The trials of Sporty Spice

September 9, 2009

Last night, while taking a study break (okay, so maybe a study break turned into playing cards for about an hour, then reading 3 more pages and going to bed), I found out that my neighbor, Billy, boxes and has experience in several types of martial arts. I got really excited about this, and asked if he wanted to play sometime. He kind of looked at me skeptically and said “I guess so,” while to my left, Jason started laughing and laughing. He then said that I would have to pull my hair back and bind my chest (I promise you it was oh-so less eloquently stated) for Billy to even consider hitting me, a statement Billy didn’t correct or add to.

I’ve been a martial artist for a long time. I have trained with heaps of people, and the vast majority of them have been men. And each time a new man entered into the school, I had to somehow prove myself to be tougher than the average girl, which was always tiresome and frustrating. Not only was I a girl, but also usually younger and much higher ranked, so there were a lot of strange dynamics when people paired with me. She a young girl, so I shouldn’t hit her, but, oh wait, she’s dominating me in front of everyone, I guess I should assert myself with nothing but brute strength to prove that by weighing fifty pounds more, I can totally take her. When I got to Antioch, I found that this attitude was much more prevalent, because I didn’t have a sensei to assure others of my skill, or the few people I’d trained with for years who knew that I could hold my own. So when I re-enter the boys club that is the world of martial arts, I was met with a lot of “hold on, we’ll train after I prove that I can’t actually be beaten by a girl.” And some people’s attitudes can’t be changed about these things.

This is why I haven’t trained since semester one of Antioch. I let a huge part of my identity fall to the wayside because it’s so frustrating and insulting to try and join a new group of men who train. I know that this is mostly a matter of pride, and that the reasonable thing to do would be to find a group to train with, enter, play the game, prove myself as tough, and be accepted as a training partner (not a girl), and get back to doing something that I love, and something that I still feel defines who I am in a large and sort of profound way.

But I have a lot of pride, and think a lot about my position in the social world as someone to presents herself as a feminine person, someone who accepts when she is called a woman. And when people treat me like I should be less–wait, that’s not right. I mean to say, when people need to prove themselves as more and higher up (after all, they are the Self and I am the Other in the hierarchical sense), I do not find myself in a friendly environment, and can’t train. It is so very important to train in an amiable place with people who can at least generally respect each other, so that we can enter in a learning relationship and not have dumb injuries based on stupid behavior.

I’ve been taught that there is no room for gender in martial arts. I have unquestioningly accepted this, and so when men asserted their power over me, I thought of it as unfair on the basis of a general martial arts courtesy rule. But in such a masculine field, there are of course lots and lots of gender issues. Being a femme woman in a masculine, male-dominated discipline is difficult, because even though we are not supposed to see gender, there is no way to turn that sight off. It’s like asking the world to be ‘color-blind.’ It’s denying the experiences of an oppressed group because the dominant group can’t see aspects of the hierarchy and what is supporting it. Not to sound horribly Antiochian, but it’s being blind to privilege.

But at this point, I don’t really know what I would do to combat this gender-blind view. I don’t want to be treated differently when training because I’m femme. I don’t want anyone to go easy on me, nor do I want them to pointlessly turn up the heat, so it seems as far as martial arts is concerned, I support a gender-blind cause. Instead of wanting understanding from the discipline about my “femme-ness,” I want to be treated the same way that all the boys treat each other. It feels very First Wave to say this, and that bother me, but I think it is the necessary first step. It’s a step that I need so that I can comfortably return to something that I absolutely love and feel lacking without.

And it’s not like it’s easy to find a group of socially aware people who practice MMA just anywhere. Sunshine Coast is super normative, and even at Antioch I felt others’ need to assert themselves over me. I know that there will always be instances when the outside world’s gender perceptions will influence the inside of martial arts. Obviously the two cannot actually be separated (unless I train with humanoid robots? investigate later…), but I need to find people who can at least pretend that just because I’m femme doesn’t mean I can’t take a good hit or two or ten.

So if someone could tell me how to prove that I have a decent amount of masculine characteristics while maintaining the new femme thing I’ve been doing without having to enter into a pissing contest, that’d be great.



  1. Ever consider that just because of the discipline itself, you have people entering it that already have that strong desire to prove to others, no matter who that Other is, that they are the stronger? What I’m saying is, it might not be you, it might be these other people’s attitudes.

    I feel this way at ND a lot. It’s a very male-culture-centered school. And I did the dumb thing and decided to major in a field where the majority of people in my discipline are male. I see the same desire to out-perform, though in my case it’s intellectually. Still not sure if these people are gender-oriented or if it’s merely competitive, but I fight back, and that’s all anyone needs to know.

    Good luck with everything, and I’m glad to hear you’re thinking about getting back into martial arts :)

  2. Honestly when the bastards laughed you should have knocked em’ out cold. I think a few lumps and bruises would teach these scoundrels a lesson or two. Then again the slight martial arts i have learned were about killing intent so the end game there was more along the lines of potential annihilation. So maybe a good winding might teach them to hold their breaths before they speak.

    I don’t know what the correct way to handle this situation is. Seems to me that these neanderthals are so socialized into the typical normative behavior… aka- “tools.” As you know myself, i am a male who doesn’t really buy into this “superiority” system/complex that is the social norm. I think that you will figure it out. Really as long as your skills are sharper and your fangs hungrier you can defeat even the biggest orcs.

    I don’t know if really said much of anything except nothing but i just thought you wouldn’t mind hearing a bit from a friend. :)

  3. sorry kinda jumpy in that second paragraph…its 5 am over here and i haven’t slept yet :/

  4. I hope you find a place to train – you have enormous talent in the art (not said cause I am your mom) and I have always been a huge fan.

    You will find like minded people who will be less concerned about outdoing one another and more in-tuned to what they have to teach and to learn from one another.

  5. (Collected from the writing desk of Das Pook and posthumously published)

    Speaking from the perspective of a male betta fish, I feel that such buffoonery on the part of the gentleman you spoke of is quite uncouth. Why, we betta fish do not even bother to spar, as you long to do. No sir, we fight to the death and or hide behind small resin casts of skulls, mermaids, and treasure chests.

    You know, as a male betta fish I have experienced my fair share of gender based discrimination. I spent my formative days in a tiny home, my body literally on display to be judged and then sold for $3.50. In fact, I find little enjoyment in my own body due to this barbarian act. My desirable fins seem to attract only negative attention from other male bettas, who nip in disgust after labeling me as “totally some body’s pet”… or as an invader to their particular corner of the tank. Females only seem interested in the length of my fins and not the true contents of my swim bladder… a swim bladder only filled with a desire for love and acceptance.

  6. Tasia, when you get back, you can kick my ass all over campus. Hopefully I’ll pick up a trick or two, but you’re going to have to beat it into me.

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