I read a couple of interesting comments over on John Cole’s blog Kojutsukan. The post was called Women’s self defence – fighting with facts. The two comments were from a woman and a man respectively. Both commenter’s were clearly of the opinion that there is no place for sexism in martial arts and that instructors should not make comments to women about their ability to execute certain techniques that they would not also make to a man (see John’s blog to read the comments).
On the surface of it this sounds like a fair-minded approach to take. A non-sexist approach. Alas though, it does not take facts into account.
Fact 1: women are not all the same, either physically or mentally
Fact 2: men are not all the same either
Fact 3: men and women are definitely not the same!
There is no point burying these facts under an agenda of sex equality. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different body forms, different psychologies and therefore different training needs.
I am not going to be offended if my instructor said that a technique won’t work well for me or needs to be adapted in such-a-such a way because I am small and relatively weaker than a training partner. It is a fact; no offence is meant or taken. I would take it to mean that my instructor is treating me as an individual and tailoring my training accordingly; not regarding me as a weak female. Likewise it would be ridiculous to make the same comment to a larger male because it wouldn’t be factual or applicable.
One of my regular female training partners is about six feet tall (I’m 5ft 3) and therefore heavier than me too. This makes her naturally stronger than me but it also makes her slower than me. Psychologically she is more afraid of getting hurt than I am. Due to these differences between us techniques that suit her size/ build/psychology don’t necessarily suit mine and vice-versa. We are both women but we are not the same so I would not expect to have the same comments levied at me that are levied at her (unless it applied to both of us).
Men and women of equivalent height and build will still not be the same. The man will be stronger because the androgens in his body will naturally build greater muscle bulk. This is a fact and needs to be taken into account by instructors when analysing training needs. It may not be necessary for that man to adapt a technique because of his height/weight unless the differential between him and his partner is very large.
My point is that we shouldn’t take comments/feedback made to us by our instructors to be a reflection on our gender when they are in fact intended to be a reflection on our individuality. If we are told something won’t work well because we are small or weak it’s not personal, it’s not sexist - it’s factual. I’d rather find out in training that something won’t work for me than in the street!
There must be many comments that may be levied at big strong men during training that don’t apply to smaller people so it would be ridiculous to say them to smaller people just for the sake of treating people equally.
Treating people as if they are inferior in some way when they are not is wrong. Treating people as individuals, taking their factual differences into account so that they can maximise their strengths and minimise their weakness is not wrong, its good practice.
Anti-sexism laws and attitudes have done a lot to correct the wrongs of past society but we have to be careful not to take it too far. Take the car insurance industry for example. Young male drivers are at greater risk of having an accident than young female drivers – that is fact borne out of statistical evidence. Insurance premiums have reflected this. However the European parliament thinks that this is sexist and has ordered a directive that outlaws insurance companies from charging young men higher premiums than young women. The result will be that premiums will go up significantly for young women even though they are at much lower risk of having an accident. This is what happens when you try to treat men and women the same without taking facts into consideration.
People are not all the same, whether they are men or women. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. I, for one, would like to be treated as an individual first and a woman second. So if you have any tips to give a small, slight female like myself that you wouldn’t need to give to a large muscular buddy then feel free to tell me……I won’t get offended and I won't think you are being sexist.
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