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In men, strength is valued and celebrated. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to look nice and act nice. I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying: if a male executive is tough, they call him a leader. If a female executive is tough, they call her a bitch.

With few exceptions, most women don’t want to be The Bitch. So, for years we’ll accept poor treatment. That boyfriend who hit you and said it’s your fault? Maybe you were too flirty with his friends. Your friend says something hurtful? Forgive and forget, because we wouldn’t want a confrontation. Restaurant overcooks your steak? Don’t send it back, that will cause a fuss. Guy kicking your seat in the movie theatre? Keep glaring at him, and maybe he’ll get the point. Don’t actually tell him to stop…that would seem…well, bitchy.

Usually women grow out of this passive mindset as we get older. We learn that accepting all the crap that comes our way with a pleasant smile and a “that’s okay” is counter-productive to living a high-quality life. It’s a generalization to be sure, but I’m willing to bet most men have no idea how difficult it is for a lot of women to send food back or demand a higher level of service. This is a skill that requires one to believe, deep down, that she is worth it. And sadly, as women, we’re not always taught that we are.

I was a super confident little kid. I thought everything about me, from the color of my hair to the stories I wrote, was special. I had no problem speaking up or being open with my feelings. I was happy and self-assured, and I didn’t take crap. If someone was unkind to me, they definitely heard about it.

This early onslaught of self-esteem was quickly quashed, both at home by my father, and at grade school by nearly every teacher I had. The thing I remember being told the most, from kindergarten all the way up to Grade Six, was “be quiet”. Then my dad would burst into a rage that evening because my mother and I were talking while he was trying to watch television. He didn’t feel able to control my mother, so that anger was directed at me. It’s a lesson that stuck. By the time I reached high school, my voice was so soft that people strained to hear it. I was always asked to “speak up”. Well, easier said than done.

How does all this pertain to fight camp? When you’re training to fight, you can’t worry about being nice. You can’t concern yourself with what the other women will think of you when you hit them in the face. You’re not there to make friends–you’re there to fight. If I tell someone that I’m going to “kick some ass in sparring”, I get raised eyebrows. That’s not how nice girls talk. Nice girls don’t want to hurt others. They would certainly never want to punch or kick their friends.

I remember asking a guy from my muay thai club if he ever had trouble hitting his friends. “Are you kidding?” he said. “That’s the best part!”

I envied that easy confidence, that pure love of sparring for training’s sake. And I’m sure that, at the end of the match–win or lose–this guy was still friends with his buddies.

To become a female fighter requires a lot more than eating well and training hard. You also have to overcome years of social conditioning which urges you to be polite and agreeable.

Because there’s no room for nice girls in the ring. Trust me on that.

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  1. Anonymous

    Great article Holli! This surely rings true for so many women.

  2. Kim

    Yeah you’re back on a roll now… lol… I taught a whole course recently on how those subconscious expectations influence women’s health. Some of what I discovered about heath issues and about myself was appalling. The most shocking thing of all is that when the course was over and I read the course evaluations, there was still a portion of the class who didn’t “get it” — I spent 10 weeks talking about abuse, issues in pregnancy, cancer treatment, working conditions, poverty issues, sex trade…… and how societal’s expectations affect women’s heath and contribute to victim blaming … and I still got evaluations that said, “this course was nothing about women’s health.”

    A lot of women don’t see how unequal we still are regardless of feminism and and suffragists of the past and present. That is shocking to us who don’t see it, but those women are just as much ingrained in the perception of women as inferior as general society. Sad. But promise is that once you start seeing the inequalities, you will never stop seeing them.

    I get scolded often for being too outspoken and opinionated. I’ve been “talked to” for blunt comments I’ve made that I know that if they came from a man would be laughed at or not a big deal. I’ve been scolded for being too competitive and trash talking in jest with other athletes. I can’t imagine what it would be like in a combat sport. Women, unfortunately have a long way to go to lose that negative spin the world has of us when we don’t meet the cookie cutter expectations of our behaviour.

  3. Story Teller

    Thanks, Anonymous! It’s good to know I’m not alone.

    And thanks for your insightful comment, Kim. Your course sounds very interesting…I’d love to hear more. Perhaps we’ll actually meet in person again someday! If so, we have to bring Lisa along. 🙂

    In a way, it’s almost better NOT to recognize how unequal we are. It’s depressing. You can get by without noticing until you’re doing something that goes against stereotype and breaks barriers (in this society, I mean. In others, it’s painfully obvious that women are treated as inferiors).

    I feel very fortunate that I belong to a club where most of the men applaud female strength, admire our toughness, and support us. There’s still the odd sexist comment, and women are still chronically underestimated, but it’s light years better than other places I’ve trained at.

  4. Kim

    Well I taught the course at U of M and that course is the subject of that blog that has had over 1000 hits because of the picture of “volleyball ass”. We just got permission at RRC to begin the process of development of a similar course at Red River College for next year as a nursing elective (I would like to see it go broader, personally, than just nursing — the U of M one is also part of women’s studies). I would be co teaching it at RRC which will be a much richer experience for students. I could tell you more but it would be very very long.

    And yes we should gather together one day, you me and Lisa. I need to ask you about ISBN numbers 😉

    OH.. and this is from another blog, not this one, but it is only your blog that I have trouble posting to at work. When I posted to Lisa’s the other day from the same computer I had no difficulty. It recognized my google account right away. So that is very weird.

  5. Lisa

    Just catching up on last week. I was out of town all weekend…

    I think many of us in the non-traditional sports can relate. I also think you get used to the “trash-talk” that comes along with it. I’ve developed a thick skin over the years…I don’t compete much per say but when I’m out mountain biking I consider it a un-spoken challenge to match or one-up my fellow riders. We keep each other on our toes that way and it makes it more fun and challenging.

  6. Story Teller

    Thanks for your comment, Lisa. Are there not a lot of women in the type of cycling you do? That surprises me.

    I was so frustrated by the sexism in sponge hockey that I joined a women’s league, and was so happy I did. The teamwork was so much better, and any woman on that team could have kicked the ass of our best male player with one hand tied behind her back. They were that good.

    I wish more people would respect women’s abilities and strength in any sport. I wish men would stop chastising their fellow teammates with “you hit like a girl” and so on. There are plenty of “girls” I know who could knock their lights out!


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