When I was young and trying to break into places that were marked “no girls allowed” (like practicing law and training in martial arts), I used to say, “Women don’t want to change things in [insert male-dominated space here]; we just want to be allowed to play.”
That was a lie. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was. First of all, bringing women into those spaces inevitably changes things. Secondly, as demonstrated by the recent decisions by people like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka to refuse to participate on other people’s terms, it leads to changes in the underlying rules.
Playing hurt isn’t a good idea, even at the Olympics. Putting up with abuse should never be necessary.
Add in the women refusing to compete in uncomfortable clothing — a proxy for all the stupid dress codes that dictate to women just how they’re supposed to cover or uncover their bodies — and you’ve got women changing the rules of the game.
What a wonderful thing.
I don’t teach self defense just to give women and other people who’ve been told they’re too weak to take care of themselves the ability to protect themselves against sexual assault and other violence. That’s important, to be sure, but what I discovered from years of martial arts training was that realizing that I could protect myself against men — that I did not have to be afraid of men physically — gave me the strength to stand up against men in the many more areas of my life where the threat wasn’t physical.
This is important, because one of the things that needs to happen for women (and all the others who’ve been told they’re not good enough) is that we must step up and demand things.
This sounds a little like Sheryl Sandberg and “Lean In.” It does have some elements of that, but Sandberg conveniently forgot the pushback that most of us are going to run into. Sandberg managed to attract the attention of powerful men and use that to get ahead. She doesn’t acknowledge that most of us don’t have that kind of support and therefore run into a brick wall when we make our demands.
But hitting that wall doesn’t mean we need to stop fighting. It sometimes means we need to step back for our own protection. It may also mean we need to file a lawsuit and hold a press conference. Or set up a sit-in, a la Rep. Cori Bush’s recent efforts that led to a new eviction moratoriam. Being physically confident helps when you hit those walls, gives you the clear thinking that allows you to figure out what you need to do.
What I want is not just for women and others who’ve been marginalized to feel safe because they know they can take care of themselves, but for all of us to feel powerful.
And then I want us to go and change the world.
A world in which people aren’t forced to harm themselves for the sake of a damn game or even for a job that needs doing. A world in which people don’t have to tolerate abusive behavior to get ahead. A world in which everyone gets a shot at doing the work that matters to them. A world in which real change can get made.
Apparently this is still revolutionary. Vive la révolution.