Last week the Fencing Coach wrote a great article on his blog about women in fencing: When the mask is on–Women in Fencing
After reading it I felt empowered and happy to be contributing to this sport as both a Veteran and a female fencer. As the Fencing Coach said: “For every sport or community that is quick to dismiss the participation of women, we need it in fencing, and it is critical to both our individual success and the success of the sport as a whole. The journey of fencing is for everyone, and what a joy it is to take it together.” I see my role at the club as a teacher and mentor, giving advice to fencers of both genders and helping them learn from my experience as a competitor. Both genders have strengths; fencing together benefits both sides.
Practicing with male fencers helps me develop stamina and strength; fencing me helps them learn how to outwit the tactical slyness of the older fencer and the danger of rushing an attack.
These thoughts make what happened to me during a Mixed event all the more interesting and presents a different side to having men and women compete in the same events. Some years ago, while competing at a tournament, I was “taught a lesson” by a male fencer. I had eliminated his protege from the competition and made the mistake of taking an 8 to 1 lead over him during our DE. After the break he attacked me like a crazy man, hitting me so hard his blade would bend out of place at strange angles. By the time he tied up the score 8 to 8 I had already asked the referee to ask him to stop hitting me so hard at least three times. The referee just shrugged his shoulders and said it was part of the game. I had to endure seven more hits before it was finally over. I had been beaten.
There are other times this has happened to me and there may unfortunately be others in my fencing future.
But these are not isolated incidents. They happen far too frequently all over the country. Female fencers are physically abused while other people watch and no one does anything about it. If we say anything, then we are scorned and told we are not good enough to play with the boys. We have to “take it like men” or be cast aside as weak and unworthy. Imagine if you had to encounter your attacker over and over again on strip when you know that he will resort to those same tactics if you dare do well against him. We receive the message loud and clear: Stay in your place and lose like a nice little girl or get the crap beaten out of you.
I understand that in our sport hard hits happen. I have myself accidentally hit too hard when I misjudged the distance or when my opponent did something unexpected. But this was excessive. It is damaging not only physically, but mentally. I didn’t want to fence the next Mixed event because I was too scared to join in when I knew it could happen again.
Should Mixed events be eliminated? No. Should we allow women to make complaints against men every time they get hit a little too hard? No. But we need a community who supports every fencer–male and female– and makes an effort to protect them from this kind of attack. You can tell when the hit is excessive, both from the sound and the reaction of the fencer who got hit. Step up and ask the referee to warn the attacker. Stop pretending there’s no problem. Stop expecting someone else to take care of it. Make sure every member of your club understands what an appropriate level of intensity is and to refrain from the impulse of using repeated brute force to intimidate their opponents, be they MALE or FEMALE.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Has this ever happened to you? If you don’t want to make a public comment on this page, you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you for reading this.