent, all the same.

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 in western culture, 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?) 

It has become a thing for using a pink belt to punish a student in class in many dojos and training halls.

Here's an example of this attitude in this thread at Martial Arts Planet: Pink Belt?

Wearing a pink belt - a color associated with girls - is literally one of the best punishments you can think of? It's worse than being no-belt, or having to wear a white belt again?

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 changing, which is great. I see folks wearing pink belts for breast cancer awareness, and I'm aware that Jesse Enkamp at Karate by Jesse uses pink belts at his big karate shindig (read about it HERE).

We also send a message that being female is bad when we imply that being tough, or staying focused, or not giving up when things are hard aren't associated with girls.

Jokes or memes like "If your boyfriend doesn't do [cool martial arts thing] then he's your girlfriend". Or implying that a kid fighting poorly in a sparring match is "girly". Or crying when injured somehow only happens to girls.

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 the men I've met 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 often drive that guy out because that's not how they want their training spaces to run.

Like racism, blatant sexism on the mat is generally frowned upon. 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 (LOTS of room in some cases), and it doesn't mean removing the toughness in what we do.

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 as a pejorative or put-down.

I honestly don't think you want to send a message to your students that females aren't worthy. So don't send one.

Have you caught yourself sending a message that "girls are bad" when you didn't intend to, and how did you correct it? What other small changes can we make that'll make our training spaces friendlier for our female students? Let us know in the comments!

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