I grew up around the phrase “necessary evil”. It was used to indicate a task or action necessary, but unfortunate. Something that, if it could be avoided, would be avoided.
The colloquialism has a lot of play when it comes to creating an open culture for women on the mat. Necessary fits because intentional conscious effort is necessary to turn good intentions into tangible impact.
A necessary evil because making this conscious effort isn’t without backlash and because in a perfect world, there would be no need for the effort. In a perfect world, conversations about how to get more women a) through the door and b) how to get them to stay, would be moot.
In this perfect world women grow up training at the same rate and percentage as men. They grow up with effective socialization for boundary setting and with a more comfortable (normalized?) context of violence.
As of now, this is not the norm.
The number of untrained women is substantially greater than the numbers of untrained men and the statistics of violence against women remains markedly high (also in comparison). I am hesitant to lean too heavily on published stats for our conversation because those are generally inaccurate. If you train, have ever trained, your experience may be enough to validate these assertions. Training centers with greater than 20% women are rare. That number comes from one of the organizations I am affiliated with, and I don’t know if there are any broad scope numbers we can generalize so I am working with what I have. The numbers are gleaned from experience, and a small sampling statistical sampling. Bear that in mind.
The end result? It’s not a perfect world so the questions get recycled. How do we get women in to train? How do we keep them once they come in for a trial? There is no single, effective answer. Each style of training, each individual dojo or location has its own flavor and culture. Whatever the culture or training approach, I can safely make one generalization. Low numbers of women are reflected in the attitude expressed toward women on the mat.
You can gain insight to what the attitude may be by looking at the following:
Are there a few token females or are women expected to be there?
When the men show up to train, are they surprised when a new female student is on the mat? Is she treated like a snowflake?
Shunned as too weak to be a good training partner?
Is she respected as formidable (or with the potential to become formidable)?
Are the male students dropping trou in public spaces or do they step into a bathroom to change?
If it’s cool for men to discreetly publically remove groin protection after training, is it cool for the women to do the same, or do the women get grief for it?
The culture of the mat space determines the protocols and like water, the attitude runs downhill. The instructors set the tone and the students will – mostly – follow suit. No big surprise on this one, right?
What has piqued my curiosity is the backlash lurking about the edges. As training programs make efforts to create environments in which women are as comfortable hitting/rolling/grappling as men, there are a few men who are kicking up a little dust. What about the men? Why aren’t the women being asked to make the men more comfortable? Why shouldn’t the girls be asked to put the toilet seat up?
If training programs and dojos had risen up out of Amazon Princess Warrior cultures and men were only recently being encouraged and accepted, this would be a valid question. That isn’t the history.
Whether it’s through humor, protocols, expectations, or ritual there are effective ways to bring more women to the mat. If the men get resistant to the efforts creating an invitational environment to both men and women; here is a question.
What are you afraid of?
And the guys are not the only ones who resist efforts to create an effective training environment for women, there are women who fight it as well. The women who are accustomed to being the token female in a male environment can fight to maintain their position. They can resist sharing the status they have earned by toughing it out in the “boy’s locker room”. This is a different problem. The question about fear remains.