As a gender equalist who is afraid to use the word “feminist” because of its extreme 1970s connotation, I have something to say.
I venture outside gender norms and make homes in realms that are not stereotypically female. I have played and loved video games since I was a child, I was the only female member of my high school Scholastic Bowl team and I am pursuing a career in law, where women make up 47 percent of law school graduates, but only 17 percent of equity partners in firms (American Bar Association, 2014).
I have had mixed experiences in these areas, ranging from over-enthusiastic surprise from male teammates to outright hostility, and I have come to expect at least different treatment than boys, if not inferior treatment. (See: death threats of female game developers who criticize the community for being a boys club.)
When I joined the Mixed Martial Arts Club at Bradley, it was only at the urging of a friend of mine. As an engineer, she was not unfamiliar with being the only girl in the room herself, and she told me that I would not be unwelcome and that it would be a lot of fun, not just on its own merits but to have another friend there.
I knew that MMA, as with basically all professional fighting, is wildly dominated by boys, but I figured it would be worth putting up with some hypermasculine muscle glorification to hang out with her and learn some reasonable self-defense at the same time. My expectation, in a nutshell, was to join another girl in putting up with the boys to learn how to defend myself against…boys. What I got could not have been farther from my expectations.
From day one, I never felt like my gender was holding me back in the club. Rather than being met with laughter or ridicule from the boys there, I was encouraged to improve, motivated to keep at it and determined to keep showing up and learning whatever I could. Any expectation I had that the MMA Club would reflect the historical misogyny of professional fighting was shattered.
Martial arts are about technique, momentum and skill. Although muscle helps, it is designed so that even the weakest person can flip huge dudes and be completely capable of winning fights. If anything, I called my own gender out as a potential explanation for my sometimes embarrassing ineptitude, and was repeatedly told that being a girl has nothing to do with needing more practice. (See: Ronda Rousey compared to any average male.)
As such, it feels worth saying: Girls! I know there are reasons why you shy away from things like video game communities and clubs based on fighting, but this is a place on campus where I think every male member is a credit to their gender, and every female member is welcomed and challenged just as much as their male counterparts. I’m sure it would be too controversial to call Bradley’s MMA Club “feminist.” At the very least, this is a prime example of gender equality thriving on campus, and I am so proud of it.
Senior, Philosophy and International Studies double major