Here’s How To Make Sure Your Academy Is Female-Friendly

Photo Source: Rissa White

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, and I’ll probably say it a hundred more times before the week is over: jiu-jitsu is a great sport for women. More and more of us are realizing the benefits of training BJJ every day, and as a result, many academies are seeing their female membership skyrocket.

This is awesome on so many levels, but there is one little problem: since jiu-jitsu is still a heavily male-dominated sport, lots of instructors aren’t prepared when their academy goes from having zero female members to having two, then ten, then twenty. And if they aren’t prepared, the consequences might be losing those female students and developing a reputation as a gym that is only a good option if you’re a man.

If you really want to ensure that your academy really makes jiu-jitsu a sport for everyone, here are some steps you can take to make sure your members feel safe, comfortable, and welcome no matter their gender:

Have separate changing areas for men and women.

Ideally, this would mean having two separate locker rooms, but since lots of academies are small and might not have the space for both, even having a separate bathroom is better than nothing. The idea is to make sure that there’s no reason a male student would walk in on a female student changing, or vice versa. Some students might not care about modesty, but others will, and they should be able to have a place to get dressed without worrying about being seen.

Be strict about sexual harassment policies.

It’s not enough to just say that sexual harassment won’t be tolerated; you have to enforce it. Jiu-jitsu involves a lot of physical contact, and the last thing anyone needs is to feel like the person who’s fifty pounds heavier than them and can choke them to death is looking at them like a piece of meat. If a student comes up to you and complains that a teammate is making sexual or threatening remarks towards or about them, you need to shut that down immediately, with expulsion from the gym if need be. Both men and women should feel safe at your gym, but being as women often take up jiu-jitsu as a way to empower or defend themselves after experiencing sexual assault, it’s especially important that they know that their training partners are trustworthy rather than predatory.

Have women-only classes.

Most jiu-jitsu classes are comprised mainly of men with maybe one to four women scattered throughout. In fact, most male jiu-jitsu practitioners likely get unofficial “men-only” classes on a regular basis. Women don’t have that same opportunity unless it’s deliberately created for them. Having a women-only class even just once a week creates a chance for women who might not yet be comfortable training with men to get used to jiu-jitsu and build up their confidence. For seasoned female athletes, it gives them the opportunity to roll non-stop with the same gender they’ll be competing against.

Value your female students rather than just accepting them.

From personal experience, this is often the greatest factor in determining a gym’s number of female students. Your female students should never just be a sidenote. I’ve seen academies consistently leave out female students’ names in post-tournament Facebook posts congratulating those who medaled — even though the women also medaled. I’ve seen purple and brown belt women with excellent leadership skills be passed up for opportunities within their academies in favor of male blue belts who have no idea what they’re doing. These things seem small, and it might seem petty to bring them up. But as they pile up, they begin to send a message: “We don’t care if you’re here or not.” When you’re already in the minority, it feels pretty lousy when it seems like everyone’s hard work but yours is valued. Yes, we should all be training for ourselves and not for pats on the back, but if your female students are being treated differently from your male students simply because they’re female, they will notice and they will leave.

If you happen to have a one-in-a-million academy that has significantly more female students than male students, these same steps should be taken to ensure that the men feel welcome. The point isn’t to give anyone special or preferential treatment; it’s to ensure that everyone feels valued and no one feels threatened at your gym. If your students don’t care about any of these things, that’s on them. But if they do care, it’s not going to make a difference whether or not you think creating this type of environment is worthwhile or not — they’re going to leave and spend their time and money at a gym that does make them feel like their gender isn’t a factor in their jiu-jitsu experience. Whether your academy is the one they run from or towards is based on the decisions you’ll make.



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