“I will not take off my lipstick…”

As a woman who has found running to be mildly habit forming and since I just competed in my 2nd half marathon (see photo) my news feed is filled with runner info.  I found a bit of history that I’d not known before recently.

49 years ago Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.

1967!  That was 49 years ago…not a century ago but within my lifetime women were barred from running!

I am 49 years old and to see such HUGE changes in what female athletes are able to do now is astounding. Today, telling a woman you can’t run long distances because “your uterus would fall out” sounds crazy, and you might think that discrimination against female athletes is gone but it’s not.

To this day, I STILL have men who refuse to fight me because I am female.

In reading exerpts from her memoir “Marathon Woman” Kathrine talks about what happened that day during her race.

“As we jogged over to the start, Tom said, “God, you’re wearing lipstick!”  

“I always wear lipstick.  What’s wrong with that?”

“Somebody might see you are a girl and not let you run.  Take it off.”

“I will not take off my lipstick.”

I love that attitude!  I have fought in eyeliner, mascara, full belly dance make-up, even wearing a bindi from dancing the night before.  If someone EVER tried to tell me to take it off before a fight, they’d get the same reply “I will not take off my lipstick.”

When I started fighting with rattan in the SCA several years before I started steel fighting, I tried very hard to hide the fact that I was a female fighter and just blend in with the guys.  I thought that was what you had to do to get Knighted.  When you have 3000+ male Knights and less than 50 female Knights, it sort of lends to that (incorrect) thought process.

When I started steel fighting in 2013, I met female fans and hordes of little girls who wanted to be Knights, it was then that I realized this was entirely incorrect thinking on my part.  In the SCA you create a personae, you have a medieval name and its somewhat separate from the mundane you.  So in a way, you are a little bit shielded from bias.  In steel fighting, you are yourself in every way.  I use my real name, I fight with real weapons and everything about the fights is…real.

Including prejudice…

“Women can’t hit as hard as men”

“Women aren’t as violent as men”

“There are no real Female Knights in history”

“Armor doesn’t fit women correctly”

And my absolute favorite “I won’t hit a girl”

All of these statements are incorrect, yet I have heard each and every one of them, multiple times.  And while there are still some men out there who “won’t hit a girl”…this girl hits men, so if you don’t want to hit me, it’s going to be a very easy victory for me.

I am lucky, I have so many wonderful steel fighting brothers who support me, teach me, train me and mentor me without any qualms that I am a girl.  They treat me just like one of the guys, putting my face in the dirt time and time again, because that’s how you learn in this sport.  No amount of “walk through” training will prepare you for the real deal, except getting in there, learning from the best and fighting til you can’t lift your arms anymore.  Respect is earned in our sport, not given and until you’ve been hit with a pole axe and grappled to the ground by 3 or 4 men at a time, you don’t know what its really like.

I started fighting in this sport the very first year it was allowed for women.  I was the Captain of the very first Women’s Melee Team the United States of America ever had and we brought home the gold.  I have competed every year since then, sometimes as the only female fighter from the USA, but I still competed and still do today because I never want there to be a time in history we don’t have a female fighter representing us.  To me that feels like losing, and I don’t lose well.

This year there have been great strides made in both the Battle of the Nations and in IMCF World Championships.  There are more opportunities than ever for women to fight and I hope that in 2017 we grow beyond ‘experimental’ categories and special days for Female Fighters.  All we want is to be treated equally as fighters.

Another exerpt from Kathrine’s book struck a cord with me:

“My thinking rolled on: The reason there are no intercollegiate sports for women at big universities, no scholarships, prize money, or any races longer than 800 meters is because women don’t have the opportunities to prove they want those things.  If they could just take part, they’d feel the power and accomplishment and the situation would change.  After what happened today, I felt responsible to create those opportunities.  I felt elated, like I’d made a great discovery.  In fact, I had.”

Women can fight.  Women can hit hard.  Women are just as violent as men.  There are many Female Knights throughout history and my armor fits me just fine!  We just need opportunities to prove the world wrong.

Many of us learn, train and fight with our male counterparts in our given countries.  I have competed internationally as the only female on a male team and that team won the gold.  This year at a competition in Denmark the weekend after Battle of the Nations, women who choose to, will be allowed to fight in mixed teams for 5 vs. 5.  This is a huge change in Europe, where the segregation is most prominent.  Here in the USA, women can fight with the men in both leagues (AMCF & ACL) if they choose to, or you can choose to only fight women.  It’s up to the competitor, and that is how it should be in my opinion.

As I write this, I am 5 days away from boarding a plane to Prague, CZ to compete in Battle of the Nations as the USA Female Polearm Champion.  I will also compete as a mercenary fighter for Team Netherlands (fighters that do not have enough to make a full team from their country can compete as mercenaries to fill out other countries teams and in fact, several Canadian men are filling out the USA Men’s 21 team) as I am the only female competitor to take the field in USA colors in this World Championship.  Next year I have high hopes of taking a full Women’s team across the pond again.

The IMCF Championship is at the end of May and I am happy to see a full team of USA women competing.  I wish them luck and I am sad I was not able to make that trip due to work restrictions, but I am sure they are going to kick ass.

Women like Kathrine Switzer paved the way for us to fight, and I am hopeful for the future of female athletes in EVERY sport, especially fighting.  If you find what you love, and are able to do it, that is a gift.

If you get told you can’t do what you love because you are female, never take off your lipstick and remember my mantra,

ALWAYS FIGHT LIKE A GIRL…

because that is exactly what we were born to do!

 

The Bad Ass Valkyrie

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