I Am Woman, Hear Me

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?"
Marianne Williamson

I have been reading a lot of new blogs lately, most of them by women. (Although I did find two wonderful parenting blogs written by dads(!) Dads are awesome, especially ones that can change a diaper and string two words together.) But mainly I have been reading the stories of other females. Some of them are feminists, like Peggy Orenstein (http://peggyorenstein.com/blog.html), who writes about the dangers the Disney princesses pose to our little girls. Others are by my fellow jiu-jitsu ladies, like Julia who really gave me food for thought with her piece about male privilege in the world of BJJ. (http://jiujiubjj.com/2013/04/23/male-privilege-in-bjj-a-primer/).

All of these bloggers, combined with my own recent playground experiences (http://mamommyarchives.blogspot.com/2013/05/girls-are-more-delicate.html), have made me think long and hard about what it means to be a woman who trains, to be a woman in general. And more importantly, what I want it to mean, for myself and my young daughter.

In other words, when I get out there on the mats, on the dojo floor, in the park wildly chasing Maya across the grass; who do I want to be? How do I want to be seen? How do I want to be treated?

Some things are obvious and easy. Don't rape me. (Like, duh!) Don't see me as just a body with parts good for one thing and one thing only. Don't assume that because I am a woman I am a delicate flower that needs to be coddled and protected.

After that, it becomes trickier. In some ways, I am a walking contradiction. I can say, almost in the exact same breath, that I want to be treated just like the guys but I also want special consideration. Of course, this is more about being tiny (I am 5'2" and 110 pounds) than about being female. If you are double my size, which many men in BJJ are, it is polite to not put all your weight on me. It is also nice of you to refrain from making extremely sexist comments.

In return, I promise to take my training seriously. I will work hard. I will listen carefully. I will not ask you to go light and then slam my shoulder into your face.  I will dress appropriately so it is clear that I am there for only one reason, to get better at jiu-jitsu.

If I am doing well, I want credit for it. I even want you to respect that training might be harder for me than it is for you. Again, not because I am a girl, but because I am little. When you think about me (which I am sure happens all the time!) I want you to think "Hey she is pretty good at this. Or maybe, she is pretty good at this...for a small fry." But never, "She is pretty good at this...for a girl."

Then again, I know that being a woman who trains makes me a minority. So yes, there is a part of me that is not just proud to be a BJJ blue belt, but extra proud to be a female one.

I am also a forth degree black belt in karate and part owner of my own dojo. I worked my ass off to earn both of those titles and mostly I get a lot of respect for it. But I am aware that there may be people who walk into the dojo with assumptions. They see me in street clothes and assume I am just the receptionist. Or they see me teaching class and assume that I got that position because I am married to the head instructor. Perhaps even that he gave me my rank just because I am his wife. (Actually I became a black belt before him, but who's keeping track?)

Sparring is hard for everyone, but for some women, it is especially difficult. It feels funny to be hitting someone. It takes time to get over the fact that you are being punched and kicked, especially by men. Even bigger ladies can have this problem.  And in BJJ, it can be even more intimidating because the guys are often right on top of you. So dudes, be aware of this. You don't have to train with me any differently because of it, just keep it somewhere in the back of your mind. 

In return, I will remember that I really have no idea what it is like to be a man.

When that mother in the playground commented on how "delicate" girls are, it was the generalization that made me angry. Some girls are a bit delicate. But some boys are too. And some girls like to punch and kick and sweat and choke people with their collars and are most definitely not delicate. All we want, all anyone wants, is to be seen for who we are, not some preconceived notion of who we should be.

And by the way, all of us humans have our fragile moments; the crying in the shower, unable to catch your breath moments. Some men just hide them better.

Clearly I am still working on this whole female identity thing. For now, I will leave you with Shakespeare:

"Though she be but little, she is fierce."

That's as good a place to start as any.


  1. My feeling is that you don't want to be treated "just like a guy" AND given special consideration.

    What I think your core meaning is - you want to be treated like a teammate. A teammate who happens to be a woman.

    What I mean by this is: you want no one to be talked to with sexist language. You want no small people to be crushed by big people.

    However, as a female teammate, your partners should watch out for the dreaded knee-on-boob move, or to recognize that you are affected by hormones every month. These are parts of the female experience. Just as we watch out for knee-on-crotch with dudes.


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