This article considers the gendered significance of women’s participation in combat sports, with a specific focus on the performances of femininity by female combat athletes. Against lines of argument which posit that women’s enactment of femininity is the result of restrictive, coercive, and ultimately conservative cultural pressures, respondents in two separate studies suggested that a purposeful, selective enactment of femininity, when understood in combination with their fighting ability, signified an important challenge to orthodox understandings of gender. As such, our data suggests that manoeuvring within normative cultural parameters of gender may, ironically, help to stimulate change in its structure of meanings, given that the feminine performances of these fighters ultimately posed symbolic challenges to cultural constructions of (‘normal’) women as inevitably weaker and inferior athletes compared to men. We therefore advocate that scholars with an interest in exploring the subversion of gender remain mindful of the possibility that such subversive impulses might occur via the appropriation, and re-signification, of some of its more orthodox norms.
Channon, Alex and Phipps, Catherine. 2017. ‘Pink Gloves Still Give Black Eyes’, Martial Arts Studies 3, 24-37.
Alex Channon is Senior Lecturer in Physical Education and Sport Studies at the University of Brighton, UK. His research explores various aspects of the relationship between sport, gender and the body, with a particular focus on martial arts and combat sports. Alex is the co-editor of Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sports [Palgrave Macmillan, 2015], and the co-founder of the anti-violence initiative, Love Fighting Hate Violence [www.lfhv.org].
Catherine Phipps is a PhD student at the University of Greenwich, UK. Her research explores LGBTQ+ inclusion in university-based sport, with her wider research interests including gender and combat sports. Catherine currently competes in boxing and muay thai.