Thursday, 5 April 2012

Don’t let the need to be non-sexist get in the way of facts!

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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Charles James said...

Outstanding Post.

The Strongest Karate said...

Great post, Sue.

The sexism-metronome, regrettably, has swung so far to the other side that merely taking gender into consideration is now just as taboo as outright sexism.



Sue C said...

Charles, thank you!

Brett, you're right. It makes it difficult form men and women to have sensible discussions about how gender affects training needs.

Charles Indelicato said...

Excellent post. My instructor cautions the obviously stronger students not to pummel the equally obvious students who are less strong; Gender has little to do with that.

On the other hand, giving a student a 'good fight' is important: coddling a student will deprive them of the almost-realistic fight experience. Women students, for example, should have to block and defend against hard kicks with the safety of knowing their opponent isn't out to actually harm them. Otherwise, they will be ill-prepared for that (hopefully never encountered) situation where their attacker is looking to cause harm.

Felicia said...

For the most part, I agree - however an attacker will not care if you are smaller, lighter, weaker or slower.

John Coles said...

I have got to say, great post. In truth, I didn't read the same in those comments, but, you did and it inspired you to make an insightful post. Kudos, in every respect.

Sue C said...

Charles, I agree with you. I'm certainly not suggesting that women should be mollycoddled in the dojo, on the contrary I think that women should train alongside men so that they learn how to deal with a man's strength.

However, men and women will face different scenarios in real life so if you teach a woman to fight like a man she may not be able to defend herself like a woman.

My main point though was that there is a danger that male instructors may feel awkward about addressing issues relating to gender (and there are issues related to gender)in case he is accused of sexism. To reduce this risk he may just decide to treat everyone the same - i.e. like a man. This would be a disaster in my book!

Felicia, I hear you! But this is precisely why I want to get the most out of this little body of mine by not ignoring issues relating to gender and more importantly by my instructor not ignoring issues relating to gender...

John, thanks. Some comments just push a button don't they?

. said...

Great post Sue. I completely agree. I train a lot with my DH and there are certainly things that work for him that don't work for me (and vice versa). It's all a matter of accepting your weaknesses and adapting to your strengths (for everyone, regardless of gender).


Sue C said...

Hi Marie, thanks for commenting. It's true, gender is just one issue but it's an important one that is sometimes overlooked in an attempt to achieve sex equality in the dojo.

I hope you can get back to training soon. XX

Journeyman said...

I've been tardy in leaving a comment. I'm happy you brought this point up.

Sexism is when someone says that women can't learn self defense. It can be a shame when decent realistic training is compromised by fear of saying something wrong.

You've said it all and I don't want to get on a rant about how frustrating it can be when training is not tailored to the individual, regardless of gender. The key to not being sexist is to treat everyone with respect. Reality is reality. If you don't take each individuals height, weight, age, health and injuries into account, you do them a disservice. Generic cautious, across the board lessons do not stand up to real violence.

I was pretty offended the other night when my Sensei said that a throwing technique might not work very well for me very well due to my height.

Damn tallist...

Sue C said...

Hi Journeyman, it's a two way process isn't it? The instructor has to feel able to comment on our perceived weaknesses whether that's being too small or too tall but at the same time students have to take such comments in good grace and not perceive them as some kind of 'ism' -I know you are just joking about the tallism thing by the way ;-)

Me said...

Being small myself I find a lot if my Ju-Jitsu (Japanese, not Brazillian) techniques don't work on much larger partners.

It's an English style, and has quite obviously been written from a "I'm 5'11 and so is my opponent" perspective. I'm 5'5 however and training with someone 6' means quite a few things don't work. However , years if trail and error have helped me discover how to make things work. So now when I am teaching smaller students I teach them two ways.

One way of doing things to pass their grading, and one way to make it work against someone much larger :-)


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