“No problem,” the championship organizers said, “we’ll just put you in with the boys.”
I remember the first Taekwondo competition I attended where there weren’t any contenders in my weight and age category. I was 13 years old, and I had a yellow belt.
That was the first time I fought against a boy in a sparring match, and wouldn’t be my last.
There’s a difference between practicing martial arts with boys, and competing with boys in an official match. I was intimidated, but determined to hold my own. After all, the boys weren’t that much heavier than I was, and I had seen my martial arts instructor spar with men twice her size and win.
Over time I learned what my advantages were.
I was fast, and could sneak a kick past someone’s guard. My disadvantages also became clear. I got winded easily when I got kicked by a boy because they kicked harder than most of the girls I was used to sparring with.
I also flinched if I expected a hit, which made me lose my focus.
Because I knew I’d likely be fighting against boys in tournaments (or girls who were older and weighed more) I got tough. I learned to evade more, and made my attacks in succession so I could get out of there as quickly as possible.
I never really thought much about the experience I gained fighting with boys. It was only years later that I realized how getting used to competing with the boys helped shape the career choices I would make.
Fighting with boys doesn’t stop outside of the sparring ring.
I fought with the boys in my 90% male dominated University program, graduating with a degree in Software Engineering as one of 14 girls in my class. In my internships I worked in predominantly male environments.
Now that I’ve branched out and run my own business, I do my best to surround myself with as many successful business women as I can.
Business is still a very male oriented world, and as women we’re constantly looking for our advantages and disadvantages.
And that’s cool, because I’ve got some experience fighting against the big boys, and I don’t flinch nearly as much as I used to in business and life now because of it.
If you’re a woman you need to get used to competing with the boys.
Not because we need to have a gender war (how unproductive is that?!) but because it’s a good idea to get comfortable being the woman who goes for what she wants. The woman who doesn’t flinch, the woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or to participate.
Imagine how different my life would have been if I had told the Taekwondo competition organizers that I would rather opt-out of the sparring match because I didn’t want to fight against a boy.
I wouldn’t have proven my ability to stay in the ring, but I also would have taken myself out of several other opportunities down the road.
Are you taking yourself out of the running?
In which ways are you opting out or trying to play in a different league because you’re not comfortable fighting with the boys? I want to know, because it’s something I’ve noticed that a lot of us women do in our lives, online, and especially in business.
I’m not saying you need to start a software company that works with auto repair shops (though I know a woman who has), or that you need to abandon the jewelry or fashion-focused business you’ve started.
I just want you to be honest with yourself about what you’re choosing to pursue or avoiding, and why.
Leave a comment below and tell me about your experiences fighting with boys (back then or today). Let’s talk about this out in the open, because it’s not as scary as it sounds.