This work demonstrates that sex-integrated physical activity can promote progressive and inclusive shifts in the ways in which people conceptualise gender and perform gender relations. Specifically, it discusses how martial artists confront and overcome difficulties relating to gender within mixed-sex training and competitive encounters. The paper highlights three particular moments that are crucial in building towards the ‘un-doing’ of sexist renditions of gender.
Firstly, the work explores the possibility of promoting a sense of female ownership of martial arts, through holding or sharing roles as instructors, coaches or demonstrators. I argue that this encourages women to develop a sense of belonging within spaces traditionally associated with men and masculinity, while helping men to accept the possibility of female authority and respect for women’s expertise.
Secondly, it discusses how a shift towards a shared identity as martial artists can replace the predominance of gender in shaping interactions ‘on the mat’ or ‘in the ring’. This is argued to represent a major obstacle to effective training in integrated environments, but can be challenged through repeated exposure and coaches’ efforts in normalising mixed practices. In addition, this helps both men and women to change their ideas about women’s physical abilities, principally by providing opportunities for these to be showcased in the novel, sometimes quite dramatic ways that martial arts practice affords.
Thirdly, the paper expressly cautions against uniform, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to challenging gender within martial arts and combat sports, advocating a sensitive approach that acknowledges individual and cultural preferences and dispositions. That is to say that certain types of sex integration may be inappropriate in some scenarios and result in more harm than good, meaning the recommendations otherwise made need implementing carefully and selectively.
The methodology for this study involved a qualitative design, principally using semi-structured interviews with 37 experienced martial artists and combat athletes from various different disciplines. This was complemented by field observations of several of the interviewees’ training sessions and contextualised by several years’ worth of my own participant observation in multiple different martial arts schools.
The small sample size of the project and its interpretive epistemological framework place limits on how confidently we can generalise the conclusions. However, numerous subsequent studies in a variety of (similar) contexts lend support to the conclusions reached.
|Undoing Gender||A social constructionist perspective reflecting the possibility of challenging and changing the way gender is performed and accomplished through and within social interaction.|