This post is taken from a response I posted on the Women Only section of the Roundtable Forum – where confirmed female members discuss all things Muay Thai. If you are a female who trains in Muay Thai do join our group. The question was raised there by one of our members about the benefits and/or complications of female only classes. Her question specifically referenced “self defense” classes and women wanting to be prepared physically and mentally for an assault, and being disappointed that they were treated “ladylike” in those courses; but there are gyms that offer “women’s classes” that are exclusive. I think it’s a fascinating question, because there are definite differences between how women are treated in gyms, as well as how we treat each other in gyms, depending on the social dynamics of mixed company. Which is one of the reasons for having a Women Only section on a forum. Here’s what I wrote in response:
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Treated Like a Lady and Aggression
[part of a longer thread conversation…]…I feel more competitiveness toward women than I do the boys/men I train with and I’m not sure if that’s just because women are “naturally” actually my competition or if it’s more of a social construct of bullshit competition placed on women to have to prove themselves for the approval of the majority of the gym (which is men). Everyone wants to be the one that can “hang.” Although, being top dog at all seems a reasonable thing in a competitive sport.
But then the question of teaching women how to defend themselves changes that, because they’re not competing with each other, they’re supporting one another in this group classification of learning how to protect ourselves against those who, demographically, are most likely assault us: men. So in a self-defense setting, a man teaching combat moves might himself trigger some serious emotional responses that a woman trainer wouldn’t. Men putting their weight on me freaks me the fuck out, emotionally; I don’t get that reaction from women putting their weight on me, regardless of size or intention. It’s just a different visceral reaction. So, all that is to say that I’m not sure that a man going all-out on the women in a class is necessarily coming from the same possibility as a woman instructor doing the same.
But I do believe that the times that I’ve been in the position of instructor, I’ve spoken to women’s aggression differently than I do when I instruct men. But that’s because I’m a woman also, so I speak from the emotional/mental experience of pushing forward and taking up space (which we are taught we shouldn’t do as women), whereas I don’t know that men share that same emotional experience. Maybe they do; I don’t know. But women offering other women that aggression is gold. I wrote about it in a blog post, “The Gift of Aggression” , a long while ago, how my friend Robyn taught me that you have to train aggression just like you have to train any skill. And I believe 100% that men owe it to women to offer this to their training partners also, but it’s a different emotional experience – for me it always is.
But Pi Nu, my trainer, has definitely grown along with me as he’s trained me over this past year. He’s a very protective man, very “gentleman” kind of approach with a code of honor in him that is also a bit wicked. His aggression toward other men who have bad intentions is scary… well, it’s abstractly scary as I’ve never actually seen him fight someone but I’ve heard about his non-ring fight interactions and I would NOT want him coming at me with that. My dad isn’t a fighter, but he’s a kind of gentle guy who has a temper that I really, REALLY avoided at all cost as a kid because it’s scary as shit. Same deal with Pi Nu. Anyway, he was really protective of me for a long time. He wouldn’t let me fight anyone bigger than I am, so I just never got to fight in Pattaya. He would protect me from the bigger boys at the gym, or even the smaller ones who were really strong. He was watching out for me, but he was also over-protective. Now he hits me pretty hard and comes after me even when I’m struggling and he’s HUGE compared to me. But he knows I can take it and he even pushes a little bit too hard to make sure I expand, that I’ll grow. But it took him a long time to get there with me. I think that’s 100% because he’s a man and I’m a woman, so when he now says I’m “like a man,” I know what he means. He means he can treat me like a man, even if there are limits to that.
So, I guess that’s a long anecdote about how male trainers don’t believe they can treat their female trainees “like a man.” And probably they can’t in a lot of cases because we’re not men and we have different world experiences that shape how we respond to things; how we feel things and how we interpret things. But treating them “like a woman” is far more loaded with sexism and social connotation about what women can and can’t handle. So in women only classes, the dynamic of being treated “like women” is taken out of the context of the overarching patriarchy. I know I’m getting a bit Liberal Arts here, but I just mean the dynamic of “mixed company,” and what kind of man you are if you don’t treat women “like women.” And women treat each other differently in the company of men also. It’s fucked up, but it’s how we all function. But it’s exactly like the Women Only section of this forum. It’s not here because men suck or because we want to talk about them; it’s here because women own a very different space when it’s only women. We act and think and perform differently, even if it’s in the tiniest details. But all of those things matter. And we’re not refusing to hit each other back here, behind the closed doors of the Women’s Only section or women only classes; but the aggression we offer is a gift to one another, like an inoculation, rather than piling on from the same powers that are making those mixed spaces tough for women in the first place…”
This is just a fascinating subject, just the kind of interesting conversation we had hoped the Women Only section would nurture. If you have thoughts about it or would like to read the other comments as a female student/fighter of any age, any level, please to feel feel to join in: You can find the thread here: Female-Only Classes – If you are a male reader please do join the forum too and contribute to its overall awesomeness.