The following text is authored in english because it was inspired by things that transpired around the Austrian Championship 2018, which is an international tournament.
by Gerhild Grabitzer
Besides the many technical discussions, ongoing debates on interpretations of scripture, heated arguments about gear, one subject stands out when it comes to matters that matter: female HEMAist. And here’s why:
First of all, it sucks that female fencers are the „special category“ that „HEMAist“ implies a penis – but I guess that’s how it is if you are a minority. However, the numbers are not what I would like to change right now, they are not what this piece is about. What I would like to change, is that female fencers are treated not only differently, but with less respect, that they are given lesser chances and have to fight twice as fiercely to be recognized as anything more than a chick who wants to play with the big boys. If you are still with me after this quite emotional start: thanks a bunch. This piece is for you.
Sexism, feminism and #metoo are buzzwords that usually trigger one of two reactions: a
small cringe or absolute readiness to debate to the death. Everyone has very much an opinion and usually feelings as well about this topic. That is of course, because it immediately affects our lives, so it should not be surprising that it also affects our lives
This week the fencing Club and the organizers of the 2018 Austrian Championship „Indes
Graz“ announced that instead of the mixed longsword tournament which for months
people signed up for, they’d hold an all-male tournament. Female fencers who either had
signed up for it or were on the waiting list were understandably bummed out. They are
however given the opportunity to compete in the women’s tournament. Apart from the
organizational failure, which can happen- this should not be acceptable. Ironically, the HEMA scene is pretty young and not terribly large. However it is fantastically
diverse. We are guys over 50, people just turned 18, we are tall, we are short, we are
strong, we are fast, we know all the Lichtenauer or bring tons of martial arts experience to the field, we’ve fought many battles and we just picked up a Messer. And we are guys and gals. So why is it that just these last traits are used to segregate us in tournaments? No one wants to hear that but the answer is: Sexist, societal habits. All the other sports do it. People have been doing it for centuries. Therefore some organizers just go with it. Again, the HEMA scene is pretty young and not terribly large. We are all building it right now from scratch – so why not do it right from the start instead of repeating discriminatory mistakes from the past?
Usually the official reason for decisions like this one is to „protect“ women or to „not make it so hard for them“. If you think about it, those reasons that have nothing to do with gender. Make a beginners tournament instead! Support and properly train your female warriors like you would any man who don’t end up afraid of fighting. As a female
participant, it is frustrating, to once more have some men decide our fates, when the
proper solutions would be so simple.
Due to many complicated socio-psychological reasons, there are way, way less girls into
HEMA than men. Additionally of those a only very small portion participates in
tournaments. So why pen us together and take from us the opportunity to fence the best in the biz, our friends from other clubs and long time arch enemies? Excluding a minority with no rational reason to do so is usually frowned upon. So we should not let it slide here. Apart from being literally excluded from fighting with the majority of athletes, we do have to deal with small stings as well. Jokingly, some men say „Well I don’t wanna lose to a girl, haha“. What makes it so shameful, to lose to a woman? Why is a girl not worthy of being your opponent? Why does it add insult to injury if she’s better than a guy? Why would you not lose to her, not because she trained more or longer, but because her 800N stab-prove pants cover a vagina. The same goes for„you fight really well for a girl“. Why for a girl? Why can’t she just fight well? Why does her gender lessen her possible abilities and make it surprising that she just hit you? And why then do men then shame each other for „getting beat up by a girl.“?
Another classic is something along the lines of „I don’t wanna hurt you, I’ll be careful“. This is not her first time at the rodeo, you are not a knight deflowering a maiden fair. She is there by her own free will. She is an adult Do not deny women basic maturity. As much as we love the martial arts, the middle ages have to be over in the society that practices
As stated above, at this point in time female HEMAists are still a minority and as much as
the author of this piece likes to face anyone one on one in the ring, girl-HEAMists need
back-up from their male colleagues. Clubs in other countries, like „Terca“ in Serbia are
taking active measure to support and empower their valkyries. Why is Austria’s HEMA
scene falling in line with other backward developments in the country? In most armed
forces around the world, women are serving alongside their male comrades in battle,
enduring much more than 3 times 3 minutes of light sparring. However somehow, in sports it’s a crazy idea. With longsword fencing, it’s not only being faster a split second that wins a match, many things factor in, which go way beyond ye old „physical differences“. Taktics, technique, knowing what works for you against whom, experience, fühlen, timing – and this makes our great sport an art.
Yes, at this point in time most of the famous longsword fencers, trainers and instructors are male. But many more not so great ones are male as well. Why not give us women the
same chances to be great, mediocre and terrible at fencing? Yes, statistically speaking, there is a probability that a woman will be weaker than a man. But as it is always with statistics, this does not tell you anything about the individual before you, underneath that mask. This particular woman might as well be stronger than the guy
she is facing – or not. Hence I’m begging you, my dear fellow man: Fight me.
#fencesexism #shema #fightme
Since I wrote this article, „Indes Graz“ issued a statement concerning their decision (https://m.facebook.com/events/1899554890359265?view=permalink&id=1925083824473038&__mref=mb). Of course they are trying to organize a functional tournament for everyone. The official reason given for the gender segregation is that they simply copied how the event was held last year (although there the categories were „open“ and „women’s“). I think their original modus-decision was made with best intentions however ignorant of the consequences, I believe them when they say the are trying to raise „the maximum number of participants for the Longsword category to 32 fencers of both genders, thus making it an open Longsword competition“. This would be amazing. However at this point in time, I as a woman still don’t know what I’ll be doing at a particular weekend in may.
Some more thoughts by Johanna Hopfgartner
It is somewhat hard for me to express my thoughts and emotions without feeling wrong. After all, this is my own club I am criticising. Those are my friends, whose decision I am questioning. It should be said, that whatever lies written here is my personal opinion and my opinion alone.
Currently, I am one of the few HEMA noobs in our club, a HEMA newbie. Roughly one year ago, a sword was laid into my hands, since then I’ve been training, sweating, laughing and having fun. I’ve started participating in tournaments six months ago and I have fought and laughed and had fun in six ones so far. I should also add that I am a woman.
Reading through the ongoing discussion online, I find many explanations trying to justify the organizers decision. Most of them worry me enormously. Such as the point, that it would just be unfair to make women fight men. There seems to be an assumption that women are less capable fencers than men are. Considering my personal experiences, I can second that: Whenever I compare my own performance in tournaments with those of men, I get a rather disillusioning result. Is it because I am a woman? Possibly. Is it because I am an inexperienced fencer who’s only been fencing for a year? More likely!
HEMA is full of differences, full of diversity. There are big fencers, and smaller ones. There are heavy fencers, and lighter ones. There are quick fencers, there are muscular fencers. There are lean fencers and massive ones. There are lurking fencers, and dancing-through-the-ring ones. Where does the assumption come from, that the small are between one’s thighs is the one and only factor deciding one’s capability to fence? Men are capable fencers? Women are capable fencers? Capable fencers are capable fencers!
Exclusion based on the fencers’ sex is a step backwards. A step back from tolerance and inclusion. A step toward a mind-set, I did not expect to find within our community. I am fully aware that it is far too late to fight the organisers’ decision in this year’s Austrian Championships. And I know and understand and respect, that the organizers had nothing but the best intent in mind to make their tournament fun for as many people as possible. What’s done is done. No use crying over spilled milk. We will roll with it and we will accept it. This year. But this must be the last tournament where such a decision is accepted. This cannot and must not be established. Not here, not in our community.
HEMA is love.