February 19, 2013

Stripes and Sexism

I know I've dropped off the map for a while when it comes to maintaining my blog, but in my defense I'm at the gym 4-5 times a week and it's hard to find time to come home and then write about it. I didn't mean to disappear either but finding a happy balance has never been my forte.

Luckily for all of you, I have new things to write about. For example, I am now a 4-stripe white belt and have long since been converted to primarily training with the gi (remember how I once insisted that I'd never EVER be into gi, because nogi was "the shit?"...yeah, I'm over that phase; give me a gi). I will write more about all that soon but in the meantime, I wanted to address an irritating article that I read by a black belt instructor in faraway Idaho.

The article, which has received major backlash due to its blatant sexism, is titled "Can Women Really Handle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?" and one of the saddest things about it is that its author doesn't even seem to realize how chauvinistic he actually is. I love my gym and the people I train with so much, and am so comfortable there, that I constantly forget there are gyms run by people who just don't "get it" when it comes to women grappling...or doing any contact sport for that matter.

When I first started, I was at a clear disadvantage. I was the only girl in most of the classes. I was totally out of shape. I was shorter/lighter than most of my training partners. I had no idea what I was doing. And to top it all off, I have a slight handicap - my right hand doesn't work properly, and has no opposability, so I can't easily grab or hold onto things the way everyone else can. And yet, I never actually felt any of these disadvantages (aside from being out of shape but you know...that's why I was there) because the people at my gym never made them a problem. My first class, I was paired up with another new guy, taught the same way as him, expected to do all of the same things as him, and never babied or treated like "the girl." On my second day, when I was wondering how the hell to lift a heavier guy clear off the ground with one hand that didn't fully work, the head instructor came over and yelled "No excuses! What would Jean Jacques Machado do?"

Now imagine that, instead of treating me like every other student, they had gone out of their way to give me extra attention, be it intentionally or inadvertently negative ("don't worry, we'll take care of you because, unlike the men here, you need special treatment")...well, I sure as hell wouldn't still be doing jiu jitsu a year and a half later because I would have felt singled out not as "the new student" but as "the new girl."

This is why Keith Owen's article is an epic failure...because he has no understanding of this most basic distinction. Instead of genuinely seeking advice or starting up a discussion on how to improve his female membership, he presents the situation as a problem with the women themselves. Instead of asking "what am I doing wrong?" he is saying "Well, it's not me, it's them!" And that immediately tells most readers all that they need to know. I have seen articles from guys before asking how to improve female membership at their gyms...and those articles have been inspiring. But this guy is doing nothing more than whining and blaming it on the chicks, and completely failing to recognize the many hypocrisies within his little rant. Julia wrote a great reaction article here, where she even goes so far as to rewrite part of his post, substituting "students" and "white belts" in place of "women"...and it works much better. But this is my own response to him:

Keith, in spite of insisting multiple times that you welcome women and are not biased against them, everything about your point of view is sexist. Since you seem completely oblivious to this fact, here are some examples:

The article title itself. Talk about ignorant generalizations...a genuine discussion would not have used an inflammatory title like this.

<<They will even come in and DEMAND to try it out.  I politely let them know what BJJ is and what it's all about up front.>>

So they come in and DEMAND to try out grappling without knowing what it is? They walk into a room full of men and don't realize from the start that they'll be rolling around with their faces in sweaty dude crotches? Doubtful. MAYBE once in a while I can see that kind of misunderstanding  - on the parts of both women AND men - but it's rare.

<<My guys are very nice, respectable gentlemen (some schools are not)  and treat the ladies with respect (or I’ll kill them)>>

Well, are they "gentlemen" to each other, or just to the women? Because if you're trying to promote the fact that they're being "good men" instead of "good teammates" then you're already doing something wrong.

<<I treat the women students like any other male student>>
<<I never force them to roll until they are comfortable>>

Which is it? This doesn't sound like equal treatment to me. This sounds like you are coddling them and trying to prepare them to "work up" to rolling with men. But...many guys may at first feel a bit awkward about getting into such positions with other men. So do you habitually let your male students know that you understand it can be uncomfortable to be in such close proximity with another man's junk, and that they can build up to it and only start grappling with other men when they're comfortable doing so? If not, then this protective attitude towards your female students is insulting, and you are most definitely NOT treating them "like everyone else." You are singling them out and implying that they need extra care to do the same basic things the other students do.

<<The ladies always stay for a short time but they ultimately quit.>>

There are female practitioners of all belt levels, all over the world, so instead of generalizing and acting like "the ladies" of your gym speak for "the ladies" of gyms worldwide, perhaps this should indicate that the problem is not with "the ladies" but is in fact with YOU.

<<Some of them have gotten pregnant>>

Ugh, really? I've known of far more men who've left or taken time off for family than women who "get pregnant" and quit. Again, sexist and ignorant. Also, some women - just like men - with new babies on the way or in their lives, may take time off and then return later. It's not a woman thing, it's a "person with a family" thing.

<<if any women can get a black belt, it’s from me.>>

Well, obviously not. But somehow, they manage to get blue, purple, brown and black belts from plenty of other schools.

<<I have given out a number of blue belts to women as a matter of fact.>>

So? I don't understand...do you want a cookie or something? If they earned it, why boast about it like you're doing a public service? If they're blue belt level athletes, then that's what they are.

<<It then makes me want to do a  male only class because we don’t want to waste time on someone who is just going to quit even though we are excited to have her and we try to take care of her and make her feel welcome.>>

So you're saying NO ONE in a male-only class would ever quit on you? How do you know that one of the men you are "wasting your time on" won't just bail later, like they often do? Or that the one woman might last longer than some of her male teammates? I mean, again, which is it? Are you excited to have the female students and are you making them feel welcome or do you feel like you're potentially wasting your time? Because if it's the latter, you can bet that attitude is projecting loud and clear, even if you're not conscious of it.

<<My male students are usually married and take a bit of a risk with their spouses by wrestling around with the opposite sex.>>
<<Your significant other has to be comfortable with you being in a class full of men>>

Double standard much? If someone's girlfriend or wife can't handle them rolling around with other hard-working ATHLETES, regardless of gender, then that is THEIR problem to sort out at home, not the woman's. I roll almost entirely with men, many of whom are married or otherwise in relationships...and I don't spend the seconds in between attacks, submissions and escapes wondering if we might hook up. I'm a little too busy trying to not, like, die or break an arm. If their significant other is that jealous and insecure, they should probably crawl into a hole and cry about it.

<<But I always seem to accept women into the fold and try to do my best hoping that they will be the kind of person that can handle the challenge of Jiu-Jitsu.>>

Why is this statement about women? PEOPLE in general have trouble when starting out. They find out they're not tough enough, or that it's too challenging. This is not, like, a "girl thing." Yet your attitude says it is.

<<I just say “I will do my best to take care of you and make your experience a safe one while you’re here but you need to look internally to see if you can handle wrestling with men.”>>

Okay, so instead of welcoming women to the gym like any other student - which you keep claiming is the case when it's clearly not - you burden them with the task of proving to you that they can stick it out. Basically, they come in with negative points. Well, it's no wonder that women don't want to be at your gym when you're throwing them all into this immensely sexist, generalized group of "womenfolk" instead of treating each and every STUDENT who walks through your door as...what? That's right, a STUDENT. A unique individual, who may or may not be the same as any other individual who's strolled into your gym. You clearly make it about gender from the start, and it's not surprising that they're picking up on it and bailing. For all you know, they didn't quit jiu jitsu...they just left your gym and went to train somewhere else where they were seen as students instead of as females.

<<Remember ladies it ain't easy but stick with it.>>

To be honest, you have no business trying to present a challenge, motivational message or genuine discussion when you clearly don't know the first thing about women in jiu jitsu. I'm concerned about your attitude not as a person but as an instructor, and your willingness to make broad assumptions about all women who walk into your gym when you clearly don't have preconceptions about male newbies even though I'm guessing plenty of men have come and gone at your gym over the years too.

Basically, I recommend that you get over yourself and haul ass to a gym that actually knows how to treat its female members, then get back to us once you've worked out your obvious issues. Thanks.


  1. Love it. "they should probably crawl into a hole and cry about it" made me laugh so hard. And this "instead of treating each and every STUDENT who walks through your door as...what? That's right, a STUDENT. A unique individual, who may or may not be the same as any other individual who's strolled into your gym" hit the nail on the head, its what's at the root of the entire problem!

  2. 'Do you want a cookie' that is fantastic! hahaha

  3. "There are female practitioners of all belt levels, all over the world, so instead of generalizing and acting like "the ladies" of your gym speak for "the ladies" of gyms worldwide, perhaps this should indicate that the problem is not with "the ladies" but is in fact with YOU."

    Best point ever. He has to be aware that women all over the world are attaining very high belt levels. Why claim it's all women and not just women in his zip code/city/state? Foul.

    1. Apparently it's just easier to resort to offensive generalizations than to face the possibility of it being a problem with HIM and not US. I wonder if he'd realize how inappropriate the article sounds if we replaced every appearance of the word "women" with "black people."

  4. This is awesome!!! I wonder if he will even bring it up in his next post, which he claimed was going to address women's reactions? I think you've spoken for a lot of us!

    1. Thank you. I was already highly irritated by this guy but the more I read, the more I dislike him. His responses to the comments are sorely lacking, which tells me that in spite of reading these very strong points some of us have been making, he isn't remotely apologetic or in tune with why his article is so unacceptable.

      His responses remain condescending and shallow, like "thanks for your opinion" (completely failing to address the point or questions made in well-written replies by people like Megan), or "I see you came back again" (with a smiley face, in response to someone's very angry, aggressive response). Hell, someone quoted my bit about treating everyone as a student and a unique individual instead of as "a female" and his response was "Interesting thanks!" I mean, really? Interesting? A more appropriate reply would have been "Wow, I never thought about it that way; clearly that's something I need to work on." UGH. No wonder his occasional female athletes end up quitting or, more likely, leaving for other schools.

  5. I am so happy about all the clear, precise, well thought and well written responses that article has gotten all over the blogs.
    happy to be not alone. thank you!

    1. Thank you. Unfortunately, this guy (and his wife, apparently) have no concept of how shitty their attitudes are, so I guess we'll just leave them to it!

  6. You hit the nail on the head. Now I feel stupid because I'd just posted on my blog something very similar! And how effing annoying that he keeps "not responding" to all the comments. And deleting yours! And getting his wife "Sharlane" to respond instead! Well, he's driven up the readership stats on his blog for a bit. As have you-- and I hope you keep it coming!


    1. Yeah, I'm done with this guy. Did you see his response to Lauren? She reposted the link to my blog in one of her comments and said she'd really like to know what he has to say in reply to it. His response was "ya..I read that. I don't agree. =)...Thank you Lauren."

      I mean...WTF. Not even worth the time, what an ass. He can't be bothered to properly address the points that were outlined in my blog or in Julia's post? So he doesn't recognize at all that he's been sexist and not only that but he doesn't feel obliged to explain to the many pissed off women WHY he disagrees with our frustration? Yeah, real winner there. Can't imagine why female athletes don't want to work with him...

      And of course he responded to the ONE woman who wrote a positive response, saying "She Beast...Now that's a name that can probably be tough enough to get a BJJ BlackBelt. =)"

      Whatever. Leave him to his sausagefest and let the women of Idaho train with instructors who aren't morons.

    2. Thanks for posting your blog response and for trying to inform and educate an otherwise poor representation of a teacher and black belt in BJJ. What I've come to find is that as a 'woman' (not a women...lol) in the sport, it is very important for us to have a voice and create our own platforms on which to be heard.
      We are a minority and many people don't know what it's like to be a lady on the mats, so it's our job to put the right foot forward.
      If we keep silent and just let people like this make excuses for themselves and 'us', the community will never change. We have to try, we have to create our own market and show the naysayers that we are dedicated, love the sport and will thrive.
      On a positive note however, there are a lot of very supportive men writing great things about us, providing us with awesome opportunities and supporting our place.
      Best of luck with your training and your blog,
      Emily Kwok

    3. Thank you, Emily. I really appreciate that you took the time to read and respond here. I saw your comment on the original article and it was a wonderful response that addressed the problems with Keith's text in an intelligent, respectful and objective way, and to get nothing more than a pat on the head and a complaint about formatting...I think it shows what kind of person he is. It's somewhat discouraging to think that someone like that is actually running a school.

      I've only been grappling for 16 months but I love it and am very committed to it. And over the last few months, my gym has seen a lot of new girls coming in for BJJ (we're up to about 7 regulars now), all of whom work as hard as the guys and encounter none of the issues mentions in Keith's post. Will all of them stay in the long term? Maybe not, but maybe some will. Either way, they're working hard at it and enjoying it NOW, which is what matters. So to read something from an instructor, of all people, implying that women simply can't handle the sport, is so unacceptable...and he doesn't even get it. But on the upside, as you said, it's great to see other men stepping up and supporting the issue.

  7. I am at my place of employment currently, and don't have sufficient time to properly rebut you.

    But I think you're high. Or just extremely too sensitive, or both. You are CLEARLY missing the point and going on a pro-female rant when it's really not necessary in this scenario.

    And him responding in that short fashion when presented with your post, was probably the classiest thing he could have done given the situation. He could probably go line by line and tear this self-serving that you've laid out here to shreds, but you know what they say.."Never argue with a fool, because from a distance, no one can tell who's who."

    1. You're certainly welcome to your opinion but seeing as you've provided no information about yourself (are you male or female? where do you train? what is your experience level? do you know the guy personally?) or anything to back up your little rant, I can hardly take that opinion seriously. This reply comes off as either a Keith Owen sock puppet, his wife or a close friend bashing negative responses on his behalf, with - shockingly - nothing to back it up.

      If you have a legitimate, intelligent rebuttal, I'd love to hear it. Many other women have written nearly identical reactions on their own blogs. Are they all high as well? I guess every single person who's responded negatively is just being unfair and overly sensitive to a post by an INSTRUCTOR (ie. the person whose sole responsibility it is to support and treat EVERY student as a unique individual, not as a man or woman, not saying he'll do his best to take care of her "while she's there" because she probably won't stay simply because she's a chick).

      This is hardly a "pro-female rant." This is a response - I point out again, just one of many - that addresses what is an obnoxious, ignorant post by an extremely arrogant individual who, thus far, has shown that he can't be bothered to properly address ANY of the responses that his article received. Ignoring us is the "classy" thing to do? Hardly. The classy thing would have been to break down individual responses to explain exactly what he doesn't agree with, to defend his perspective (which, to many women AND men, has so far been seen as blatantly if not unwittingly sexist). If he actually has ground to stand on, then he should do so instead of writing one-line answers that blow off each and every criticism he's received. It doesn't make him look good, and you doing the same does not give credence to either of you.

      Perhaps when you've got the time, you can enlighten all of us "fools" on Keith's behalf. What exactly WAS his point? What within the various reaction posts, mine included (and I would suggest reading the others as well), is "self-serving" or not a legitimate criticism? Even Emily Kwok wrote a great comment on his article and instead of answering with any depth, he simply gave a "thanks for your input" and complained about her formatting. But you're right, pure class there, offhandedly dismissing a world champion black belt. Can't imagine why women aren't lining up to train with this smug, self-important ass. But by all means, tell us why we should be. Better yet, instead of insulting Keith's critics on this little blog where few people will see or address your comments, why not put your brilliant response on one of the major high-traffic blogs discussing the same issue, so that all of those "fools" worldwide can actually read your defense of the guy's attitude and let you know what they think. I'd love to see where that discussion goes.

    2. I assure you, you're closer to being a Keith Owen sock-puppet than I could ever hope to be :)

      No, I'm a white belt, like you, from Pittsburgh and have about 3,000 degrees of separation between Keith and myself.

      And to be honest, I don't know of any high-profile blogs per se..I chanced across you from his comment as well as Marshal's blog, but aside from Marshal, Aesopian, and slideyfoot, I don't have time/inclination to be in the know about the larger resources. Maybe you can point me in the right direction with that.

      Even if I did wish to pursue that route, there are individuals infinitely smarter and better-equipped to have that discussion with, and though I may not be of their caliber, I'm still more than capable of recognizing true intent and purpose and not getting into a rabble-rousing frenzy. The title was off-putting, and there were honestly two points I could see where BJJ community could take issue with.

      That said, the vitriol that this has aroused only shows me how this post truly missed the mark, but in my estimation, that is its worst offense. I'm really going to try to go in-depth this evening after class because I have a feeling this will be an interesting exchange, but if not, tomorrow will have to do.

      Til then..

    3. For future reference, sock puppet: "an online identity used for purposes of deception... referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an internet community who spoke to, or about himself while pretending to be another person." Considering you are defending Keith against the claims of sexism coming from an entire community, it doesn't actually make sense to twist that comment back on me. I appreciate the attempt at a clever jab but it just doesn't apply.

      Also for your reference:

      Julia's reaction

      Georgette's reaction

      Another reaction

      Those are just a few; there are others, and that's not even counting the many comments all of those articles have received echoing the same issues with Keith's attitude.

      Personally, after reading some of his most recent failures when "answering" comments on his article, I am moving on. I've got no real desire to continue the discussion when he has proven himself to be a smug person for whom discussion or critique does nothing. You still haven't indicated whether you are male or female, and with comments putting down the intelligence of others while making self-important claims about your own intellect and "ability to recognize true intent," it makes the prospect of a discussion with you offputting from the start.

      However, if you read the other reactions that I provided above, particularly Julia's, I would be very interested in seeing how a discussion with her goes since she's been doing jiu jitsu and blogging about it for a few years now, and could no doubt very well express her concerns with Keith's viewpoint (and yours). Best of luck.

  8. I wrote a piece about it myself, How to Run a Female Friendly Martial Arts School. It's good that this whole thing is bringing attention to the issues. :)

  9. Has a guy ever given you mixed signals?

    One minute he’s crazy about you and the next minute you have no clue if he ever wants to see you again?

    And it’s especially hard when there’s something special between you and you have no idea what went wrong.

    I assure you it’s nothing that you did.

    In fact, he may even care about you a great deal and still not be able to stop himself from acting this way.

    But why does this happen?

    There’s one BIG reason why men do this...

    And I discovered this eye opening video that will shed some light on this bizarre behaviour.

    Discover it here: ==> [ Why he does the bare minimum (and what to do about it) ]

    It all comes down to a missing “secret ingredient” that not one in a thousand women knows about...

    And it’s the biggest factor that determines whether a man just “likes” you...

    ...or if he sees you as “The One.”

    You see, this “secret ingredient” is so important to a man that no matter how attracted to you he is, or how strong your chemistry is...

    If it’s missing, he’ll never be able to truly give his heart to you...

    And he will always have an unshakeable urge to seek out a woman who has this one “secret ingredient.”

    Discover it here: ==> [If he’s shutting you out, here’s what’s missing... ]

    On the other hand, when you know this powerful “secret ingredient”...

    ...you won’t believe how effortless, passionate and bulletproof your relationship can be.

    Trust me, this is going to blow you away.

    Discover it here: ==> [ The difference between “like” and “love” (most women miss this) ]

    [Sign off]