Gendered Insults: A Step-by-Step Guide to Bad Coaching 10

I know this may be hard for some people to believe, but I am, at heart, a well-read, liberal, bleeding-heart, tree-hugging intellectual.  If I could, I would study anything and everything forever; I am passionate about politics, about math, about books, and above all, maybe, about law.  I’ve loved law forever because no matter how hard I try to become cynical about the world, no matter how much I see of the injustice of it, no matter how many times I am hurt, I remain unfailingly optimistic about the prospect of fairness and justice. Even though I know differently, through years of hands-on experience, I genuinely try to believe the best of people as a whole until they prove me wrong.

I consider this to be one of my biggest personality flaws.

I’ve seen the world, and I know it’s unfair. I’ve seen how women are treated on the grander scale of things, and it’s not a pretty picture. I’ve personally been assaulted and harassed. The world isn’t a nice place. But my world, in my gym, with my friends– this is supposed to be insular. I have earned my goddamn stripes on the mat. I’ve bled on those mats; sweat on them, cried on them.  I’ve proven, time and again, that my gender is an aside to who I am when I step onto the mat.  I am not defined by it, any more than my teammates are defined by their masculinity when they step on the mat. BJJ is the great equalizer, right? We’ll sweat and bleed and suffer together, gender be damned. If you can’t keep up, male or female, get out of the way, or I’m going to smash your face.

Last night, we had a wrestling coach come in to teach us. Without a doubt, his wrestling is stellar, and he has incredible amounts of knowledge.  But he said something that has been rattling around my head all night:

And then if you really want to make him feel like a girl, you do this.

Excuse me?  “Girl” isn’t a feeling. “Girl” is my goddamned gender. I don’t “feel” like a girl, I am one. Call me crazy, but if we were to substitute a racial term in for “girl” in that sentence, people would be totally up in arms about it. As it was, no one except my closest friends batted an eye.  That, my friends, is disgusting.

I am not the kind of woman who likes to say, “yeah, I’m a girl, but I’m not like those other girls, I don’t like drama/I don’t have female friends/I don’t get along with women/etc.”  I don’t have many female friends, but that’s because I spend all day with dudes, not because I don’t get along with women. I don’t feel the need to make myself separate from other women by calling them weak and myself strong. I am a woman, and what I do is BJJ. I like to play rough-and-tumble; some women don’t, and that’s okay with me. I also like knitting, baking, playing rugby, dancing and playing the violin. None of these things make me less of a BJJ player or less of a woman. I don’t want to ingratiate myself to the men around me by insulting my gender. I am strong, and I am female. These are not any more mutually exclusive than being weak and male are mutually exclusive. You know what makes you (physically) strong? Doing things. Physical things.  And “doing physical things” is not a gender-specific activity (as for what makes one mentally or emotionally strong, I’m not sure– that’s a philosophical question best left for another time).

Lighten up, you might say. It was just a joke in class, a one-off line to make the guys feel at home and make them comfortable. Don’t be so sensitive! It’s just like a woman to be so sensitive.  Besides, Leaahh, I know for a fact you allow your friends to make jokes about your gender at your expense.

Well, let me ask you this: at what cost do we make jokes like this?  At what cost do we allow them?  If you want to make your gym female-friendly (and I know my gym wants to attract more women), then a good way to start is to not insult their gender by saying that when something bad happens, that’s what it feels like to be a girl.  If I take someone’s back, are they supposed to feel emasculated? Is that really an environment we want to encourage at the gym?  I don’t want to train with people who view my hard-earned, hard-fought skill as a threat to their masculinity. That’s not something I need in my life.

As for the allowances I make for my friends– yes, sometimes we joke about my gender. You know what they wouldn’t do, though? Make me feel like less of an athlete because of my gender.  They wouldn’t make me feel marginalized to build themselves up by insulting my gender. My friends know me. I see the guys at the gym more often than I see my family. If there were no banter, it would be a sad place indeed. They make jokes to me, about me. They don’t call out my entire gender in class, essentially calling me weak and erasing all the work I do every day to play with the big dogs.

What does it say about this man as a coach?  Well, it tells me that he doesn’t see female athletes as worth his time or his effort. It tells me that he is all about creating a good-ol’-boy atmosphere in his classes. This shouldn’t surprise me– I know that NCAA Division 1 sports are still like this. I’m going to propose something ground-breaking here, so bear with me. How about instead of using gendered insults to build up the guys in your class while simultaneously tearing down the women, you find more constructive ways to build team morale and camaraderie? It’s unfortunate, really. This man has an incredible amount of skill and technique when it comes to wrestling, but I don’t give a single shit about what he says anymore, because with one comment, he made it clear what he thinks of my gender as a whole.

It’s hard enough to walk into a gym every day and be the “other.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: being a BJJ girl is hard. Every day, you walk a line: too emotional, too robotic. Too sensitive, too cold. Too weak, too strong. Too manly, too feminine. To many of my teammates, I exist only in the superlative; that’s fine. I don’t need everyone to understand the complexities of what happens to me at the gym. I can handle myself and the intricacies of my personal situation.  But I want to see women’s BJJ grow. I want to see more women on the mat kicking ass.  This “LOL STOP BEING SUCH A GIRL” attitude– and your inability to see why it’s problematic– is why we can’t have that yet, boys.

What I expect from everyone is respect.  Not for me, personally; that’s earned.  But when a woman walks onto the mat, she should feel the need to prove herself, not her entire gender. When I screw up in class, I shouldn’t be devaluing the achievements of my entire gender. That’s too much pressure to put on one person.

To all the guys out there who build relationships with men by insulting women: stop the gendered insults, your privilege is showing, and it’s really unattractive.  If you can’t substitute a racial term into a sentence without making the statement insulting, chances are you’re insulting women. Cut that crap out. The world will be a better place.

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10 thoughts on “Gendered Insults: A Step-by-Step Guide to Bad Coaching

  • Drew

    I’m by no means trying to justify what he said, but there is a lot to discuss about the hypermasculinity of wrestling (and by inheritance BJJ). There are these unspoken social expectations on Caucasian males. When you take your “ethnic studies” class and they tell you that you’re a terrible human being for being born white with a penis you shut up and accept it. Questioning it at all makes you racist and/or sexist. You’re told you have this level of “privilege”, but you never really know what that means because almost all of your friends are also white males so you don’t see people treating you differently from those around you. The American school system instilled in me that “equality” means treating everyone differently, because treating them all the same, like equals, would naturally disadvantage those who weren’t just like me. A girls-only BJJ class which disallowed boys would be perfectly acceptable, a male-only class which disallowed the ladies would be a social travesty.

    To be 100% honest, the way I deal with gender differences on the mat is treating everyone like a boy. It’s impossible to not see gender. When you’re in half-guard with your forehead firmly on your partner’s sternum to recover the position you started losing, it’s really hard to not notice breasts on either side of your face. So you pretend it’s a fat guy with bitch-tits. I don’t have a neutral gender I can treat everyone like, but it’s pretty easy to pretend that anyone who’s participating in a sport which has been hypermasculine since before ancient Greece might as well be a dude. I can see how that unto itself propagates the prejudice that women are worse wrestlers. The need of a female to do twice as well as a guy to prove her worth on the mat stems from the fact that we consider wrestling masculine. We do have similar things that men have to work twice as hard at which are considered feminine. Yoga, nursing, Zumba, etc. Gender connotations on activities are a problem for everyone who wants to do something that doesn’t match their genitals.

    I’m no stranger to jokes about sex and sexuality on the mat. You’re behind your partner attacking the turtle and someone calls out “stop buttf****ing him, and turn him over.” You’re doing a great job of keeping someone in your guard and a guy calls out “your sister didn’t want him to stop being between her legs either.” Even when the statements aren’t explicitly calling someone a girl, they’re jokes about being homosexual. I’d disagree about them being used to build guys up though. The jokes and comments relieve a lot of the tension in the room, but they serve to tear the guy down. Any time you insult someone by comparing them to another group you probably hurt that group worse than you hurt the individual. Be it calling a guy “feminine” or “gay”. Because wrestling is associated with masculinity those kinds of insults call into question everything that’s supposed to make him a good wrestler – being a testosterone-fueled womanizer who drinks heavily.

    I think there are a lot of reasons to why women’s BJJ, women’s wrestling, and women’s judo are so small. Cauliflower ear isn’t attractive, laying under guys isn’t very lady-like, men are smelly ass-hats… All of them have the same root – that male connotation given to grappling by society. You take that away and the comments about guys being “girls” stop being effective motivators. You also avoid the stereotypes about being a “rough-and-tumble” girl or that rolling is going to make you look like you’ve been shooting steroids. Unfortunately I think the only way we’re going to see that kind of a shift is to see very skilled females proving the sport isn’t just for boys. Events like Metamoris will need to feature women’s matches, and the girls are going to have to outperform the men. The people who have been around awhile and actively watch matches will know the names of female fighters, but ask your average white belt to name three women who have won ADCC. Now ask him to name five male Gracies whose name start with “R”. Women don’t have a presence in BJJ because they’re stereotyped against because they don’t have a presence in BJJ.

  • kayio

    Love your response Drew, you show us a guy view with some interesting historical facts about wrestling, men in the sport and women in the sport, I kind of cringe when I read that you believe womens’ jiu jitsu, wrestling, judo, isn’t large given some obvious reasons, smelly men, cauliflower ear, laying under guys, etc… Here is a very impressive list of women who are not superficial when it comes to body proximity,
    that’s just for starters.

    Stereotypes take many many generations to change, lets start NOW. Women’s Olympic wrestling wasn’t allowed until 2004, just a mere 7 years ago, but an American woman won silver! that’s progress! The BJJ tournament gateway is opening up for women like never before Grapplers Quest and IBJJF are seeing greater numbers of women coming off the mats and competing in some of the most prestigious competitions.

    Quoting an article in 2008 about Women’s Wrestling Collegiate Programs

    “Missouri Baptist University, a small Christian liberal arts institution, is starting a team this fall. Oklahoma City University, the alma mater of three Miss Americas, began a program in 2007. And Menlo College near San Francisco, which specializes in business management and where nearly two-thirds of the students are men, has had a women’s wrestling team since 2001.

    The growth of such an unconventional women’s sport at these small, private institutions has little to do with the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX and everything to do with their bottom line. Officials at tuition-hungry colleges say women’s wrestling is an untapped market of prospective students, one that has curiously been all but ignored by bigger universities.

    The inclusion of women’s wrestling in the Olympics beginning in 2004 provided a huge boost to the sport’s popularity and credibility. Five thousand girls nationwide wrestled in high school in the 2006-7 academic year, yet only eight colleges offer it as a varsity sport. Three of those eight programs are starting this fall.

    Rosters fill up nearly as quickly as colleges create teams. “When we can get so many girls to come here for a first-year program, that’s 20 to 25 extra students who normally wouldn’t have looked at Jamestown College,” said Cisco Cole, the women’s wrestling coach there.”

    Stereotype or NOT, women are quickly gravitating to this beautiful sport and martial art, and nothing is asked of the guys except to simply “accept” this phenomenon and be happy and supportive for their female teammates.

    • Kim

      I think that Drew was correct as to why some women don’t participate in BJJ. “[S]melly men, cauliflower ear, laying under guys, etc” are all very real reasons why some don’t like BJJ….and that’s OK! Those things genuinely bother some women while others could not care less. I think we do a disservice to our gender to say that all of us think/feel a certain way. Why would it make someone cringe to say that some women don’t like those things? I personally don’t see being put off by those things as a negative. It’s not how I feel (well, the thought of ending up with cauliflower ear terrifies me but I deal with it lol) but that’s also ok!

    • Drew

      I don’t doubt that there are those females who are willing to go against the convention. There are even quite a few who are classically beautiful despite the stereotypes that grappling will ruin your appearance with too much muscle and cauliflower. Leaahh is herself a prime example of a woman competing in the higher levels of BJJ despite these conventions. If anything I think that shows the social conventions are wrong about women in grappling.

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable to start changing the stereotypes within the grappling community, but society at large is the feeding pool for our subculture. Women’s MMA is a great example of this because it faces the same problems as women’s judo and wrestling – the accusations of a lower level of skill. Now, Dana White is saying it’s coming to the UFC. That’s going to be a HUGE step forward for women’s combative sports. It’s being attributed to Rousey ( Rousey is marketable. Being marketable she has the potential to make women’s MMA mainstream at a point where MMA in general is becoming a more accessible sport.

      Women’s judo and wrestling, even at the Olympic level face the same accusations that the women’s divisions are of a lower skill level than the men’s. Women’s MMA has faced it too, and along came Rousey. To be fair to the accusations, the matches of the London Olympics didn’t help this much – (I didn’t write this, but I do agree with it’s analysis of the women’s matches).

      To break the stereotypes, not just in the grappling community which is already slowly coming around, but in society at large will require a female of tremendous skill who is marketable. To make a chauvinist grappler change his opinion about women on the mat all you need do is have a woman or two of higher skill beat him. To make society change its opinion about women on the mat will take perseverance and marketing.

    • Bhella

      Starting June 4th and every Saturday Tower Group 8pm meeting will be a step study/step doing.For those irtenested in going through the steps while we study the steps I’ll be more than glad to assist you.Bring a 1 or 3 subject spiral notebook,pen,highlighter and your Big Book.This is going to be fun as well as a new experience.Yes We have entered the world of the Spirit.Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.

  • tomcrowley

    There is a lot of legitimate gender rage in male collegiate sports especially non big three sports like wrestling because of Title IX. I wouldn’t look to collegiate wrestlers for much understanding when a lot of their programs vanished when they had to equalize male and female sports teams.

  • Deborah

    This is an interesting discussion. I think the whole gender issue in bjj is interesting. I wanted to do a blog entitled “Just because you have a penis doesn’t mean you know bjj” but then I thought, what is it going to change? You’re either female and you get how annoying it is that everything in a jock strap–even a teeny tiny one– automatically assumes you need to be “taught” by them, or you aren’t and you don’t. But I’m straying from the point which is the use of the word “girl” as a pejorative. Believe it or not, as a linguist, I’m not as upset about the usage as maybe I should be. Sometimes words–in every language– take on meanings that have nothing to do with their original literal meaning (asshole, dick, queen, the list goes on, even the word “dude” you used quite freely in your blog originally meant a fastidious and somewhat effeminate man and not just “male” as you clearly intended it–should the “dudes” be upset?). In Italian the word “testicle” is used to describe a stupid man. In Portuguese they use the word for public hair to perform the same function. And in English we use the common slang word for the female you-know-what to describe a cowardly person while the word for the male member has come to be synonymous with “jerk.” Chris Rock did a routine about the use of the word “fag” as a pejorative. Is it right, is it wrong, I don’t know. I was training the other day at a school where the black belt described the female uki, with whom he obviously has an excellent rapport, as a “squirmy son of a bitch.” All I’m saying is that language is one thing and actual prejudice is another.

    • Crayon

      I concur eeirtnly. In my experience, they also don’t understand women’s markets except in the context in which they have encountered women (typically mothers and wives; occasionally powerful community leaders and executives).You say you don’t feel discriminated against, although you do detect an aversion to the leadership style because it’s not that of a 22 year old, male Stanford student. I can understand that.My experience was less about discrimination and more about what felt like a lazy way or just undeveloped ability to manage risk. If they were going to lose on a deal, who could fault them for investing in a blue-shirted khaki-pantsed Stanford or Harvard grad? It was simply a bizarre way to manage reputation risk associated with losing deals.I agree, for me, it didn’t feel discriminatory so much as just plain old frustrating. Are you dense? I wanted to say. Or, Here, let ME make the investments; you seem incapable of understanding any business model that hasn’t already been understood by someone else. Yes, it’s true; that’s neither protective nor nurturing, and certainly it’s not kind. But it’s an honest description of my frustration level!I’m glad you point out the heuristic of if it’s not in the cards, move along, but don’t give up.

  • Christian

    I think I tend to read more women authors than men, but I wodenr if the numbers would prove me wrong if I sat down and figured it out from previous years, as you did. With all the thriller/mysteries I’ve read in the past year or so, I may have bumped the male author side up a notch or two. Hard to say.