“Punch her in the titties!”
“Pull her top off and kiss her!”
These are actual statements heard during my friend’s debut MMA bout. Sadly it’s not an isolated incident. It takes endless amounts of physical and mental prep in order to step in the cage, but many female fighters face stigma when competing. Training for a fight involves a minimum of training twice a day six days a week, healthy meal prepping, and no alcohol consumption or smoking.
Many fighters do this while working and dealing with family obligations. When I’m in camp I’m balancing camp with working full-time as well as attending school full-time. It requires dedication and isn’t for the faint of heart, which is why the above statements are not only disrespectful, but infuriating.
I’ve been training and competing for over ten years. The adrenaline rush of being in the ring is a unique experience that not many ever encounter. I began training in Muay Thai in high school with my younger brother. We fought terribly as kids and my dad decided to put us into martial arts so we could channel that in a more positive manner.
Aside from my brother and me now being best friends, training has enriched my life in many other aspects. It has helped me not only physically, but mentally as well. It provides an amazing outlet for stress as well as gives me the courage to pursue other dreams. After being locked in a cage where someone is trying to beat you in front of a couple hundred people, it becomes tough to feel nervous.
I truly believe everyone could benefit from martial arts, but if we keep treating women like they're just a sexy side to the "real" show, we are doing them a great disservice. Here are some of the most common phrases female fighters hear and why they’re bogus.
1) “But you’re too cute/pretty/beautiful to be a fighter.”
This common statement made to female fighters is intended as a compliment, but frankly it’s obnoxious. You don’t see people telling Roger Huerta or GSP or any other of the gorgeous men in the MMA world that they are too pretty to fight. Insinuating that we’d be better off holding round cards strutting around the cage in a bikini rather than competing in it is a slap in the face to all the hard work we do.
As to your concern about me ruining my pretty face, well that’s why I practice learning how to block and counter.
2) “So you like to fight? You must be really flexible and into rough sex.”
Now if you’re into rough sex and have a consenting partner, enjoy yourselves -- no judgement. However, this was said to me by a very drunk male acquaintance. Inappropriate doesn’t even begin to cover it. There are many reasons woman compete in martial arts, however last time I checked it wasn’t due to their very private sexual preferences. Any chance you had of seeing how flexible I am ended the minute that came out of your mouth buddy.
3) “Oh my God, doesn’t it hurt when you get hit?”
No. When we women get hit unlike our male counterparts in this sport it does not hurt. It feels like we are being hit by pillows, limb manipulation feels like a pleasant stretch, we never bleed, we never bruise and keep in mind we always look pretty while doing it.
Of course it hurts.
Soreness is the norm if you train often. It’s about learning to push past the pain and to become a better athlete. It takes heart to continue to train when you’re hurting, but that is what champions are made of.
4) “I can’t stand watching women fight.”
Society wants women to be pretty, docile little homemakers; fighting flies in the face of that and it makes many people uncomfortable. Women are supposed to be motherly, nurturing. It’s hard to feel that way when you’re seeing two people punch each other in the face. I can respect the fact that my hobby makes you uncomfortable.
It is important to remember though both fighters are consenting adults; you don’t need to watch it if you don’t like it. I’m not a child though, so don’t tell me I can’t compete just because it gives you the heebie jeebies. For what it’s worth, being a female fighter and being an excellent mother are not mutually exclusive ideas. We have several such badass mommas in the gym I attend.
5) “You must be a super angry violent person that gets into bar fights all the time.”
Listen. Just because I hit people in a ring doesn’t mean I hit them outside of it. I have self-control, which I learned through my many years of Muay Thai training. People get on my nerves because I’m human, but unless my life is in immediate danger, I’m not getting in a fight. I don’t feel like having assault linked to my name and prison orange is not a good color on me.
Martial artists are usually chill people. There’s no need to get in fights outside the dojo when we can train and be challenged by teammates within the gym.
You may wonder why some female fighters don’t say anything when confronted by such misogyny. There are many reasons. The desire to fit in, not appear weak, not appear overly sensitive, the frustration of being talked over or downright laughed at are all reasons why women don’t always speak up. These comments are usually made in good “fun”, but they’re actually very harmful. It’s important to watch how we speak.
The emotional wounds from hearing these kinds of comments constantly take a lot longer to heal than any bruise. We have some little girls training at our gym. I want them to be able to focus on becoming ass kicking strong women, not vapid little sex pots in gis.