I came across an interesting article on jiujitsutimes yesterday, entitled “A Woman’s Place: Part 1 of 2.” It was written by a male BJJ practitioner who had interviewed several BJJ women for his article, and it focused on sexual harassment that some women have faced.

Overall I felt the author did a good job representing a point of view that is different to what he has faced himself. It can be really tricky when writing about the opposite gender’s point of view. For example, when I wrote some generic generalities about what is true for most guys who train, I did get a number of negative comments basically saying “HOW DARE YOU GENERALIZE MY TRAINING EXPERIENCE – YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, YOU @$#!%” I deleted those and ended up closing comments on that article because it seemed to attract so. much. vitriol.

In any case, I felt this article was even handed, and overall it felt like the author, Jared Loper, approached this with an open mind and open heart, and was surprised by his results, which were far from surprising to me – unfortunately, it was what I completely expected.

So just how common is sexual harassment among women in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community? Disturbingly common. Of all of the women who shared their stories, only a few didn’t have a story of being sexually harassed by a teammate or coach. It doesn’t mean all men harass women, but it does mean that it’s a big enough issue that all women have to worry about it.

Understand this: in no way is any of this the fault of these women. They are not responsible for males touching them, making lewd comments, or otherwise assaulting them. The fault lies solely with the men who perpetrate these actions.

In the article, the author went on to describe some of the sexual harassment and even sexual assaults that women had told him about, and he suggested that part of the answer lies in teaching men to be respectful of female BJJ practitioners, and for coaches to create positive, safe, gym culture so that women are welcomed and safe. A sort of anti-bro culture.

There was nothing within the article that I disagreed with, though there was one part that made me spitting mad:

Even another woman stated to me that one teammate started to send sexual texts to her. He threatened her with rape if she wouldn’t consent to intercourse with him. She reported it to her head coach and showed him the text messages. The head coach didn’t want to kick the male out of the academy, because he had been friends with the man for years.

This made me SO MAD. This coach has now SUPPORTED this asshole. This asshole KNOWS that he is safe. This coach has made this guy into a missing stair. He is creating a safe space for sexual harassers and rapists to train, and I would honestly say that no women should train there. That’s right. I will say it. NO WOMEN SHOULD TRAIN IN A PLACE WHERE A COACH PROTECTS SOMEONE WHO IS SEXUALLY HARASSING YOU AND THREATENING TO SEXUALLY ASSAULT YOU. Period.

Okay. On to the comments. Unfortunately, while the article was good, it brought out some comments that made me walk away. I hit “comment” then had to step away for fear of too much anger.

I don’t generally like to write when I feel angry. Very often the topics I feel most passionately angry about, I write in a COMPLETELY neutral tone, and instead let you guys say what I’m feeling. I’m really curious about what your thoughts are on what “Joe” responded with. His comment was quite long. I’m going to post it here, in case it gets deleted over there.

Why do so many sexual advances occur towards women in BJJ? Is it simple because men completely lack respect and objectify them at every opportunity? Sure that is definitely part of it. However, I’ve been in the art for well over a decade and have NEVER seen an unmarried heterosexual woman, who achieved at least a blue belt, NOT date a man from their gym. If a girl trains beyond her initial six months she is almost certain to select a mate from her training partners. I’ve seen half a dozen men meet their future wives at BJJ class.

When this sort of thing happens men take notice. They learn that women at BJJ are in the market for men at BJJ. The way our world works is men pursue and women choose. When every girl that walks in the door starts dating a man at the gym guys begin to think the women are going to the gym chiefly to find a man. If a guy doesn’t make any advances towards a woman he will not be chosen by her. The line between “unwelcome sexual advances” and “true romance” is often whether or not the girl finds the man attractive and NOT the fact that he is pursuing her at BJJ. Women who do BJJ enjoy being pursued by guys who do BJJ that fact is nearly indisputable. Many women openly flirt with men in class, generally only the purple belts and above. Over the last 14 years I’ve hooked up with a small handful of women who trained and each of them confessed that they were after me from day one. I didn’t harass them or follow them home, but I certainly noticed them smiling or flirting with me.

Many men don’t know how to respectfully interact with a woman they find attractive. Additionally, many men do not know how to handle rejection or even respect the fact that women are entitled to reject them. Some of these men do BJJ. However, acting like the problem exists solely because of men oversimplifies the issue. If women at the gym NEVER dated or hooked up with men from the gym they would face far fewer advances and be taken far more seriously. No this wouldn’t solve the problem entirely since many men are dogs that will bark up any and all trees. However, as long as women in BJJ continue to mix training and romance men will continue to aggressively pursue them.

Additionally, the men who refuse to train or partner with women are often simply trying to send the message that they are in no way shape or form going to pursue them romantically. They realize that women at the gym will eventually date someone and they are voluntarily removing themselves from the list of eligible bachelors. Or the woman is already dating someone from they gym and they are attempting to avoid creating drama. These men are simply at BJJ to do BJJ and ironically they are the ones women complain about the most. Sure they don’t want to train with you and that is frustrating, but ask yourself why. Yes, there are those who don’t like training with someone much smaller than them (a difficulty most women will never understand since they are typically the smallest) and yes there are those who are ashamed or afraid to tap to a woman. However, there is a sizable minority that is simply trying to avoid the BJJ dating game altogether, a game created by and for women in BJJ.

I don’t think women train ONLY to hook up with a guy. I don’t even think all the women who do hook up with a guy at BJJ were even looking to do so when they started. However, the fact remains that they can, and more often than not will, eventually be convinced to do so. The guy who flirts, shows his personality and lets them know he is interested is the one who eventually gets selected. In life you take the good with the bad and if women want to continue dating athletic attractive guys at BJJ then they will have to deal with the losers and crazies who will throw themselves at them as well.

I don’t blame the women. If I did yoga or some other activity where I was surrounded by tons of young in shape women fighting for my attention I’d probably hook up with one of them too, but then I couldn’t complain too loudly about the crazy cougars headed my way.

Let me see if I can sum up correctly:

  • Sexual advances occur toward BJJ women because women date men in BJJ.
  • Men believe that all/most women who train BJJ are in class to find a partner.
  • BJJ men must make advances toward BJJ women they are interested in.
  • The difference between “unwelcome sexual advance” and “true romance” is generally whether the woman finds the man attractive.
  • If women stopped dating BJJ men, they would be taken more seriously and be hit on less (note: it would not stop, it would simply happen less frequently).
  • Men who won’t partner with women do so because they want to train, not date.
  • Men who won’t partner with women do so because the woman has a boyfriend, and he doesn’t want to create drama.
  • The “BJJ dating game” was created by and for women.
  • If women want to date BJJ dudes, they must deal with “losers and crazies” throwing themselves at the women.
  • Women shouldn’t complain about those dudes if they like the attention.

I’d like to reiterate that this was an article about sexual harassment. It wasn’t an article about dudes simply flirting with gals. It’s about SEXUAL HARASSMENT. This commenter really is pointing the finger at women. Putting the onus on the women for the men’s behavior.

I’ve had to walk away from the computer three separate times.

I’ve been doing BJJ for over four years. I’ve never dated a teammate. Would I have? Sure, depending on the teammate. Was I only there to get a dude? Nope. Am I asking folks to be my partner because I want them to be my “partner”? Nope. Is there a difference between unwelcome flirting and sexual harassment? Absolutely.

There’s this myth that men can’t understand a soft no from women. Note that the article I’ve just linked is analyzing a paper written about this topic.

Drawing on the conversation analytic literature, and on our own data, we claim that both men and women have a sophisticated ability to convey and to comprehend refusals, including refusals which do not include the word ‘no’, and we suggest that male claims not to have ‘understood’ refusals which conform to culturally normative patterns can only be heard as self-interested justifications for coercive behaviour.

Imagine this scenario: a guy says “Hey, I’d like to take you out to dinner.” The gal says “This isn’t really a good time.” The guy presses on – not “understanding” a no. Now imagine that guy telling his male boss “Hey, I’d like to talk to you about a raise.” The boss says “This isn’t really a good time.” The guy lets it drop – understanding that it’s a no.

This is not meant to say that all men do this, that you specifically do this, or that this is a great example. My purpose was to illustrate that, when given nearly the exact same response from someone in power or from a male, a dude will understand a soft no, versus constantly disregarding it. I really hope that this part does not become the main focus – it’s just some thoughts that are bubbling to the surface, and are imprecise. I’m saying that men are smarter than what society claims them to be, and that they DO understand when they are being rejected or being told no, even if the words “STOP” are not actually verbalized.

In class, if a guy flirted with me and it was unwelcome, I would show it. I would frown at him, or make a strange face, or say something like “Wow that was inappropriate” or “Not cool, dude.” One time, no problem – you’re testing out the waters. If it keeps happening, it is now unwanted sexual advances. If it keeps happening, it is sexual harassment. To clarify: if I don’t want a guy flirting with me, and he keeps doing it, it is harassment. I’m not going to speak out on the initial flirtation – yes, some women may define this as sexual harassment, some won’t, but I think that nearly all women will agree that continued unwanted flirtations are sexual harassment.

Touching someone inappropriately in class is never okay. Got that? Even if that “BJJ dating game” thing is real (which I do not believe it is), it is not okay to touch someone sexually on the mats.

BJJ is a place for folks to learn and train. It should not be a singles bar. No one that I’ve seen advocates for it to be a singles bar.

Rener Gracie and his wife address this very issue in this video:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-YfMMFapno]

At about the 9 minute mark, they start talking about why folks don’t want to ask people to roll, and it comes down to fear of rejection, similar to not being picked for dodge ball. He says, however, that often men will fear that if they ask a woman to train, it will be interpreted as him hitting on her. He says that if that is true, it makes total sense why men don’t ask women to train. They then go on to say that when a woman has signed up for a co-ed class, she’s there to train, and it doesn’t cross her mind that a dude asking her to train is hitting on her because the women are there to train. Women are hoping to have someone ask us to train – because that’s why we’re there.

[Rener to Eve] You don’t see anything sexual about it, you don’t see anything like “Oh he’s trying to hit on me” zero connotation there, yet the number one, probably for men that prevents them from reaching out and just treating women and inviting them for normal training, like they would any other man, is an assumption, a connotation, an idea, an interpretation that is totally nonexistant in the minds of the women who put on a gi, or who step on the mats to train.

…  so if that’s a fear, don’t let it hold you guys back.