Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sexist Bull...Shido

This flyer was posted on FaceBook by my friend, Kate. An international and national kata and weapons champion, she competes regularly on the NASKA (North American Sports Karate Association) circuit but almost always has to travel to other states to do it - which can be expensive and time-consuming (if she has to drive). So she was understandably excited that a local tournament (only about an hour away) was offering cash prizes for female kata black belt grand champions. I was kinda jazzed about the kumite prize money myself - until I read the flyer a little closer and saw that while the men's black belt grand champions stood to win $500, the women could only win $250. She said that as unfortunate as it was, it was also sort of the norm in tournament land because there are usually close to three times as many men competing as women.


Now, I understand the economics of promoting and running a successful tournament - cover your overhead (space rental, insurance and award costs) without going in the red - but I hafta admit that I was quite taken aback by the blatant award disparity - especially since the entry fee - a whopping $75 at the door - is the same for everyone.

I found the promoter's page and asked him why women GCs were only going to be awarded half as much as the men. He wrote:
"Please don't take it as disrespect but the Women Division is too small to generate the [same] cash award. Most promoters don't offer money for a Women's Grand Champion, not out of disrespect but generally, your second round is for the Grand because of the lack of women in the division. Small tournaments in quality locations are hard to generate prize money. I am doing my best to fix all the issues with New York tournaments [and] prize money is at the top of the list."

I admire his honesty and his efforts, but the excuse seems to be...well...just that. I've never competed in NASKA or KRANE-rated tournaments, but the local and regional ones I have competed in have never given anything but equal awards for men and women, be they 6' tall trophies, shinny cups, gold/silver/bronze medals, artful plaques or prize money (check out the Ocean State Grand Nationals tourney's award listing for instance). Truthfully, I'm not sure I could, in good conscience, compete in a tournament where women earned less than men in the same categories.

Usually how it works in local tournaments is this: black belt divisions are split by age group (18 to 29, 30 to 39, 40 to 49 and 50+). Martial artists in each division compete against each other then the winners go head-to-head for grand championship in kata, kumite and weapons. In all fairness, I've competed where there were 10 women in the 40-49-yr-old group for kata and weapons but only three for kumite, meaning there are only two fights to win before qualifying for the Grand Championship - but I've also had to fight four rounds before GCs - and in the championship fight, there are more rounds (two instead of one) that are longer. Imagine working your booty off to win the title only to be told your victory is worth half as much as the person in the next ring who did the same simply because he happens to be a guy. Exactly - so forgive me if I appear offended by that concept.

The promoter of next October's tourney said that if there are as many female competitors in the black belt divisions as in the male divisions, he will make the prizes equal, but whether that means the same number of competitors or having to fight the same number of rounds to make it to Grand Championships wasn't clear. And honestly, why should it take all that? If it's about the money, why even bother to award cash prizes at all? If the goal is to increase the number of female black belt competitors, why not send the "we really want you to come!" message by taking what is available for prize money, putting it into one pot and splitting it equally between the men and women (and children, for that matter)? Or how about halving the marketing budget by nixing the full-color glossy posters up there and using some of those ducats towards prize equity? It doesn't seem that hard to me at all, really. Am I missing something here?

And here's the kicker: other female competitors didn't really seem too phased by the idea of lower prize money for women. A few of them even said it's what they expect because it's ALWAYS been that way. One young woman even commented that since she considers the male black belt fights "more entertaining" to watch, she thought they should earn more (I had to re-read her comment a few times just to make sure I understood her correctly). And to them I say this: just because we have been conditioned to accept less, it doesn't mean we should - and if we do, we will always be awarded less. It's just that simple.

BTW, guess who's planning on putting together an all-female tournament next October? :-)


  1. Firstly, we shouldn't be competing for a reward - but primarily to measure ourselves. Secondly, if the reward is doled out based on a perception that men are better than women, then it is obviously sexist. If however, the women's competition had 40 competitors and the men's competition had 4, the chance of a female participant winning (1/40) would be significantly less than the chance of a male participant winning (1/4). In this case, is it unreasonable that the the decreased chance of winning and greater competition in the women's division be balanced by a larger compensation for victory then the men would receive?

    If it is unreasonable, please explain.

  2. I'm not debating the merits of sports vs traditional karate at all - but the reality is that some karateka compete and sre very good at it. Almost any organized competition nets an award, be it a medal (as it was in track and field - my first discipline and every sport in the Olympics); that's a given. The point I was making in the post is that it shouldn't be doled out based on sex or number of competitors (which I think most equate with the amount of cash raked in - but doesn't always, as the kids underbelt division is by far the largest [especially when the spectator fees that mom, dad and grandma pay to watch Suzy compete for that shiny medal are factored in] but the grand championship prizes are only awarded in BB divisions. It's either about the money ("we can't afford to give the same amount to the women because there MAY be fewer of them") or it's not (if you get 300 male BB competing in their division does the prize money go up? of course not). If it isn't about the ducats, it's impossible to say "we want to attract more females - although we're gonna pay them half as much" - because that's a sure way to make some of us stay as far away as possible. So, yes I think the scenario is unreasonable because women aren't being charged less to compete. Again - all I can compare it to is track and field: awards are given to the top three finishers in each event for both men and women. On the national circut, there is a season-long competition where competitors rack up points for their wins throughout the season. The winner gets a big fat check - about $100K (US) - but the men and women get the same amount. It doesn't matter if you were the only competitor in the women's pole vault at one of the meets or you had to go through four rounds to win the 200M dash - you were still the winner and net points and prize money accordingly. It is handled via sponsorships (Visa, mostly) and is NOT dependant on how many competitors show up for the meet, nor are other tourneys I've seen. Why is this one different?

  3. "just because we have been conditioned to accept less, it doesn't mean we should - and if we do, we will always be awarded less. It's just that simple."

    Thought it was worth repeating ;-)

  4. Easy. Women's prize levels are based on the averages of women in tournaments because that's the easy excuse that makes surface sense, and allows them to pay out less money. Also, it's nicely self-perpetuating. When prizes are smaller, fewer women can afford to do serious competing on the circuit (it not being free to drive to tournaments every weekend), some women will choose not to compete simply to protest the unfairness, and the human tendency to justify after the fact means that if women get less, many will solve the cognitive dissonance by saying the women must deserve less (women are less exciting to watch, anyone?) All of this tends to make the initial premise a self-fulfilling prophecy, and contribute to smaller numbers of women who compete.

    1. Yep - plus it's stupid as hell. Who thinks up this stuff then aims to justify it at all?!? Funny thing is that I may run into the promoter this weekend (we've never actually met) - and plan to give him an earfull about it. Nope - shy, I ain't.

  5. All. Female. Tournament!!!

    Yes! That is awesome :D

    1. If you can get here, we have a nice guest room :-)

  6. An all female tournament? Can I fight? Since we're all about gender equality then it's not right to exclude me simply because I'm a male, after all.

    Just kidding.

    While I am ignorant to the inner workings of hosting a tourney, beyond what my imagination could supply, I can see why the organizer came to his conclusions with regard to the cash prizes.

    But he's still wrong - the prize money should be split; and here is why.

    Men don't enter tournaments to win money. The money is a bonus, yes, but it isn't anything NEAR what would justify the grueling training involved to win it. For example, if I learned about the tourney 6 mo in advance (26 weeks) and I trained for a total of 6 hrs per day 4 days a week then that comes to, if I won the $500 prize, a wopping $0.80 per hour. In short, it is about the GLORY, NOT THE GOLD.

    Further, he is missing out on a tremendous opportunity! If his tourney broke w/ tradition of shorting women then he could, with the right marketing, become the nexus of female fighters in the tourney circuit. Which would fix the issues he says he is working hard to correct; namely low female turnout and thusly low female prize money.

    I dunno, I don't get my hackles up at gender inequality as much as I do about general stupidity or shortsightedness. But this tournament seems to smack of both in nearly equal quantities.


    1. I hear you, Brett, but I want him and all other promoters who have done/are doing this short-changing to want to even out the prize money just because it is the proper thing to do. That he and the rest of them cannot see that it is wrong on so many levels is crazy to me. How do you aim to "fix" one inequality (the relative low numbers of female black belts who spar throughout the age divisions) by creating another (half the prizes)? It makes no sense to me...

  7. I see what you are all saying. There is no relationship between the prize money on the flyer and how many people participate in the first place so claiming that the female purse is smaller because of assumed female participation is just a sexist excuse. I agree, that is silly, sexist and stupid.