Teach Your Girls to Fight

Teach Your Girls to Fight

By Eugene S. Robinson

A female boxer works on a punching bag.
SourceAlfonse Pagano/Getty


Because the fairer sex’s fight edge is a much more significant kind of equality. 

By Eugene S. Robinson

“Mixed martial arts? You mean using oils or acrylics on Civil War re-creation paintings?” Mingling with other parents at after-school events led me quickly to the conclusion that while we’re on the same planet, we’re worlds apart. Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a hot, not-nearly-new-at-all, gladiatorial engagement that’s all about punching people in the face until they stop trying to punch you in the face. Artful, but nothing to do with painting. 

And all three of my daughters were doing it. Not just doing it, but training with former Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Cung Le, former TPF middleweight champion Leopoldo Serao and a host of other badasses that you wouldn’t typically find at many after-school events. I said as much.

“Oh.” The look the venture-capital-attorney mom shot me was priceless, and it said all kinds of things, most of them ending with “lunatic,” I imagined.

Of course, if I’d said that my daughters took ballet, not an eye would have blinked — despite the fact that ballet requires eight to 10 years to get good at, involves 10 to 15 classes a week and comes along with grim future prospects, even for those who make it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that working dancers can expect a median hourly wage of $14.16, an amount that’ll really hurt when you get mugged for it.

Which is what it comes down to: Is knowing how to defend yourself a fool’s errand, or a wise use of a civilized person’s time? In my case, with my daughters — even before they were daughters — there was an understanding. They could do anything they wanted with their lives, but one thing on the docket was nonnegotiable: They had to know how to defend themselves. And part of knowing how to defend yourself is knowing how to fight. 

It didn’t matter to me what martial art they took. Though I favored muay thai and Brazilian jiujitsu, they could take tai chi for all I cared. They just had to have something to draw on when faced with what I felt was an inevitability — a casus belli. When a call to arms came calling, they had to be able to respond with something other than pleas to our gentler natures, which are sometimes in short supply. In any case, it’s better to have weapons and not need them than to need them and not have them. I understand that this is a major worldview divide. I know because my mother told me so.

Grace Robinson, one of the author's daughters, snuffing her male competition.

Grace Robinson, one of the author’s daughters, snuffing her male competition.

Source Butch Garcia

“Only angry people fight,” she once told me. “Use your words.” This I soundly dismissed the first time I tried it, by calling someone a dumbass. It may have been the wrong word, but still. Years later, on NPR, Farai Chideya asked me, “You know, you yourself are a father, and you know, they might say it’s not good for kids to hear that someone likes to fight. It’s not good, period, for someone to want to fight. How do you respond to the idea that this is immoral or at least lacks common sense?”

My response ended with the kicker: “I don’t see that this is something that you can avoid.” Which is why I want my daughters, your daughters, your sons, even, to get beyond the fear of chaos and physical violence, and into the kind of control that learning about it gives you. For my girls, it was never about some movie-fueled, Charlie’s Angels-esque itch to be naughtily cute. It was a basis for laying down the law, philosophically and physically, and not being afraid to do so. To me, it seemed as irresponsible to not have my daughters know how to defend themselves as it would have been to not teach them how to read. 

“I was walking across the soccer field,” Ruby, my second daughter was deep into a story about her first day away from the rarefied air of private school at a new summer camp. She was 10. “Reading. And this bigger boy ran up to me to kick me.” He was 13.


“I caught the kick, swept his other leg out and dropped a ‘knee-on-belly.’” She smiled, lost in the technical accomplishment of getting this linked series of moves right, and she mimicked kneeling on his stomach as he squirmed under her weight, in full view of her now raised fist.

What happened then? “He left me alone.”


Sugar and spice and a dollop of wallop? We’re sold. Are you?