I’ve always been a very physical person. Ever since I was a little girl, around 4 or 5 years old actually, I’ve always been fascinated by martial arts. I remember watching action movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean Claude van Damme. I would spend countless hours with my brother trying to replicate the moves we saw on television. At one point I actually wanted to physically be like Jean Claude van Damme. Five years later I was still committed to martial arts that I even drank raw eggs because I believed that would help me build muscles. Needless to say this phase completely ruined my relationship with raw eggs.
Although I had been involved in various sports throughout, I discovered that I was mostly drawn to American football. I pursued some employment as a referee for Intramural Flag Football at Western University. During my tenure, I refereed women’s teams, co-ed teams and men’s teams. As I was refereeing, I realized something fairly quickly. Whenever I made any calls that teams wanted to contest, they would usually send the men over. Being barely 5’4” tall, these men would usually tower over me. In fact sometimes they would try to intimidate me by:
- entering my personal space
- being sure to stand very tall and push their chests out and
- use loud voices to try and prove their point.
While doing all of this they would question whether or not I even knew the rules being a female referee. I soon realized that these guys did not respect me as a referee because they assumed I did not know the rules nor did I follow what they considered a stereotypical “man’s sport”. Well, pish posh to that! I knew American football enough to know the NFL and CFL rules and also the rules for the intramural leagues. Even with this, I constantly had to prove myself at almost every game. Yet when my male counterparts refereed the games, there was rarely as much talk-back as when I did.
The attitudes that these men on the intramural teams displayed are not at all foreign. Often from a young age females are socialized to be feminine and to avoid physical sports or any physicality really. Females are socialized to be gentle. Luckily for me, I never ascribed to that sensibility. I always believed that I could do “anything a guy can do”. Does a guy want to spike the volleyball hard at me? Fine, give it your best shot! I will receive that spike and I might just spike hard right back at you. I have carried this attitude with me for every sport that I have pursued.
Fast forward a couple of decades and some later, here I was again rekindling my love for martial arts. Yet somehow when I entered a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym here in London almost 2 years ago, I completely lost my confidence. My friend invited me to join him at the MMA gym where he worked out. I remember the first day: I walked into the gym with my friend and immediately noticed two things:
- the girls were all together in one section of the mat and
- the guys were spread out all around the gym.
I thought, ok, maybe these girls are a bit shy and would rather socialize together. As time went on and I became more comfortable in the space, my coach would actively segregate the girls from the guys. Girls were encouraged to do Zumba as a warm up, while the guys had some skipping, push-ups, squats and crunches to do. When getting us ready for sparring, he would say, “fighters get ready, and girls you can partner up and roll on the mats”. For those not in the know, rolling refers to free practice of Jiu Jitsu moves on the mat. Listening to Coach constantly separate the girls from the guys drove me insane! A few months later, I finally could not stand it anymore. I approached Coach and explained to him that I would prefer we were all referred to as fighters in the space and that no separation be made. I told him that when I signed up there I came to train, not to dance. I asked that he treat me much like the other “fighters” and push me as much as he pushed the others. If I could no longer handle the training, then I would let him know.
It amazes me just how certain spaces, particularly any exercise spaces that involve weights, physical strength and/or aggression. It shouldn’t, especially considering how children are sometimes socialized, but it still does. Girls and women, are often not considered strong enough to compete. Yet when women do excel at these physical sports, they are considered too aggressive. It seems there is no happy medium; either the women cannot not do it, or they do it to an extreme. Sometimes these women are seen as being butch, or being close to what a man is supposed to look and act like. For example, any time I would prepare to get in the cage and spar with the guys, I would be told I “punch like a guy”, and that they should be careful. Instead of always comparing women and men, it would be wonderful for women to also be recognized for our strengths. So NO, I do NOT “punch like a guy”. I punch like a woman…a strong woman!
Beckxsm is an MMA enthusiast. You can find her watching UFC fights, Invicta fights and some kickboxing on the weekends. On good days, she heads to the gym because she loves the feeling of a solid workout. When she is not doing that, she is either thinking about how to make the world a more positive place. When she is not off in her head somewhere, she likes to compose music, play guitar and sing.