Women Attempt To Share Spotlight In Male-Dominated Sports

Illustration for article titled Women Attempt To Share Spotlight In Male-Dominated Sports

Saturday night, for the first time ever, two women were the main event at a major mixed martial arts bout. MMA is a full-contact, male-dominated sport:

A combination of wrestling/grappling; boxing; kickboxing/Muay Thai; and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Some may call it "cagefighting"; some may call it brutal, but MMA is a sport, with training, rules and referees. And for women, traditionally the "delicate" and "weaker" sex, to not only be represented — but headline — is a big deal.


Saturday's Washington Post had a story about more women and girls entering into amateur boxing; earlier this month, the Times covered an all-female wrestling team, the first ever in Iraq. If you thought of these sports as being fueled by testosterone, it may be time to rethink.

The MMA matchup Saturday night was between Gina Carano, an American, and the intimidating Cris "Cyborg" Santos of Brazil. In a lengthy New York Times profile a couple of weeks ago, Carano was described as being "a defining figure at a defining moment for her sport — cast as part suffragette, part test case, part marketing ploy and part crossover star." She's strong, she's gorgeous, and she could make MMA — which is already a huge business — even more mainstream.


Unfortunately, Carano lost the fight, and didn't even make it past the first round. But in a pre-taped interview, when asked why she wanted to take on Cyborg, Carano said, "Because she's the best."

Christy Halbert, a coach of the national women's boxing team, who campaigned to have her boxers accepted alongside men in the 2012 Olympic Games (which is happening!), told the Times: "Any exposure of women combatants is probably good exposure in general." And Ken Hershman, the general manager for sports programming at Showtime (which aired the bout) said that Carano would face "a lot of pressure, but that's the way it should be, right, if you're going to headline?"

These women are passionate. Cris Cyborg once famously choked out an interviewer just to prove she could; and when Gina Carano spoke to the Times, her motivation and dedication were evident:

"I want it to be easier for other females to be able to walk into a gym and train, because it changed my life," she said. "I live in Las Vegas, where it's difficult to meet a gentleman who doesn't think of you as a stripper or a piece of meat. I like the training and the lifestyle. I get to wake up and focus on myself and being better. It eliminates all the drama when you have to think about somebody punching you and taking your head off."


It's clear that it's not about winning or losing, but about reveling in her strength and doing her best.


First Women's Main Event [NY Times]
From ‘Gladiator' To Headliner, Carano Has Chokehold On Fame [NY Times]
A Ring of One's Own [WaPo]
Female Iraqis Take On Tradition In Wrestling Ring [NY Times]
Women's Boxing Included On 2012 Olympics List [CNN]

[Image via Showtime]

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Wow, this is awesome. I've never had anything against women in combat sports, but I have also never done it myself. But a couple years ago I became friends with a woman who does BJJ and krav maga (an Israeli marshal art), and have since learned a lot about the sport and the women who do it. It's great because my friend is incredibly strong, determined, and disciplined, but she's also super girly. We originally bonded over clothes. But just hanging out with her has reminded me of what it is to be an athlete, and reinvigorated my interest and practice of athletics I'd left behind in college. I've gone from an occasional gym-goer with the vague goal of "getting in shape" to a very active athlete who participates in a variety of sports, and works out with specific strength and endurance goals to improve my practice. My health has improved without having to work at it, because I've rediscovered the joy of sport.

It's true that female athletes are often sexualized or exploited for their bodies in magazine shoots and advertising. But if the end result is that more women participate in combat sports, or sports in general, and begin to see their own bodies as more than just decoration (or worse, something to fight or be ashamed of), all the better.