It’s 2016. We’re in the middle of an era in which women like Ronda Rousey, Gabi Garcia, and Miesha Tate are making headlines for their badassery. And yet, for some reason, the statement “You fight like a girl” is still considered an insult. Even worse, it seems to be a symptom for a widespread complex that even permeates the world of BJJ: the idea that whether you beat a woman or a woman beats you, you lose.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to train with male teammates who, like me, ignore the whole “gender” thing while we’re in the gym. We’re all jiu jiteiros working towards the same goals, and at least for the time we spend together on the mat, the number of X chromosomes we have becomes completely irrelevant. Their egos and masculinity aren’t threatened if I tap them out, and they still feel good about themselves if they tap me out. My “jits brothers” treat me exactly the same way they treat each other, which is really the only thing I ask for as a woman who does jiu jitsu.
Unfortunately, that streak of luck only goes so far. I’ve been to multiple tournaments run by people who seemed to have forgotten that women’s absolute divisions are a thing. It’s annoying, of course, but nowhere near as annoying as the responses the female competitors get when they ask if they could just hop into the men’s absolute division to compete for the prizes they were denied because of their gender: “We don’t really do that.” “It wouldn’t be right.” “It would make people uncomfortable.” Of course, putting a 125-lb man in the same bracket as a 195-lb man is cool, but when it’s a 125-lb woman instead, words like “unfair” start getting tossed around.
If you’re feeling the urge to give me a lesson in biology, don’t. I know that men and women’s bodies are different. I know that, as a general rule, male athletes are stronger than female athletes. If we were talking about boxing or MMA, I might see where you were coming from if you told me that men had an unfair advantage over women. But this is jiu jitsu. It was literally designed in a way that allows smaller, weaker people to overcome larger and stronger opponents. And since it’s a regular Christmas miracle when more than four women come to a single BJJ class, most of us are more than comfortable rolling with people who are 50 lbs heavier than us and could probably lift us with one arm. So what’s really the big deal about letting men and women compete together?
As far as I can see, it comes from the same mindset that causes some of the new guys at the gym to either roll at 110 percent and use up all their strength trying to win, or to treat the girls like they’re five years old and made of glass. They have this weird complex that keeps whispering to them that they could never live it down if they actually got beat by a girl in a combat sport. There’s some sort of shame to them in having to give up against an athlete who has been training in jiu jitsu longer than they have and knows techniques that they haven’t yet learned. So they either have to beat her using any means necessary, or they have to “let her win” so they can say that their loss was deliberate, that they were being a gentleman, that they “didn’t feel comfortable” manhandling someone of the opposite sex.
Obviously (hopefully), the men who have been in this sport for a long time know better than to think that tapping to a woman is all it takes to have your man card confiscated. But for guys who can’t seem to leave their egos at the door, let me shout this as loudly as I can via the text on your screen: THERE IS EXACTLY ZERO SHAME IN GETTING BEAT BY A GIRL. If taking the risk is something your masculinity just can’t hold up to, then you’re in the wrong sport.