One thing I love about writing my blog and the ensuing comments is “food for thought.” I love when people give me something to mull over, question, think deeply about, and to chew on. And I do. Sometimes I brew over a topic for months before sorting out my thoughts. Often these are in the forms of comments on my blogs, an I appreciate that.

The comment I’ve been mulling over is one that MC left in my post “Conditions in Which I Train.”

As for representing groups larger than ourselves, I believe you are mistaking the world as it is for the World As It Ought To Be. It’s not fair. But it’s true. We represent groups we belong to.

You see, my position has been – I am a Person, not The Woman Who Represents All Women Who Train. However, when MC wrote this, it stirred something in my head, and I think she was right, but also I was right. Then I read an article on Huffington Post called “Responsibility and Liberty” by Brynn Tannehill. Brynn is a trans-woman, and in this article she writes about responsibilities trans people have to their community vs their freedom to simply be themselves.

I’m one of a kind – just like everyone else!

It immediately made me think about the articles I’d been writing, and I think there are important parallels. I don’t think it’s exactly comparable – after all, one of the things Ms Tannehill mentions is that a trans-people are such a minority that they may very literally be the only trans-person the people around them have ever met. Women in jiu jitsu, while rare, are not THAT rare. However, in some cases, it may be that rare.

I think in the cases where women are extremely rare – when less than 5 total train or have trained at a gym, it fits. Or when someone is the first woman training at a gym, or the only woman training at a gym. I don’t think it fits at a gym where there is a huge female training population – more than 10? 15? women training. But – please bear with me and follow through the line of thinking – which is not perfect. I’m going to alter this quote to fit the jiu jitsu context, noting everything in brackets.

You’re the ambassador for all of us. If you blow it, this will be the impression that others carry forward until they have enough positive interactions with [women in BJJ] to overcome their negative first impression. Given our […] rarity, changing a negative opinion is unlikely. This adverse impression is also an experience that they will share with others.

Okay, that’s hard to deal with. On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, no. I absolutely dislike the idea that I am no longer a person but rather a Representation of All Women in Jiu Jitsu. Similarly, I had to deal with this when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. Yes, I was very well the first American some Ukrainians had ever met, but at the same time, I’m also human and should not be held to some bizarre level of standards that regular people are not held to. But on the other hand, if I’m a total douchebag, then will Ukrainians think that all Americans are Jerky McJerkersons? So there’s a push-pull, and I have no real answer other than to say – both are correct and both are incorrect. Both are valid. I do think that both are also potentially harmful assertions.

Did I mention that this gender stuff is a super tangled knot? Well, it is. More from Brynn’s article:

So how do we as a community handle this paradox between, on the one hand, trying not to pile onto other people and respecting personal freedom and, on the other, avoiding negative attention? Two bits of classic leadership advice seem appropriate.

The first is an adaptation of Ronald Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment”: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow [female training partner]. Tearing each other to ribbons in public forums doesn’t get us ahead.

The second is simple: Praise in public; criticize in private. This is not to say that you shouldn’t try to stop someone from making a huge mistake. And by “huge mistake” I mean “stuff that will get you arrested.” When mistakes are made, usually you do not need to tell the person what went wrong, because half the world seems to be pointing it out already. Only discuss behavior, not the person, with others and why it is damaging.

I’d never heard of Reagan’s 11th commandment, but I have to agree agree agree.

Women in jiu jitsu should not cut down other women in jiu jitsu. We should not be hyper critical toward one another. We should be supportive and not bitchy. I really liked Stephanie McClish’s take on this:

It is hard enough to be a woman on the mat without the few other women bullying you and making you feel unwelcome.

Women should praise in public, criticize in private. I would say that if there are behaviors that the women in your gym are engaging in that are actively harmful – such as sexually harassing teammates, or wearing overly sexual clothing – these SHOULD be addressed, but in a confidential way, not on a blog or public forum or gossiped about.

These are hard tenets to follow, I won’t lie. It’s fun and easy to be critical, especially when people post opinions I don’t agree with and don’t like. However, overall I do TRY to respond with thoughtfulness and not try to lay the smack down and try to keep the bitch talk to a minimum. I’m not always successful, but overall I do try to support women in BJJ, even if I don’t particularly like certain women.

What are your thoughts on this? Lay them out for me – please help me feel like I’m not just talking to myself. I’d like to know that I’m not the only person struggling with this individuality vs group responsibility. Thankfully I do act in a way that I believe overall leaves a positive impression to my teammates about women who train. I show up consistently, I care about jiu jitsu, I drill, I listen to the instructor, I try to help fellow teammates, and I interact positively with the other women at my gym. In short, I try to be a good teammate, and because of that, it makes it easier for other women at my gym.