Now, I’m not saying that the karate organisation I’m part of is sexist, this blog-post is just to point out some of the interesting gender dynamics that I’ve noticed during my time as a black belt.
First of all, there is a lot more gender inequality when it comes to joining a class now compared to when I first started. When I was six, my cousin (who’s a year older than me) started going to karate, and I would bug my family relentlessly to let me join as well. But the excuse was always that I was too young, despite the fact that years passed and I was still ‘too young’ to join. I was eventually allowed to join in high school, because it was decided that I was at the age where I could handle it, despite the fact that my cousin had been in the class since he was seven. It’s much different now, we have much younger students (I occasionally teach three year olds) and the class that I teach is predominantly female.
When I became a black belt, I got more involved with the sparring side of things, and started going to boxing classes Saturday mornings (an hour of boxing, an hour of karate, then six hours of dance, I honestly have no idea how I managed it). My cousin and I started the class at the same time. He was allowed straight into the ring to box with the other guys. I however, had to go for three weeks doing nothing but hit the punching bags because the instructor wasn’t sure if I could handle the physical contact. Of course, I couldn’t really call him out on it, but I was highly suspicious that the real reason that I wasn’t allowed straight in the ring was because he didn’t think I could handle it solely because of my gender and because the other men didn’t want to hit a girl. After three weeks, another one of the female black belts showed up. She’s won a number of sparring competitions, and offered to go in the ring with me for a while. After we’d fought, the instructor admitted that I could definitely handle myself and let me practise with everyone else in the class. Something he probably should have checked from day one instead of banishing me to the punching bags.
As a black belt, I get to attend grading wearing a formal business suit, and help to run the grading. When I first started doing this, I noticed that despite the fact that I was new, parents (mothers in particular) would always come to me when they had any questions. With this being my first time, I had to keep directing them to black belts who actually knew what they were doing. After this happened quite a few times, I realised that I was the only female black belt there, and I’m fairly certain that the parents asked me questions simply because a young girl is a great deal less intimidating than a massive, hulking man is. My gender alone made me a lot more approachable than my male counterparts.
So overall, the practises of the organisation I’m a part of aren’t explicitly sexist, and I couldn’t exactly protest against them. I just find it interesting how my gender can be a defining factor in how I’m seen in the martial arts world. Does anyone else feel this with any other sports? Are they all centered to privilege men with the exception of feminine sports, such as dancing? Let me know what you think.