Internalised Sexism – a story

Being thrown at the floor is fun, right?

Obligatory image of an awesome jitsu throw.

So, I was down the pub with a bunch of my fellow Jiu Jitsu students after a hard day’s grading (which I passed!) sat at a table with three other women while we waited for the lads to be served their drinks. A group of three or four rowdy, drunk footie fans ambled in and started proclaiming that this table was theirs, that in fact it had their name on it. Cora was all, ‘so where’s your name written then?’ and one guy decided to retort with ‘ha, you can’t say that wearing that dress’. As you do. Cora responded with something cutting about being able to wear what ever she damn well pleases and we proceeded to ignore them and they soon wandered off, so all’s well that ends well, yes?

Not quite.

I turned to my fellow new orange belt and proclaimed that they’d chosen the wrong table to pick on, given the large army of hulking, manly, jiu jitsu fighters we had with us at the bar.

Anna pointed out that actually our Sensei is sat here with us and she’s quietly ignoring them even as Cora is spoiling for a fight.

Cue me back-pedalling, realising only too late the crap that is coming out of my mouth, and wondering why on earth I’m responding to a standard bit of everyday misogyny with ‘oh but at least we have our men to defend us!’ when I’m a feminist engaged in martial arts, relaxing after a hard day’s work that proved how kick-ass I am.

I’ve practised various martial arts for over a decade. I can hold my own on a re-enactment battlefield and I can keep going in a grading when I’m exhausted and under pressure. I have been punched in the face and got up to keep on fighting. How ironic then that as a woman learning a martial art, surrounded by women who are damn good at said martial art, I fell back upon the idea that when we women are being threatened the best place to turn for safety is our menfolk, regardless of whatever skills and strength we have ourselves.

Just goes to show, the struggle is as much against the poison lodged in our brains as it is against the external issues we face.

9 thoughts on “Internalised Sexism – a story

  1. I really like this article and don’t think I have anything particularly clever to add, but my mind is still trying to process what “Where’s your name written, then?” has to do with “You can’t say that wearing a dress”. Eh, huh? Why would she be more capable of saying that if she wore trousers and a shirt? How is one even related to the other? Ack? My mind is boggling.

    • I don’t know either.

      It was more specifically *that* dress, because, you know, wearing a short, low cut dress with pretty hair and make-up totally removes your right to have an opinion or question some drunk man’s right to a table… *eye roll*

  2. Really interesting article, this line caught my eye

    “Anna pointed out that actually our Sensei is sat here with us and she’s quietly ignoring them even as Kate is spoiling for a fight.”

    It’s interesting that the most qualified person isn’t desperate to fight, instead she’s sat there assessing the situation and waiting.
    I’ve been studying martial arts for a long time (Tae kwon do for 12 years, Aikido for 5) and in that time I have changed as a person. What I have found is that a part of you, that wants to fight and prove yourself, switches off and instead you step back from most conflict situations. It doesn’t make you a coward, it makes you clever. Is it worth getting yourself, your friends and people you care about injured just for a table. Frankly I don’t think so.

        • Cool.

          The point about being able to step back from conflict and de-escalate as very valuable skills is a good one but the problem women usually have is that they *don’t* have the social conditioning to permit themselves to act up and fight. Our conditioning is ALL about making the aggressor back off WITHOUT coming to blows, hell, without using our voices if at all possible.

          I should make it clear that our Sensei was ignoring them in the way women usually ignore men who are in the process of being douchecanoes, i.e. keep quiet, keep your eyes down and don’t make a fuss. However, as this is the socially acceptable female response, I wouldn’t instinctively class hers as the smart one, especially as it’s the one that doesn’t get women as a group anywhere in the long run.

          The point I really wanted to make was that since she as our Sensei was there, we would have been just as well protected and able to fight for ourselves even without our guys there, and it didn’t occur to me in the moment!

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  4. I am wondering if maybe you weren’t so much falling back upon the idea that you have to turn to men for safety, but maybe automatically saw things from the perspectives of your “enemies”? Like, your subconscious thought “These guys surely aren’t intimidated by us women but they would be by our our big, hunky, strong-looking male companions if they were here”, because these guys are the ones with the prejudices.
    I realise that’s not touching on the actual problem of people (men) thinking something only counts if a man says/does it, but it’s just a thought that came up in my head and I wanted to share.

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