Hey, I don’t know you.
Until yesterday, I didn’t have an opinion about you one way or another, because I had no idea who you were. But then you posted this on your blog, and now I have an opinion of you. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly good one.
I think it’s great that you want to see women succeed in BJJ, and I sincerely believe that you truly want that, because I am optimistic to a fault, and I really want to believe the best of people, even though I’ve been made a fool time and time again. But I can also guarantee you that this blog post is doing you no favors, and is certainly not making you or your school look good.
Now, usually I’m as snarky and prickly as the next BJJ woman but I’m feeling magnanimous these days. A little bit, anyway, so let’s talk about what you did wrong, from one of those pesky women-point-of-views.
First: you run a business. If people don’t stay– male OR female– that’s on you, not them. As a businessperson, your job is to attract people to your business and maintain their business through good service, competitive rates, and so on. Like interpersonal relationships, in business relationships, if you keep seeing the same thing happen over and over again, that’s probably because you’re doing something that is triggering the behavior in other people (Note: does not apply to abusive relationships, only things like, “I keep dating people who aren’t as into me as I am to them!”). Your students don’t owe you their business, any more than I owe my business to Dell because one time I bought a Dell laptop. It was crap, don’t buy a Dell laptop.
Next: Your retention rates of women are poor, you say. Well, I’ve trained in quite a few places around the world, and I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed, although it is all anecdotal. The places with the best retention rates don’t necessarily have women-only classes, or even a large population of women. What they do have is an instructor who truly makes them feel like part of the team. Not a woman. Part of the team. Are we going out to do something? Of course you’re coming, you’re a teammate, aren’t you?
Hell, I’ve trained in Japan and Hong Kong, neither of which are particularly forward-thinking countries when it comes to gender relations and women’s place in society. In both of those places, I’ve witnessed women walk in off the street and stick with the sport. In Hong Kong, it’s particularly difficult to get women into the sport, but we had good retention rates. Why? Because we treated them like people, not like women. I guarantee that some of your attitude of “this chick isn’t going to stick around” is leaking into your interactions with these people.
Third: let’s talk about your guys. You say:
My guys are very nice, respectable gentlemen…
And I really want to believe that. But you know what? There are creeps in every gym, and it may not be the guy you expect to be a creep. The Academy I’m at now has the lowest creep level I’ve ever experienced, and I think that has a lot to do with the instructor, but it also has a lot to do with the fact that we’re a very competition-oriented academy. Even here, though, I experience issues. I experience issues as a 12-year veteran of the sport, wearing a brown belt, training with a competition team three times a day. What planet are you living on if you think that that white belt who just came in off the street isn’t getting propositioned, even subtly?
Okay, now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, here’s what I want to say to you, and to all the other instructors out there bemoaning the lack of women in BJJ. Are you ready?
Stop making me responsible for my entire gender.
Did you hear me?
Stop making me responsible for my entire gender.
If you listen to nothing else in this entire letter, you better listen to this.
Story time: once I tried a pole dancing class, because why not. I enjoyed it, did my free sessions, decided it wasn’t for me, and didn’t go back. Did someone post an article online asking, “Can women really handle pole dancing?” because of my failure to commit? No, because that’s really fucking stupid.
BJJ is a sport that combines a lot of things that most people look at and go, “yeah, I think I wouldn’t do that even if you paid me.” There’s sweat, pain, physical proximity, frustration, competition, and so on; in the world that we live in, where people don’t really like to sweat much, this is like the ultimate convergence of “shit I don’t want to do.” And that’s okay, and even understandable.
I believe that you wrote this article from a good place; like I sad, I do believe that you want to see women succeed, and that’s admirable. But you need a serious attitude adjustment if you ever want to attract and keep women at your academy. I come in to train, not to be pandered to, and I certainly don’t come in to the academy to act as an ambassador for my entire gender.