How I’m Bringing A Voice To The Women Of Mixed Martial Arts

July 10, 2018

When I first got into MMA, I noticed a gap. 

There’s something about seeing a female with power, particularly in venues that have been traditionally male-dominated, that makes my heart sing.

I’m sure a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that I’m a woman. Growing up, I always took note when boys and girls were treated differently. I knew that because I was a girl, I wasn’t assumed to be tough, strong, or resilient like the boys. It wasn’t expected I would be good at sports. There was also a clear dividing line between what sports were considered to be “girly” or less challenging — gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, and volleyball — and what sports were not.

I never really took to sports and was always looking for the easy way out of things, physically speaking. I would take the elevator instead of the stairs; I would walk instead of run; I would stop doing sit-ups when the gym teacher wasn’t looking.

It wasn’t until somewhere around sixth grade that I started to care about being “in shape”, which was driven primarily by my observation of girls getting sexual attention from boys at school and noticing that this attention was missing for me, no matter how hard I tried to get it (and believe me, I tried waaaay too hard).

So, I started working out every day, trying to get healthy, going for runs. But honestly, I was barely eating. I put my body through hell in the quest for desirability.

Not only did I gain all of the weight back, but months of total restriction mixed with depression and sexual assault led me to start binge eating. It was a cycle I wouldn’t break for over six years.

Maybe two or so years into recovery, I randomly stumbled upon the autobiography of UFC fighter and Olympic judoka Ronda Rousey in a Barnes and Noble.

Once I read her story, I was hooked… not just on her, but on the entire prospect of fighting.

I started watching fights and listening to the commentary to learn the technique and jargon. What I would have deemed barbaric just months before, I found nothing short of awe-inspiring now. This shift in mindset started to bleed over into every facet of my life. I found myself thinking about, discussing, and training in martial arts any chance I could. I was obsessed with it, and saw my passion continue to blossom as I learned.

With that, I developed more physical body confidence than I ever had before in my life. I found my strength and my voice in the discipline of boxing. I saw myself growing and feeling good physically, which I never had before. This confidence became contagious; I wanted every woman to catch it.

One of the critical pieces that pulled me in was the respect that women had earned in MMA. Rousey is what I like to call the gatekeeper, since she ushered in an entirely new era for women in mixed martial arts, convincing UFC president Dana White to allow women to compete in the promotion, which is regarded as the highest level of fighting out there.

Not only are women competing on the same stage and under the same rules as men now, we’re being given the same (or at least very comparable) platforms in pay, airtime, and press coverage. Women headlining fight cards (even above men) is par for the course, which can’t be said for any other sport.

Plus, fighting is essentially the antithesis to how our culture perceives women: we’re not taught (or allowed) to be aggressive, assertive, or tough — which combat sports demand. Seeing women dominate on such a masculine stage is something I find to be quite ingratiating, as well as progressive. I felt empowered watching women who were everything our culture had told them not to be. I saw myself in them, and found hope and inspiration for my own struggles.

However, as I got balls deep (pun definitely intended) into the world of MMA and combat sports, I noticed a gap. A gap in how the women were being covered, represented… as well as who was doing the coverage.

Take one look at the most popular MMA media sites, and you’ll find a masthead full of men. Almost all of the voices in writing, editorial, podcasting, and commentary, are dudes. There are only a handful of women covering MMA who are getting any sort of attention or credibility, and there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency to change that. The content on these sites is also incredibly polarizing. It’s designed to appeal to a male demographic, leveraging things like the fighters’ physical attractiveness to appeal to this audience, and focusing on the perception of sexual tension in the sport, without actually having any intelligent conversations.

Plus, the female fans themselves were not getting much love or attention, with no way for us to connect to what we were watching, outside of stalking one another on Twitter. Why were all of the ‘hubs’ dominated by men? Why was it that, when I asserted an opinion on these platforms, I was called things like a “stupid whore” on more than one occasion?

I decided to stop searching for an MMA platform that was going against these norms, and create one myself.

That’s how Female Fight Fans was born. The site was designed with the specific goal of empowering women who are passionate about combat sports and martial arts.

I want to centralize women’s MMA and combat sports, as well as uplift everyone involved. Women are not taught to be physically assertive in this world; we’re still told we are less strong, less athletically inclined, and less interesting to watch on the field than our male counterparts.

It’s time for a female revolution in sports. I’m here to lead the charge through highlighting combat sports. If you support women and the idea of women celebrating their physical strength and confidence, even if you’re not (yet) a fight fan, I hope you’ll join me.

This story originally appeared on Ravishly, a feminist news+culture website.

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