Monthly Archives: June 2017

Fight Like a Girl: The Role of Women in Muay Thai Boxing

Anne Lieberman has always been interested in how gender and culture intersect—she studied African American Studies and Women’s Studies in college, and now works for a human rights organization on issues of gender and sexuality in Thailand. She’s also always been interested in martial arts, which she has studied since she was 7.

And in 2010, she got the opportunity to combine those interests, after being awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to research the role of women in Muay Thai boxing , Thailand’s national sport (and train in it, too!).

I first met Anne at a reception at the U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and was fascinated by her work. Her practice of Muay Thai and her research on how women practice it challenged so many traditional notions of gender in Thailand and around the world, and I had to learn more. I recently caught up with Anne to discuss what she’s learned from the sport and her research—and what you can learn, too.

How did you get started in Muay Thai fighting? What made you stick with it over the years?

I grew up doing martial arts. My mom tried to get me to do ballet starting from age 5, but she realized very quickly I only made it through class because I wanted the candy we were given at the end.

I started doing Tang So Doo —a Korean martial art similar to Tae Kwon Do and Karate—when I was 7 or so. I only started doing Muay Thai when I was awarded the Fulbright, but I continue to practice because I fell in love with it. It’s beautiful and expressive. The community is fantastic. And it’s so much fun.

Can you give us some Muay Thai basics? How is a winner determined, and what techniques are used? What makes this martial art unique?

Muay Thai is traditionally called “The Science of Eight Limbs” because you use eight limbs to strike—both hands, elbows, feet, and knees. Muay Thai is, of course, from Thailand, and there’s a lot of folklore linking Muay Thai to Thai autonomy (Thailand was the only nation in Southeast Asia never to be formally colonized by a foreign power the way Burma or Vietnam were, for example).

Since the 70s, Muay Thai has become increasingly global, and international participation in the sport has grown exponentially each year. One of my favorite moments was when I went to watch the World Muay Thai Championships in Thailand and saw teams from everywhere—Iran, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Belarus, Sweden, the United States, South Africa—the list goes on and on. I hadn’t realized just how global Muay Thai was until that moment.

The breakdown of scoring is too complicated to get into here, but my friend and fighter Syvlie Von-Duuglus-Ittu wrote a great piece on her blog about scoring Muay Thai fights, illuminating some of the differences between the way fights can be scored in the U.S. vs. Thailand.

What was it like to train as a farang [a Thai word for someone of European ancestry] woman? What was the biggest lesson you learned from your experience?

Training as a farang woman (and I’m glad you added that extra “farang” layer in this question because it is very different than training as a Thai woman or a Japanese woman or a woman of color period in Thailand) is drastically different depending on the gym and where you’re training in the country. To be taken seriously, I trained really hard every day and came ready to learn. When people saw how dedicated I was, they were more open to helping me—giving me extra rounds on the pads, walking me through different bag work exercises one-on-one. Also, because I speak some Thai, we were able to develop a different kind of relationship. I became more of like a little sister to them.

But there’s another layer to training as a woman in Thailand—one that is more controversial—and that’s about the sexual politics at play, especially between male trainers and female fighters. Few farang female fighters come and live in Thailand for extended periods of time. I had the opportunity to interview several of them, as I felt that their experience was integral to how female fighters are viewed in Thailand and how they constantly negotiate their place in a male-dominated sport.

Many of them expressed that they felt some kind of sexual pressure from their trainers. The intensity varied: One woman I interviewed was almost raped, another was verbally harassed and made uncomfortable by a trainer’s advances; several ended up dating their trainers. In some cases, if a woman wouldn’t sleep with her trainer, this affected the kind of training she received.

This is not unique to Thailand, though—these kinds of sexual dynamics take place everywhere. (The story of the woman raped by her Jiu-Jitsu instructors in Maryland is a prime example of this.) But what was unique to Thailand is that there seemed to be this perception that farang women were promiscuous partiers and that white women would (and wanted to) sleep with almost anyone. This is one of the many ways the fraught relationship between tourism and sex and sexuality in Thailand bubbles over into the Muay Thai world.

Emily-Anne Rigal: The 19-Year-Old Who’s Banishing Bullying

Emily-Anne Rigal was recently ranked as one of Newsweek ’s 150 Most Fearless Women in the World. She’s received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award from President Obama. And Lady Gaga has called the 19-year old her hero.

So, what is the college student doing that’s making such a splash?

Rigal is the founder of We Stop Hate, nonprofit dedicated to ending bullying by raising teens’ self-esteem. Through posts on YouTube and other social media channels, the site gives bullying victims from all corners of the world a chance to open up about their experiences in a judgment-free zone.

In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month , we spoke with Rigal about her efforts fighting back against bullying and starting an organization at age 16.

What was your motivation to found We Stop Hate?

When I was in elementary school, I was bullied so badly that I had to switch schools. At my new school, I developed a new group of friends who became an amazing source of encouragement. The happier and more supported I felt, the more I wanted to help others feel that same way. So I started posting videos on YouTube to stand up for other kids who were bullied to give all of us a voice and provide a source of support.

You started the organization when you were just in high school—which couldn’t have been easy! What were the greatest obstacles you faced?

The biggest challenge that I faced was not having a road map of what to do next and having to figure it all out along the way. The two things I knew when I started We Stop Hate was that I loved YouTube as a medium and that I had a real passion for spreading this message, since it was so personal to me.

I remember thinking, “Can I start this organization? I’m only 16!” Now, seeing what has happened and what the organization has grown into has been amazing.

Power PR Women to Follow on Twitter

In the PR world, it’s all about connections. And what better place to make those connections than the Twitterverse?

So, on this #FF, we’re bringing you the public relations gurus you should be hanging out with online. If you’re in PR (or you want to be), follow these women to learn, be inspired, and keep your ear to the ground of what’s happening in the PR world.

1. @westlevyPR

The founder of West Levy PR (and a PR maven with serious Klout), New Yorker Heather West knows the fashion and entertainment PR world as well as she does the non-profit sphere. Follow for a great curation of industry articles from around the web.

2. @prsarahevans

The PR and Social Media guru and founder of Twitter industry chats#journchat and #commentz , Sarah Evans is definitely among of the big names you should know.

Cool Client: Macy’s “Path to Peace”

3. @dbreakenridge

A must-follow if you’re still in school, Deidre Breakenridge is a professor who lets you ask all of your questions at #PRStudChat . She’s also the author of several great PR books, including PR 2.0 and Putting the Public Back in Public Relations .

4. @ValerieSimon

Valerie’s the other mind behind #PRStudChat, but you should also check her out at #HAPPO (Help a PR Pro Out), her movement to connect PR job seekers and employers. Follow for a great ongoing conversation of all things PR and social media.

Follow @valeriesimon

5. @brooke

Meet Brooke Hammerling, the founder of @BrewPR , a firm for “amazingly cool companies in the tech space.” Her tweets are a mix of personal and professional, but her amazing client roster shows that she’s definitely someone to know.

Cool clients: Manilla, One Kings Lane

6. @lizziegrubman

Yeah, she ran her car into a group of people in the Hamptons, but that’s old news. Lizzie has been and always will be a fixture on the NY PR scene.

Cool Clients: Britney Spears, Jay-Z

7. @prtini

The founder of @GebenComm , Heather Whaling works with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to startups to nonprofits. Join her for#pr20chat for convos about the intersection of PR and social media.

What We’ve Learned: A Q&A with Rent the Runway’s Founders

If the startup world had fairy tales, Jennifer (Jenny) Fleiss and Jennifer (Jenn) Hyman would be the main characters. Once upon a time, the Harvard Business School classmates—Fleiss from the finance world and Hyman from sales and marketing—met casually for lunch every week to brainstorm entrepreneurial ventures.

The idea that stuck came over Thanksgiving break, when Hyman’s sister, Becky, wanted something gorgeous to wear to an upcoming wedding, but didn’t want to drop an obscene amount of money on a dress she’d only wear once. From that moment on, Fleiss and Hyman had their concept: Rent the Runway, a “Netflix for dresses” that allowed women to rent designer gowns for a fraction of the retail price.

Now, just over three years later, Fleiss and Hyman oversee the rapidly growing, 125-person, multi-million dollar enterprise with a cultish following of customers who get their own Cinderella experience—a new, gorgeous dress for every special occasion.

We got to chat with the incredible duo to hear more about how they turned an “I have nothing to wear” dilemma into an opportunity that looks like it’s headed for happily ever after. Read on for the story of how they got started, and the advice they’d give to every aspiring entrepreneur .

Why was Rent the Runway the right idea—and what made you move forward with it?

JH: Actually, I never said, “oh this is a brilliant idea, this is going to be a billion dollar company, we have to do this.” My reaction was: I had an idea, I thought it was interesting, Jenny thought it was interesting, we thought it was fun, and we thought, let’s figure out if this is a great idea.

JF: When Jenn came to me with this idea, we decided to do it as a course credit. But we also decided to spend the rest of the year figuring out if this was something we could do full time, instead of getting a job. We gave ourselves a fixed deadline—by the time we graduated, we’d see if this would actually work. And if it didn’t, we had other jobs that we were going to accept.