Muay Thai is a combat sport that has been traditionally dominated by men, but in recent years there has been a shift towards inclusivity and diversity within the sport. As a woman in Muay Thai, it is important to recognize the barriers and challenges that women face in taking up space in the gym and in the presence of the sport as a whole. In this article, we will discuss the importance of women taking up space in Muay Thai, the impact of patriarchy and societal/cultural expectations, and some concrete steps women can take to overcome these challenges. (If you’re not a woman but would like to learn more about becoming an ally to women, it’s highly encouraged you read this article as well.)
The Patriarchy & Societal/Cultural Expectations
The patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and women are systematically excluded from it. In Muay Thai, the patriarchy is still present and women often face challenges in taking up space in the gym and in the presence of the sport. This can be due to societal/cultural expectations that women should be feminine, delicate, and submissive, and that combat sports are not appropriate for women. These expectations are reinforced by the media, which often portrays women in sports as sexual objects rather than athletes.
In addition to societal/cultural expectations, there are also systematic barriers that women face in the sport. Women’s divisions are not always offered at competitions, and when they are, they may not receive the same recognition or compensation as men. Women may also face gender discrimination in the gym, with male trainers and sparring partners not taking them seriously or underestimating their abilities.
The Importance of Women Taking Up Space
Despite these challenges, it is crucial for women to take up space in Muay Thai. Women who participate in combat sports gain confidence, strength, and a sense of empowerment. They challenge societal/cultural expectations and break down gender stereotypes. By taking up space in the sport, women are also able to support and inspire other women who may be interested in participating but are hesitant due to societal/cultural expectations and systematic barriers.
In order to take up space in the sport, women must be consistent in their training and believe in their abilities. Consistency is key in any sport, but for women in Muay Thai, it is especially important in order to break down the stereotypes and expectations that they face. Women must also recognize their own power and not let anyone underestimate their abilities. This can be difficult in a patriarchal system, but it is essential in order to make progress and take up space in the sport.
Concrete Steps to Take
There are several concrete steps that women can take in order to take up space in Muay Thai:
- Find a supportive gym. Look for a gym that is inclusive and supportive of women. This can be a gym that has a women’s only class or a gym that has a culture of respect and support for all members.
- Surround yourself with positive role models. Seek out other women in the sport who are taking up space and breaking down gender stereotypes. Surrounding yourself with positive role models can help inspire and motivate you to do the same.
- Believe in yourself. It is important to recognize your own power and not let anyone underestimate your abilities. Believe in yourself and your capabilities, and don’t be afraid to take risks and challenge yourself.
- Advocate for yourself. If you are not receiving the recognition or opportunities you deserve in the sport, speak up and advocate for yourself. This can be difficult, but it is essential in order to break down the systematic barriers that women face. The more we advocate for ourselves and other women, the more likely others will be inspired to do the same.
- Challenge societal/cultural expectations. By participating in the sport and taking up space, women are challenging societal/cultural expectations and breaking down gender stereotypes. Use your voice and your platform to promote inclusivity and diversity in the sport
As an additional resource on this topic, I highly suggest listening to this Podcast episode of The Guilty Feminist (also available on Podcast applications):
If you want an in-depth guide to training in Thailand, I’ve got just the thing.