Recently, I joined a taekwondo class at the local YMCA. It wasn't quite as daunting as some may think. My taekwondo career began about seven years ago, and this school is associated with my school back home. It was familiar to me, almost like I was still taking classes back home. The most familiar thing is that I'm still one of the only females in the class. While I was never the only female in taekwondo class back home, no other girls or women stuck around in class during the seven years.
Taekwondo isn't the first male-dominated sport that I've participated in. Being an athlete has been part of my identity since the age of 6. My love for sports started when my dad introduced me to the Seattle Mariners. I played Little League baseball for five years and I was the only girl for four of those years. While I was never in the top of the batting lineup or played the coolest positions, I still had a successful baseball career.
Comparing these two sports has never been something that I've thought deeply about until I joined the new taekwondo class. It makes sense to do so since they've both played significant roles in my life.
Here are four things that I've experienced while participating in male-dominated sports.
1. I've been told to do "girl pushups" too many times.
I experienced this mostly while playing baseball. No one ever tried to stop me from playing baseball, but there were times where I was singled out and told to "adjust" the workout because they attributed my struggle to the fact that I'm a girl.
2. People have been surprised at my capabilities.
There have been multiple instances where I made a play or scored a point while sparing a guy. How I made the play or scored always seemed routine to me, but I've had people come up to me and were stunned at what they just saw me, a girl, do. In my more recent memory, I was sparing a guy for our belt test. I scored on him with a spinning hook kick, which was routine for me. He gasped in shock. After the test, the same guy came up to me and said, "That kick was amazing!" and shook my hand. It wasn't until my instructor pointed out to me that he probably hasn't spared very many women at a brown belt level that I realized that he was genuinely shocked.
3. Personal doubt is chronic.
I'm aware that I shouldn't compare myself to others, but the fact that I'm surrounded by mostly guys is really daunting. Using gender to fuel my doubt is such a cop out, but it's a reality I'm sure that other females experience, both in sports and in the real world. Even though I've proven to myself multiple times that I have the capability to compete against guys, the stereotypes still get to me after all this time.
4. Many people want to see me succeed.
I've been blessed with having supportive coaches and instructors. They've been sympathetic to the fact that it's hard to be different and that it's not easy having to represent other females in the sport. One of the reasons why I was able to play baseball for so long and continue to push towards getting my black belt in taekwondo is the fact that my coaches and instructors were always there to help improve my technique and make me stronger.
I'm glad that I experienced and continue to experience participating in male-dominated sports. It's taught me to be strong and to not give up if my opponent has certain advantages over me. I encourage other women and girls to participate in male-dominated sports. It's not easy but rewarding when you succeed.