Roles in the HEMA community
Despite their fewer numbers and younger age, women are active in various ways in the community!
When asked about their roles in the HEMA community, besides being a student, 152 female fencers answered. 28% of them stated to be co-instructors/assistant coaches, 22% reported managing a club or school, 21% organize events, 17% give workshops, 13% coach, 11% publish online-content or books, and more. This showcases that women do not lack motivation, ambition or drive.* Once included in the HEMA world, many set out to take on extra work and challenges.
How can we make women and girls feel like they belong? What efforts need to be made by vendors to make gear that fits? How can we create safe environments in which gals and guys are hurt equally (and consensually)? We certainly can’t answer these complicated questions purely based on this questionnaire, but we hope we inspire all of you to keep them in mind.
Especially looking at the uncomfortable side of HEMA, a significant gap between genders can be observed in the survey data. Men seem to be less uncomfortable than women. This could be a reason why more men stick with it. The difference in answers to questions about being uncomfortable in training could be explained and discussed in various ways. We would like to address the idea that women and men might be coached and/or included in the group differently. It also opens up the possibility that trainers currently might be less aware of their female students‘ needs. Another explanation could be that men were inclined to be less open about their feelings in the questionnaire due to perceiving it as more socially desirable, even though this survey was conducted anonymously.
In any case, there is room for improvement in our training and also in giving this topic a closer look. In the mind of the authors, the first important part is a shift in attitude and awareness. Easier versions of an exercise are not “girl push-ups” and injured practitioners don’t need to “man up”. Language can create an environment of exclusion without coaches and instructors meaning to do so. Other more practical aspects of “space” include separate changing rooms and showers that women and girls have access to. Not providing literal space for them can be viewed as a figurative “not welcome” sign.
Role models and their importance have also been discussed at length in previous years. Clubs may want to consider that aspects such as posters and imagery used in training spaces are the visual carrier of an inclusive message. Awareness of gender biases is also important when assigning roles within the club. If women are coaches it is important that they are not only assigned to coach children or newbies to ensure that women performing at the highest level is normalized and do not limit them to a motherly role.
In the survey, participants deemed a clear code of conduct everybody needs to sign, additional training for coaches and trainers to deal with uncomfortable situations as well as punishment and consequences for offenders the most efficient options to prevent and/or handle uncomfortable situations.
To summarize, the survey already has brought to light some interesting links and insights which we would like to investigate further. The survey also showed us, that while women already play an important role in our community more work regarding safety, inclusiveness and reduction of other barriers should be done.
*Participants could choose more than one role in the HEMA community, so the percentages will not add up to 100.
Gerhild Grabitzer, MMA. is a longsword fencer, political scientist, board member of the ÖFHF, chair of the fairness and integrity committee and cat person. You can find her on Instagram @thatstabbybitch
Alina B. is a smart person who does, amongst other things, HEMA. She too likes cats and otherwise, her privacy.