by Eda J. Vor
I've been practicing and teaching martial arts for over a decade now and while I can't promise things are changing industry-wide, I can tell you that our studio is a far cry from the fist-pumping, ball-swinging, macho swagger sausage-fest it used to be.
Have you seen The Foot Fist Way? Or Enter the Dojo? How about the Rex Kwon Do segment of Napoleon Dynamite? These are all hysterically unflattering parodies of martial arts instructors and they are all 100 percent true to life. I have worked with or learned from dudes just like that and they FOR REAL believe that they are the pinnacle of both masculinity and martial prowess. You can find them at any martial arts studio that advertises as "Good for Girls, Too!"
My studio was the same until the great re-branding of 2010 when new ownership took over and fast-forwarded us into the present. We decided that girls weren't just a secondary income stream and jokes about pink belts weren't quite so funny. Our new "Women are People Too" attitude was popular with female students and moms alike, and our student base more than doubled in the span of a year. Take note, business leaders: It turns out equality is good for the bottom line.
Gone are the days of "Sheila sits out because there are no other girls to spar with." Not only are our girls fully capable and confident in sparring with boys, but we often have entire classes made up of just girls. We've found that girls are less likely to quit after achieving black belts. Girls make up more than half of our teen program. More girls than boys apply for Assistant Instructor Training and pass and show up to assist in classes once qualified.
And when your Chief Instructor is a woman, there are no "hit like a girl" comments because we've seen how hard homegirl hits and I assure you, it is no joke.
So why, with all these strong, smart, empowered females I'm seeing, am I still hearing the word "tomboy" to describe my students?
"Tomboy" is defined as a girl who likes rough and noisy activities usually reserved for boys. "Tomboy" assumes that rough and noisy aren't a natural part of female behavior (or that quiet and compassionate aren't a natural part of male behavior). I feel like "tomboy" is one of the most limiting non-explicitly sexist terms you can use to describe an athletic girl, not just because it implies fragility in females but also because it denies vulnerability in males and reinforces a strict gender binary that is demonstrably irrelevant.
Title IX is 44 years old. The WNBA was formed in 1996. Mia Hamm held the record for most international goals scored by any player, male or female, from 2004 to 2013. Mo'ne Davis pitched a shutout in the Little League World Series in 2014. Women win medals in the Olympics. Isn't it time for female athletes, regardless of their age or professional status, to be recognized as athletes instead of gender-bending aberrations?
My female students are confident, intelligent, highly-coordinated little ass-kickers who are growing up to be bold, decisive, self-assured young women who will rule the world someday with a velvet fist. There's nothing inherently boyish about leadership skills or physical prowess. There's nothing inherently girlish about compassion or patience. You can take your "tomboy" and your "strong, for a girl" qualifiers — and while you're at it, your "sissy" and "nancy boy" insults for all my delightfully sensitive male students — and shove 'em where you sure as hell don't want these kids to kick you. For the record, that's anywhere, ever.