by Meg Floyd
This is a subject I haven’t spoken on before on this blog, partially because of its inflammatory nature, and partially because I thought it better to let sleeping dogs lie. However, a series of incidents over the last several years, as well as shifts of politics in the community, makes me feel I can wait no longer.
There has been a growing narrative in this community that the women who fence must be on constant alert for sexism and oppression from our male counterparts. That the HEMA community is somehow hostile to the inclusion of women, or doesn’t take them seriously or view them as legitimate athletes. There could be any number of reasons that this narrative came to be—but I feel I must set the record straight. How do I put this gently?
The idea that HEMA is full of sexists and men seeking to hold female fencers down is complete, pure, and utter bullshit.
Not only is it bullshit, it perpetuates a narrative of women fencers as victims, and this troubling idea that you must be a woman first, and a fencer second. And the people perpetuating this troubling narrative are in the community are, by and large, fellow women.
I’ve seen a mounting sense of anxiety and fear among my fellow instructors, the men, that they must be wary of doing anything that can be perceived as “sexist” or “chauvinist.” Do they have a women’s class or not? Do they have a women’s tournament at their event or not? There’s a palpable fear of blowback from the online community, from certain people who seem to love nothing more than creating an uproar while appealing to their apparent superior moral authority.
I’ve seen this narrative drive a wedge between women and men in the community, and frankly, I don’t like it.
The most notorious incidence of “sexism” in the community is the somewhat infamous Wiktenauer ad, featuring a certain redhead who had the misfortune of showing cleavage. I’d like to set the record straight and say that I made that ad. A woman. At no direction from a man. Holding it up as a troubling sign of “sexism is the community” is not only intellectually dishonest, it’s basically calling one of your fellow women sexist toward you. And bluntly, I’m not even sure how that’s possible. If you have a problem with it, blame me. Not the men in the community.
I’ve been studying HEMA since 2007, attending events since 2009, and competing since 2011. I feel comfortable saying I’ve been around the online community long enough to have witnessed its general development, particularly since 2012. Before the beginning of a certain group, your gender did not matter. Literally no one cared that I was female. It was a non-issue. Competitions were opens, and I liked that.
However, there was a growing concern in the community. There were so few women. How to get more to participate? In late 2012 or early 2013, I was approached by a male instructor I’m friends with to speak with another woman about the starting of an all-women’s group, which I have since left. Why do I mention this? Because the group that’s widely been lauded as improving women’s participation and involvement in the HEMA community was facilitated, at least in part, by a man introducing women to each other. There were men pushing for the creation of this group from the start.
The community seems to forget that, so I’d like to remind you.
Who were the tournament organizers that started providing women’s tournaments so women could compete against each other? A significant proportion of them (my suspicion is the majority) were also men.
Who are the coaches, the instructors, and the fellow students that most female fencers learn from and fight with when they’re first coming up in their clubs as new students? Men.
All I have seen since the beginning is the men in HEMA bending over backwards to make women feel included, supported, and welcome in this community. This is why the persistence of a narrative of men as oppressive sexists and women as victims inside the community really bugs me. It demonizes men and strips women of their own agency. I’ve seen it create this division between the men and women in this community, a division I think on the whole is destructive. When I look at men in HEMA, I see my teachers, my peers, my heroes, and my students. I do not see people with a subtle or not-so-subtle agenda out to get me or hold me down or back because of my gender.
The pressing need to get women involved in the community is always near the top of issues simmering in the community, but you know what? Ladies, if we want to participate in HEMA, we need to show up and fence. I, for one, want to give some credit where it’s due to the men in the community who have been silently, and vocally, supporting us all along. Thank you.
Editor in Chief