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Abstract and Figures

Recent growth in the media visibility of female combat sport athletes has offered a compelling site for research on gender and sport media, as women in deeply masculinized sports have been increasingly placed in the public spotlight. Although scholars in the Anglophone West have offered analyses of the media framing of this phenomenon, little work has been done outside these cultural contexts. Thus, in this article, we offer a qualitative exploration of how Joanna Jędrzejczyk, a Polish champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has been represented in Polish media. Our findings reveal a relatively de-gendered, widely celebratory account, primarily framed by nationalistic discourse—findings we ascribe to both the particularities of the sport of mixed martial arts as well as the historic nature of Jędrzejczyk’s success.
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Gender, Media and Mixed Martial Arts in Poland: The Case of
Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Honorata Jakubowska
Institute of Sociology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland
Alex Channon
School of Sport and Service Management, University of Brighton, Eastbourne, UK
Christopher R. Matthews
School of Sport and Service Management, University of Brighton, Eastbourne, UK
Corresponding Author:
Dr. Alex Channon, School of Sport and Service Management, University of Brighton,
Eastbourne, UK
Tel: (+44)1273 643746
Gender, Media and Mixed Martial Arts in Poland: The
Case of Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Honorata Jakubowska, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland
Alex Channon, University of Brighton, UK
Christopher R. Matthews, University of Brighton, UK
Recent growth in the media visibility of female combat sport athletes has offered
a compelling site for research on gender and sport media, as women in deeply
masculinized sports have been increasingly placed in the public spotlight. While
scholars in the Anglophone West have offered analyses of the media framing of
this phenomenon, little work has been done outside these cultural contexts. Thus,
in this paper we offer a qualitative exploration of how Joanna Jędrzejczyk, a Polish
champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has been represented in Polish
media. Our findings reveal a relatively de-gendered, widely celebratory account,
primarily framed by nationalistic discourse findings we ascribe to both the
particularities of the sport of mixed martial arts as well as the historic nature of
Jędrzejczyk’s success.
Key Words: Combat Sport, MMA, Poland, Sport Media, Women’s Sport
In March 2015, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, a Polish mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and
six-time world champion in Muay Thai, made history by becoming the first Pole
and only third European to be crowned a champion of the Ultimate Fighting
Championship (UFC). Jędrzejczyk’s TKO (‘technical knock-out’) victory over
American Carla Esparza in a fight for the UFC’s strawweight belt was awarded a
$50,000 performance of the night’ bonus and was widely heralded as a ‘break out’
performance. Subsequent media attention not only focused on Jędrzejczyk’s in-
ring accomplishment, but also her confident ‘trash talking’ and savvy handling of
the media spotlight (Raimondi, 2015). She received a ‘hero’s welcome’ when she
returned to her home country four days after winning the title (Helwani, 2015),
and two weeks later was the star of a Q&A event for local fans hosted by the UFC
as part of the promotion for the company’s first event in Poland. A short while
later, in June 2015, Jędrzejczyk would go on to defend her title in even more
spectacular style, again winning by TKO against a second American opponent,
Jessica Penne.
Within a sport often thought to be saturated with images of aggressive and
physically powerful masculinity (Mayeda and Ching, 2008; Spencer, 2012),
attention directed at Jędrzejczyk, a female world champion, warrants critical
exploration. While an increasing amount of research has explored the portrayals
of female combat sport athletes in various and diverse aspects of English-language
media (e.g., Godoy-Pressland, 2015; Jennings, 2015a; McCree, 2011; Weaving,
2015), far less is known about the manner in which similar cases are received
outside of Anglophone cultural spaces (Lee, 2009 and Moreno, 2015 offer notable
exceptions), such that patterns of conclusions drawn from this research cannot be
readily assumed to apply to all cases around the world. Within this paper, we
partially address this imbalance by examining the ways in which Jędrzejczyk was
represented in a variety of Polish media sources immediately following her two
championship fight performances of early 2015. As such, we detail salient
thematic elements from this reportage as a means of highlighting the ways in
which certain media discuss women in combat sport, while also adding to
previous research which has focused on gender and sport in Poland (Jakubowska,
2014) and specifically on gender in media sport coverage (Jakubowska, 2015;
Kluczyńska, 2011; Kramarczyk et. al., 2013). As a point of departure, and to
provide some context for the present study, we begin with a short discussion of
gender and MMA.
Mixed martial arts, masculinity, and women fighters
MMA is a full-contact combat sport wherein opponents use a wide range of
fighting techniques derived from various martial arts styles, earning victory most
often by submission, knockout, referee intervention or judges scores. Since its
inception in the early 1990s, MMA has risen relatively quickly to a place of global
prominence, with its premier promotion, the UFC, today reportedly broadcasting
to close to 800 million television households worldwide (UFC, 2014). Sometimes
referred to as ‘cage fighting’, MMA contests in the UFC (and some other
promotions) take place in an octagonal cage. As well as lending the sport a
‘gladiatorial’ image, the cage permits relatively continuous fighting by eliminating
the need for regular breaks to return to the centre of a mat (as in judo/taekwondo),
or the possibility for fighters to slip through the ropes of a boxing-style ring,
effectively leaving no place for fighters to ‘hide’ while in the octagon.
Accordingly, with its full-contact, relatively de-regulated and continuous action,
there exists the belief that MMA is the most realistic form of combat sport (see
Bolelli, 2014; Downey, 2007; Mayeda and Ching, 2008; Sánchez García and
Malcolm, 2010). While many sports offer a physical approximation of the types of
confrontation seen in duels or battles (i.e., tennis; rugby), and various sportized
martial arts involve a ritualized, conventionalized version of fighting, relatively
de-regulated combat sports like MMA represent an attempt to more closely
approximate ‘real’ fighting through the stripping away of many restrictions (e.g.,
the illegality of fighting on the ground) or external purposes (e.g., winning
possession of a ball) seen in comparable, combat-oriented sports.
Organisations such as the UFC have long traded off the appeal this claim to realism
gives, as MMA is positioned as more ‘extreme’, violent and therefore exciting than
comparable sports, such as boxing or wrestling. While much can be said about
this aspect of MMA, how it maps onto contemporary gender ideals is the most
immediate concern for our paper. Principally, we argue that being positioned as
a ‘truer’ test of fighting ability allows MMA to trump other combat sports in the
symbolic stakes of masculinity. Based on the assumption that fighting ability is
widely considered a source of masculine capital, sports such as boxing, while not
inherently ‘masculine’, are readily available to be symbolically framed as
evidencing a powerful and aggressive narration of manhood, owing to their
requisite toughness and appearance of violence (Matthews, 2014, 2015; Oates,
2006; Woodward, 2007). If this is the case, then MMA effectively ‘ups the ante’
here, through its claim to present a more extreme, more ‘real’, or even ‘ultimate’
version of the same.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, for much of its short history MMA has been practiced
overwhelmingly by men, who make up the clear majority of competitors in
promotions such as the UFC today. It is only very recently that female competition
has featured in the UFC, giving the impression that women’s entry into the sport
is itself a new phenomenon. Yet, as with many other deeply masculinized sports,
women have practiced and competed in MMA alongside their male counterparts
for years. As Jennings (2015b) has recently shown, women’s MMA (often referred
to under the separate acronym of WMMA) has existed since the 1990s, although
has struggled to gain recognition until the early 2010s a point we return to
Mirroring scholarly arguments surrounding women’s entry into other sports,
recent research on WMMA has argued that the sport holds potential for the
empowerment of women, as well as the wider subversion of sexist gender norms
(Jennings, 2015b; Mierzwinski et al., 2014; Weaving, 2015). Several researchers
of women’s combat sports have adopted McCaughey’s (1997) notion of ‘physical
feminism’ to argue in favour of women embodying the strength, toughness and
fighting skills required of MMA practitioners/other martial artists (Channon &
Jennings, 2013; Noel, 2009; Velija et al., 2013). While such embodiment can be
experienced as profoundly empowering by individual women, it also challenges
broader stereotypical notions of female weakness and passivity, whilst troubling
the normative discursive connection between sports such as MMA and
masculinity. Therefore, as the symbolism of the female fighter gains cultural
traction, it stands to alter perceptions of both women’s (lack of) physical power
and the gendered nature of combative sports.
The mediation of women’s MMA
However, as Channon and Matthews (2015a) recently argued, it is not safe to
assume that any and every iteration of women’s combat sport participation
necessarily stands to subvert sexist formations of gender. One important factor in
gauging how far women’s entry into MMA can be considered to challenge sexism
is the extent of its presence in the media. As a huge body of literature has
illustrated over the past few decades, female athletes generally face two key
problems when it comes to media exposure firstly, women’s sport receives very
little media coverage at all (Cooky et al., 2013; Bruce, 2013); and secondly, when
it is shown or reported on, female athletes are treated in variously disparaging
ways, including being framed by infantilising or overly-feminising discourse;
being blatantly (hetero)sexualized; or having their femininity questioned for
participating in supposedly masculine sport (see Bernstein, 2002; Cooky and
LaVoi, 2012; Duncan and Hasbrook, 1988; Heywood and Dworkin, 2003; Messner,
2002). These phenomena might be explained in various ways; for instance, as an
attempt to protect the status of many sports as ‘male preserves’ (Matthews, 2015),
sites for the promulgation of discourses stressing men’s unique, heroic qualities
(Messner, 2002; Woodward, 2007); or perhaps as an extension of the assumptions
regarding the poor market value of mediated women’s sport (see Kane and
Maxwell, 2011). What is clear though is that together, these tendencies undermine
both the visibility and significance of women’s athletic embodiment, reducing its
potential to challenge sexist discourse.
Widely observed among a range of women’s sports, it comes as little surprise that
elements of both of these tendencies can be seen within the mediation of WMMA.
The lack of attention afforded to WMMA throughout much of its history is reflected
in the relative absence of women’s bouts from televised events; it wasn’t until
2009 that a female fight headlined a broadcast fight card of a major event
, and
women fighters were only signed to the UFC, MMA’s most prestigious and
influential promotion, in 2012 (Jennings, 2015b). Since then, this has begun to
change, with recent developments such as the female-only fight promotion Invicta
FC beginning in 2012 (televised in 2013, now broadcast online on the UFC’s digital
network) and the UFC featuring first a mixed-sex cast (2013), and later an all-
female cast (2014), on its long-running reality television show, The Ultimate
Fighter (TUF). Although women’s fights feature much less often than men’s on the
televised events broadcast by the UFC and other mainstream promotions, the
situation for WMMA in 2015 is much improved from that of only four years prior,
when UFC President Dana White had famously declared that women would never
fight in the organisation (Smith, 2011).
Nevertheless, as Jennings (2015a, 2015b) and Weaving (2015) have both recently
argued, the mediated framing of WMMA has replicated, at times, the general
tendency for sports media to trivialize the abilities of female athletes, principally
through overtly (hetero)sexualising them. While we do not mean to infer that all
WMMA coverage today is shaped around sexualized imagery, or to suggest that
this sexualisation is a primary driver of interest in WMMA, it has certainly been an
element of the public image and/or promotional strategies surrounding some
fighters (to name a few: Gina Carano, Felice Herrig, Rin Nakai, Ronda Rousey and
Meisha Tate), as well as the somewhat controversial advertising campaign for the
all-female 20th season of TUF (Jennings, 2015a). While the symbolic value of the
sexualized but athletic female body is a complex political issue
, reducing female
fighters to their sex appeal is not easily reconciled with the notion that WMMA
might be powerfully gender-subversive.
Yet, should WMMA be given the same level and types of recognition by sports
media and other outlets as its male equivalent, we hold that this sport has much
potential to challenge sexist gender constructions (Channon and Matthews,
2015a; Weaving 2015). Indeed, Channon and Matthews (2015b) have elsewhere
argued that the discursive handling of a supposedly gay male fighter within MMA
journalism was strikingly anti-homophobic, indicating the potential for the sport’s
mediation to adopt what might be described as progressive gender politics (see
also Godoy-Pressland, 2015). Yet, this theoretical position is derived almost
entirely from an engagement with the (small but growing) literature on MMA and
gender produced within the Anglophone West, and offers little insight into how
similar issues are handled outside of this cultural sphere. Given the recent
emergence of Joanna Jędrzejczyk as the UFC’s newest champion and the first
ever Pole to win UFC gold a chance opportunity to capture the mediated
representation of WMMA fighters in a Central/Eastern European context presents
itself. Before turning to the research undertaken to that end, a brief discussion of
this context is necessary.
Combat sport and gender in Poland
In many respects, the recent trajectory of women’s sport participation and
mediation in Poland bears much in common with the trends observed by scholars
of women’s sport in the West. With a somewhat untold ‘herstory’ of participation
(Jakubowska, 2014), and a disproportionate relationship between levels of
competitive performance and media visibility (Jakubowska, 2015), Polish women
practice and compete in many sports despite prevailing gender norms which
dissuade them from doing so, and see them ignored by the media when they do.
With respect to such constructions of gender, it is perhaps unsurprising that
Polish women are over-represented in sports and related activities which fit
stereotypical ideals of femininity. 2012 data from the Polish Central Statistics
Office, measuring relative participation rates in various sports, reveal women
predominate in synchronized swimming (making up 100% of participants),
artistic gymnastics (91%), fitness (84%), figure skating (75%), and equestrian
. Meanwhile, sports more traditionally associated with masculinity have
far lower ratios of women participants, including football (2%), rugby (3%), water
polo (5%), Greco-Roman wrestling (7%) and motor sports (8%).
Such data must be read cautiously however, given that ratios of male-female
participation do not adequately capture overall levels of popularity; football, for
instance, is the team sport which Polish women participate in the most, despite its
relative male predominance. Indeed, while various combat sports also continue to
be relatively male-dominated in Poland, the numbers of women participating and
competing at national levels in several disciplines remains high, as demonstrated
in table 1.
Table 1: Women practicing combat sports in sports clubs (2012)
Persons practicing sport
Percentage of
Total number
Jiu Jitsu
Traditional karate
Muay Thai
Taekwon-do (ITF)
Source: authors’ elaboration based on Kultura fizyczna w Polsce w latach 2011-12
Thus, combat sports evidently remain popular with Poles of both sexes, and
historically Polish boxers and kickboxers have achieved some success in
international competition. By the turn of the 21st century, two women had
achieved significant success Iwona Guzowska and Agnieszka Rylik, both of
whom were several-time world champions in kickboxing and professional boxing.
More recently, Poland has not produced any leading fighters in professional
boxing, although there are a few successful women in amateur boxing, including
Karolina Michalczuk, the 2008 flyweight world champion.
Participation rates therefore appear to tell a somewhat mixed story of gender and
(combat) sport in Poland. However, what is clearer is the unequal treatment of
sportswomen in the Polish media. Mirroring circumstances faced by many
sportswomen in the West, Polish women’s sport receives far less coverage than
does men’s, and highly gendered, overtly sexist and variously trivializing forms of
reporting can be observed within much of the coverage which does exist
(Jakubowska, 2013, 2015; Kluczyńska, 2011; Kramarczyk et al., 2013). With
respect to combat sport athletes specifically, online sports and MMA reporting
websites (often the only spaces wherein female fighters receive coverage)
infrequently run articles discussing the most “sexy women in MMA”, framing
athletes as both “beautiful and dangerous”
, highlighting that female fighters’ fame
as in some other contexts tends to rest primarily on how well they embody
conventional, heterosexual femininity, rather than their athletic abilities or
Furthermore, as has been argued previously by Jakubowska (2015), discussions
around this form of gender inequality within sport media are largely absent from
public discourse. Compounding this, the cultural significance of such processes
have received scant interest from scholars or activists working within Poland
(Jakubowska, 2014, 2015) an imbalance which this paper seeks to help redress.
As noted above, the emergence of a female world champion in a highly
masculinized combat sport provides an excellent opportunity for this undertaking.
In what follows, we briefly account for our method of exploring Polish media
responses to Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s emergence as Poland’s first UFC champion.
The data informing our study were taken from a range of news outlets accessed
via the Internet. All written in Polish and ostensibly based in Poland (i.e., using
the .pl domain), the sites were located through Google Poland searches of
Jędrzejczyk’s name during the period surrounding either of her two UFC
championship fights. The websites returning hits from these searches included
various different media outlets, such as national, regional and local newspapers’
and television shows’ online services; sport- and MMA-specific news websites;
and general interest (e.g., daytime television shows’) websites. Given that we were
interested in the construction of meaning through text, we sought out qualitative
data from these sources, and altogether sampled 60 separate, original articles,
which included reports, interviews, and opinion pieces
. We excluded items
returned from our searches if they were re-posts from other, previously sampled
stories, or if they contained only images with no textual element to contextualize
or explain them.
We decided to implement our methodology by limiting sampling to two-week
periods following either of Jędrzejczyk's two fights discussed earlier. We also
decided not to separate out the data for comparative analyses across the various
sampled platforms, owing to the broadly similar discourse emerging from them
during our analysis (outlined below). We held these various different news outlets
to be significant sites through which public discourse about Jędrzejczyk takes
form and begins to circulate, and the fact that they presented broadly similar
messages suggests that these findings may be applicable across various socio-
cultural contexts in Poland. While we stop short from suggesting that they
adequately represent all mediated opinion about Jędrzejczyk, we are nevertheless
confident that the data provides important, valid insight into the construction of
her public image in her home country.
All the data thus gathered were sourced and translated into English by the primary
author, who is fluent in both Polish and English. We then used a thematic analysis
approach (see Braun and Clarke, 2006) to jointly code the data, adopting a
perspective sensitive to the concerns surrounding gender, combat sport, female
athletes, identity, trivialization, and so forth as outlined above. After identifying a
broad range of themes pertinent to these theoretical issues, we eventually
reduced these into four overarching analytical categories, which are detailed in
turn below.
Our aim for this study was to explore the manner in which Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s
two championship fights were represented in the Polish media, building towards
a stronger understanding of how high-profile female combat sport athletes are
mediated relative to historical contexts wherein women’s sport has been both
ignored and/or trivialized in various ways. Our findings indicated that, contrary
to the norm of dismissing or denigrating women taking part in masculinized
sports, Jędrzejczyk was generally framed by various Polish media commentators
in broadly celebratory terms. While the typical gendered narratives attached to
women athletes were not completely absent from our sample, there was
nevertheless a general tendency to describe her and her fights in ways which
departed from the traditional discursive feminization of female athletes; to praise
her physical and mental qualities as a champion fighter; and to hold Jędrzejczyk
up as a symbol of national pride, highlighting the historic nature of her
achievement as Poland’s first UFC champion. We begin our discussion of these
findings by attending to the ways in which normative gender discourse did appear
within the reporting, before moving on to elaborate on its evident deconstruction
seen elsewhere.
Gendering Joanna: (residual) sexism in media discourse
Across our sample, there were many mentions of Jędrzejczyk’s sex. Primarily,
these came in the form of gendered grammar inherent to the Polish language
rather than outright discourse matching the previously evidenced tendencies
towards the sexist, heteronormative framing of women in sport
. Evidence of the
extent to which sexual distinction is subtly established and maintained through
linguistic conventions, we may argue that this remains problematic if adopting a
more abstract viewpoint. However, in many respects, departing from such
conventions through an overtly feminist linguistic turn cannot reasonably be
expected of the types of journalism we sampled, so we only mention this in passing.
Rather, we focus in this section on explicitly, deliberately formed narratives
around sex and gender. Here, only one report in our sample could be taken to
contain an overtly sexist narrative, being directly and overtly critical of
Jędrzejczyk’s example along clearly gendered and sexualized lines:
Joanna Jędrzejczyk macabrely battered another woman, and by the way, I
am sorry for her [Carla Esparza], it was a pity, because she had a tan and
nice breasts. The beating was not only unpunished, but rewarded! With a
UFC belt, and the countless publications in Polish I am against wild
customs, which means against ladies imitating all the worst of men’s habits.
I have also protested when our girls started to lift weights (Zarzeczny,
With no attempt to conceal his distaste for the spectacle of a heteronormatively
attractive woman being beaten up, nor of his wider disdain for the implied
masculinity of women fighters or weightlifters, this (male) journalist provided the
only overtly critical voice within our sample. However, there were several
examples of normative understandings of gender embedded within other articles
and interviews, which were less critical of Jędrzejczyk and women’s fighting, but
nevertheless addressed the assumed incompatibility of femininity and combat
sports. In an interview for a mainstream breakfast television program, Jędrzejczyk
was asked by a male journalist, What do women think about when they enter the
cage? It’s not a dance”. In the same interview, she was quizzed by a female
journalist about her appearance: From a feminine point of view, are you not
afraid about your beauty? You are a beautiful girl, you have a beautiful face, and
you are young…” (Dzień dobry TVN, 2015).
The traditional disassociation between women and fighting, highlighted by these
journalists’ questions around beauty and dance (a traditionally feminized activity),
moved Jędrzejczyk to defend her femininity and heterosexuality elsewhere:
Sport does not take anything away from me. I feel 100% woman. I am
happy in my private relationships. Unfortunately, there is a kind of thinking
in Poland that this sport, fighting, is not for women. The difference is that I
am an athlete, not a killer from the street. It is a huge difference. (Szpyrka,
As outlined above, many female athletes are placed under pressure to thus defend
their womanhood, particularly when asked questions the likes of which a male
athlete/fighter could hardly expect to deal with in media interviews. That
Jędrzejczyk drew on the legitimacy of MMA as a competitive sport, allowing her to
identify with the apparently more acceptable cultural trope of the female athlete,
suggests that un-regulated fighting ‘street’ violence – continues to be thought of
as masculine, at odds with being ‘100% woman’. This is interesting, given that the
de-gendering of fighting as an activity seems here to be a matter of degree rather
than an outright departure from orthodox norms, but also highlights an
expectation that (combative) athleticism and acceptable femininity might well go
Along such lines, elsewhere in our sample some journalists’ analysis of the fights
drew on interpretations of a perceived feminine nature to make sense of
Jędrzejczyk’s success. Quoting Polish sports journalist Artur Mazur, one report
Womens fights are really an exceptional spectacle. Women are known for
their particularly special stubbornness. Joanna Jędrzejczyk also has these
qualities that result from her female nature. (Polskie Radio, 2015a)
Such gender essentialism is, in some respects, a little disappointing, as it reduces
the champion to her assumed, innate femininity rather than celebrate the
individual brilliance that bought her each victory. Such reasoning can be easily
paired with more overtly misogynistic framing of women as inherently irrational
or prone to violent hysteria, which clearly does not depart from orthodox, sexist
norms. Nevertheless, we argue this is slightly less disparaging than other
iterations of essentialism, particularly as it sees journalists attempting to reconcile
dominant gender ideals with a celebratory reading of Jędrzejczyk’s success.
On balance though, it was somewhat surprising to us that overt discussion of
gender occupied little space within the sample, only appearing in this manner in
7 of the 60 items analyzed. This is particularly the case given prevailing tendencies
elsewhere in Polish media to stress the femininity, and heterosexuality, of other
female athletes. For example, another currently active Polish MMA fighter,
Karolina Kowalkiewicz, rarely appears in media coverage without her femininity
being stressed. In the following sections, we outline the ways in which Jędrzejczyk
was discussed which, in our interpretation, overtly departed from this feminising
and sexualising norm. We begin by examining reports of the two fights themselves,
before turning to a discussion of how the champion’s personal qualities were
framed in the sample.
Calling the action: two ‘dominant’ performances
Widely agreed upon across much of our sample, Jędrzejczyk won her two
championship fights in spectacular and convincing fashion. The reporting of these
two victories included many references to the bloody physicality that was on
display. A piece titled Berlin Massacre” contained the following description of her
title defence against Jessica Penne:
The next [second] round saw complete domination by the Olsztynianka
[woman from the city of Olsztyn]. Jędrzejczyk struck Penne again and again,
causing a big cut on her rival’s nose and a large swelling. The bloody
American was not able to do anything. Her persistence led her to the third
round, in which the devastation to her face was ongoing. (Ossowski, 2015)
In an article containing many graphic photos
, Jędrzejczyk was said to have
massacred a rival and defended the belt ... The American ended the fight covered
in blood! (Smykowski, 2015). The dominant nature of her wins was also
repeatedly discussed, with one author sympathizing with Penne over the extent
of the mismatch (without any obviously gendered connotations as per the quote
from Zarzeczny, above):
It was sad to see Jessica Penne during the fight for the UFC championship
belt with Joanna Jędrzejczyk. The Pole simply massacred her rival, as
confirmed by statistics. It turns out that only in one fight in UFC history was
there a greater difference of punches landed than during this evening’s
fight in Berlin. (Eurosport Onet, 2015)
Aside from the narrative emphasis of Jędrzejczyk’s dominance, the specific
terminology used to describe both the action and the fighter herself is worthy of
note. One article suggested that “Joanna Jędrzejczyk simply demolished Carla
Esparza (Dziennik Zachodni, 2015), another noting she is strong, dangerous and
holds a championship belt”, while describing how [her opponent] disappeared
into a real avalanche of punches (Sport TVN24a, 2015). With reference to the
champion’s mental qualities, one journalist used the following byline: “she
[psychologically] breaks with her eyes. Crushes in a cage” (Sport TVN24b, 2015).
As is relatively common within combat sports reporting, Jędrzejczyk was
repeatedly referred to as a warrior. This militaristic metaphor was employed by
Osiak (2015a), who talked of the cannonade of punches” thrown by our warrior”,
when describing the way Jędrzejczyk bombarded her opponent”.
As with much MMA reporting elsewhere, the outspoken UFC president Dana
White was heavily quoted throughout our sample. As the president and effective
public figurehead of the UFC, White is a highly influential figure within American
MMA and his reputation appears to translate into Polish coverage of the sport.
White’s Twitter comments were used to highlight the emphatic nature of
Jedrzejczyk’s performance: Joanna Jedrzejczyk is NASTY!!!! (Sportowe Fakty,
2015), while he was later quoted at length:
She's a killer, man, UFC president Dana White said afterward. I like
people who try to finish you. I've been on the Joanna bandwagon since day
one. Coming into this fight, the thing for her was her takedown defense.
And boy, did she tune up her takedown defense. Shes a beast. (Sportowe
Fakty, 2015)
Such terminology, drawing on martial metaphors (warrior, bombardment),
invoking natural forces (avalanche, beast), or other forms of unequivocal
destruction (crush, demolish, massacre), offers a clear departure from
normative, feminizing language. Embedded within the clear majority of the
sampled articles and interviews, these potentially masculinizing phrases were
only rarely accompanied by concurrent attempts at questioning or re-establishing
her femininity, and thus foregrounding gender as a source of meaning. It was as if,
in the main, Jędrzejczyk’s compelling performances in this often highly
masculinized combat sport could be celebrated outside of typical gendered
meanings, and thus without the spectre of its supposed impropriety hanging over
The qualities of a champion: skill, confidence and charisma
Extending from the narratives surrounding her dominant performances,
Jędrzejczyk’s supreme fighting skills were consistently highlighted throughout
our sample when discussing the fights and the champion herself. Not dissimilar to
the reverence accorded to the abilities of the UFC’s other female champion of the
time, Ronda Rousey
, the Polish fighter was described as “amazing Joanna
Jędrzejczyk” (Szumowski, 2015a), who fought with “marvelous style” (Serwański,
2015) to leave “[no] chance to her opponent” (Szumowski 2015b). Many authors
trumpeted the extent to which Jędrzejczyk had out-classed her opposition, noting
how her very strong punches and kicks left no doubt who was better that day”
(Mucha, 2015). Indeed, the manner in which she was able to out-maneuver and
out-strike two dangerous grappling specialists
earned Jędrzejczyk continuous
praise. Recounting the Penne fight, one journalist wrote:
Before the most important fight of the evening, Jędrzejczyk was perceived
as favorite. However, hardly anyone expected that the class difference will
be so huge. The American was not able to threaten the Pole in any
dimension. The self-confidence and excellent striking skills were the key
for her success. With every passing minute the strawweight champion
showed her advantage, which was illustrated by Jessica Penne's face.
(Ossowski, 2015)
Highlighted here, another reoccurring theme within the reporting of Jędrzejczyk’s
success was her confidence. In the build up to and aftermath of her fights, she was
shown talking about and displaying a sense of self-confidence that is rarely
expected of female athletes, or women more generally, in Poland (Mandal, 2003,
2004; Wojciszke, 2002). We might have expected these displays to have been met
with derision since they ran counter to traditional representations of demure and
passive femininity; yet, as with the description of her ‘dominant’ performances,
this type of gendering was similarly absent from the reporting. The confidence of
Jędrzejczyk was thereby stressed both by the journalists and the fighter herself,
presented consistently as an advantage, with no outright objection to her boldness
and self-assurance. The fact of her confidence was often discussed: “There was a
lot of talk about self-confidence of the girl from Olsztyn [the city of her club], which
led her to achieve the biggest life success (Szumowski, 2015c); meanwhile, the
champion’s own thoughts were also widely quoted:
During the press conference, the Pole did not hide her joy, but stressed also
her advantage self-confidence. I have told you that I will win and I have
just done it. I have always believed in myself. I have been sure about a
victory, however I have not expected that the fight will finish in the second
round. (W, 2015)
Aware of the value of her performance in either fight, Jędrzejczyk was quoted as
boasting of her well-deserved (bonus) prize money, and also of the value she adds
to the UFC through both her charisma and fighting skills, illustrated by the
following two quotes:
It is nice that this prize [performance of the night bonus of $50,000] is
mine. I deserve it. I did a good job, I finished the fight before time, and it
was a fight with the champion. (Sport TVN24b, 2015)
I know that I have raised viewership. UFC has a very strong group of PR
specialists and I have cooperated a lot with them during these two weeks.
They have been nicely surprised by my personality. I will be honest, I know
that I have raised this gala to the same extent as the stars of the evening.
(Stolarczyk, 2015)
Correctly acknowledging the value of personality in the promotional culture
surrounding the UFC, Jędrzejczyk’s boast is well-founded despite its evident
boldness. Again, although we might expect commentators to find this
objectionable given its divergence from feminine norms, the consensus
surrounding the champion’s right to brag settled on the admission that her skills
gave her every right to do so:
The growing recognition and appreciation of Jędrzejczyk owes not only to
her impressive fighting style (striking is more appealing to fans), but also
her charisma and original personality. (Osiak, 2015a)
The Pole is confident, sometimes a little presumptuous, which was evident
in an interview after the fight, but she has such skills that this can be
understood. (Fakt Sport, 2015a)
Recognizing and celebrating the champion’s qualities, and applauding her for her
sporting as well as financial success, leads us neatly into the final category in our
analysis. Not only was Jędrzejczyk recognized as a wholly legitimate fighter, but
as the first Polish MMA champion, she was also lionized as a bona-fide national
Making history: “the biggest success in the history of Polish MMA”
As outlined in the previous sections, the gendered narratives and terminology
typically built into the media framing of female athletes appeared only rarely in
this sample. Rather than gender being the focal point around which the majority
of reporting turned, we found far more attention was directed towards
Jędrzejczyk’s national identity, highlighting her status as a Pole who was making
history in world sport.
This tendency was noticeable in terms of certain articles’ overall narrative, but we
also noted it within the language used to describe Jędrzejczyk throughout many
pieces. In this sense, the identification of Jędrzejczyk as a ‘Pole’ or ‘Polish’ was
noticeably more frequent than overtly gendered language; for instance, reports
often described her as ‘the Polish fighter’, or even “our warrior” (Osiak, 2015a)
and “the representative of our country” (Dziennik Zachodni, 2015). In this sense,
we suggest that nationalism, particularly through the tendency to tie Jędrzejczyk
to a shared sense of Polish identity, generally trumped gender-marking
throughout the broad media coverage of Jędrzejczyk’s fights (see Wensing and
Bruce, 2003).
Such reporting often focused on the scale of her achievements, with articles
suggesting she was “becoming one of the greatest stars of MMA” (Osiak, 2015b)
and that she was now “number two on the [world] pound for pound rankings” for
women (WP Sport, 2015). Accordingly, a recurring theme was that Jędrzejczyk
was gaining much attention throughout Western media, as journalists from
around the world praise the Polish warrior” (Bobakowski, 2015). Following from
this, national pride was linked to Jędrzejczyk’s great successes, in terms of both
her competitive victories but also her ability to capture such foreign media
attention. One journalist summed this sentiment up neatly:
The attitude of Joanna Jędrzejczyk is a reason to be proud for Polish fans,
especially since other Polish competitors in the UFC do not delight
Poland has a great champion whose name is on everyones lips all around
the world. (Ossowski, 2015)
The significance of drzejczyk’s fights for the sport of MMA in Poland was also a
feature of this reporting, with one author suggesting that “the biggest success in
the history of Polish MMA has been achieved by Joanna Jędrzejczyk” (Onami,
2015). Another argued that the most important fight in the history of Polish MMA
has started” (Osiak, 2015a), signaling the new champion’s potential to raise the
sport’s profile in her home nation, and perhaps spur on future Polish success.
Indeed, throughout much of this reporting, Jędrzejczyk’s victories were argued to
constitute a truly historic moment; Joanna Jędrzejczyk writes history (Polskie
Radio, 2015b) became one of the most oft-repeated phrases among our sample.
Interestingly, this history-making also included reference to the champion’s wider
European identity, as journalists spoke of the ‘Old Continent’:
Joanna Jędrzejczyk has become the first Pole in history and only the third
athlete from the Old Continent to win a championship title in the UFC, the
biggest MMA organization in the world. (Sport TVN24a, 2015)
Jędrzejczyk has become the first woman from Europe who has reached the
UFC title (previously two male fighters from the Old Continent won the
belt), absolutely the most powerful federation in MMA. (Osiak, 2015a)
It is possible that invoking the broader, European significance of Jędrzejczyk’s
accomplishments connects to wider identity politics in Poland, which we lack the
requisite space to discuss here. However, that such high-stakes symbolism might
be articulated around a woman’s accomplishments is of particular interest. While
it has long been acknowledged that male combat sport athletes serve as embodied
symbolic figureheads for local, national, ethnic or other identities (e.g., Matthews,
2015; Rhodes, 2010; Woodward, 2007), female athletes are rarely understood in
similar ways (Bowes, 2013; Wensing and Bruce, 2003). Yet here, Jędrzejczyk was
proudly held aloft in many articles, across multiple online media formats, as a
source of Polish national pride. This adds her case to a small, but not insubstantial
list of sportswomen for whom national representation can, under certain
conditions, transcend the typical gendering discourses attached to female athletes
(e.g., Lee, 2009; McCree, 2011; von der Lippe, 2002; Wensing & Bruce, 2003).
Discussion and concluding thoughts
Our joint analysis of the sample of 60 articles surrounding Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s
successful championship fights revealed a number of interesting findings. While
there was some overt discussion of the gendered problems associated with being
a (heterosexual) female fighter, and one rather glaring example of outright sexism,
on the whole such issues were not a central feature of this reporting. Rather, Polish
media tended to embrace Jędrzejczyk in what we perceive as a de-gendered
manner, celebrating her accomplishments in all their grisly detail, praising her
personal qualities as an outspoken, highly confident and supremely skilled fighter,
and taking pride in the national significance of her victories.
Contrary to previous studies of female athletes in sport media, there were no overt
attempts to sexualize Jędrzejczyk, while her fight received substantial coverage
across a range of media platforms hardly constituting the usual media silence on
women’s sports. Although the lack of a male Polish MMA champion makes a
comparative analysis between men and women impossible at present, it is clear
that Jędrzejczyk was treated in ways which largely differ from the observed norm
surrounding other female athletes. Indeed, the extent of coverage here, and the
quality of its content as discussed above, exemplifies how female fighting can be
‘put into discourse’ in the Foucauldian sense (see Woodward, 2014); that is,
rendered visible and constructed as both important and legitimate despite a
history of having been ignored or discounted.
There are several ways in which this phenomenon might be understood. Firstly, it
is possible that Jędrzejczyk’s embodied performances might have been read as
and valued on the basis of conformity to the ‘masculine’ norms of the sport,
earning her credibility as an ‘honorary man’. However, we are not convinced by
this explanation, for while the argument might be made that WMMA’s acceptance
is dependent upon female fighters’ successful embodiment of so-called masculine
qualities (cf. Halbert, 1997), it might also be said that their success as fighters
challenges the discursive construction of fighting as a masculine enterprise
(Channon, 2014; Channon and Matthews, 2015a; De Welde, 2003). In the context
of this particular study, we favour the latter explanation; Jędrzejczyk was not
celebrated for being masculine or on a par with men, but in her own right, and as
a woman, for being a great fighter and a national hero. If we accept that there is
nothing essentially masculine about fighting, and that this relationship is a
precarious social construct open to contestation and change, then framing WMMA
as an example of successful ‘female masculinity’ is a problematic theoretical move,
and one we therefore refrain from here.
Rather, we suspect that a key factor underpinning this phenomenon is the extent
of Jędrzejczyk’s success. As Wensing and Bruce (2003) argue, the ‘rules’ of
women’s typical media treatment (silence, trivialization) are bent when they are
particularly successful or take part in important international competitions. And,
as Jakubowska (2015) has recently suggested, victory in such competition appears
to be a mediating factor in the representation of Polish female athletes in
particular, who are often otherwise ignored by the media. Furthermore, she
Women become heroines of sports news when they succeed especially
in sports where there are no men who are equally successful. [But] this rule
does not apply to the so-called ‘male’ sports, as shown by the example of
boxing. (2015: 175)
In this study however, it would appear that Polish women can indeed be
celebrated for their success within such sports. Prior to 2015, Jędrzejczyk was
relatively unknown in Poland, despite holding multiple world championship titles
in Muay Thai; evidently then, the value of winning a UFC championship is what
makes Jędrzejczyk qualify as an exception to this rule. Perhaps this is at least
partly due to the wide international attention surrounding the UFC, as the
grandeur of its spectacle has provided a very high profile platform for Polish
victory to be broadcast to the world somewhat mirroring the positive media
attention accorded to the first female Olympic boxing champion, Briton Nicola
Adams, in her home country (see Godoy-Pressland, 2015 and Woodward, 2014).
Further adding to the status of the UFC championship is its commercial value, with
prize money, post-fight bonuses, and income potential from sponsorship deals
clearly cementing Jędrzejczyk’s status as an athlete worthy of note. Indeed, many
articles in our sample celebrated both global media attention and the champion’s
newfound wealth as key indicators of her success.
Another possible reason might rest on the nature of MMA action itself. While we
are cautious of insisting on a kind of exceptionalism for MMA, or of uncritically
accepting claims as to its ‘ultimate’ nature as a combat sport, we nevertheless
argue that there are few other cultural spaces within which such dramatically
visceral examples of skill, tenacity and embodied power can be observed with
such regularity. The widespread use of photographs of Jędrzejczyk’s dazed and
bloodied opponents, accompanied by vivid prose describing the ‘dominant’
champion’s cool prowess in ‘massacring’ them, provide a kind of coverage which
is a far cry from the relatively tamer imagery provided by many other competitive
martial arts, and certainly a great deal different to the action observed in
traditionally feminized sports. As outlined at the start of this paper, female combat
sport athletes stand to dramatically challenge dominant gender norms when their
feats are properly recognized; it is likely that the compelling, physical symbolism
provided by her two emphatic victories helped put such recognition into play in
the shaping of Jędrzejczyk’s reception by Polish media.
Nevertheless, given the lack of wider research on such phenomena, which (as with
high-profile WMMA competition itself) remains in its relative infancy, we must be
cautious with how far we take these findings to be indicative of any broader
cultural change surrounding sport and gender. If Jędrzejczyk’s relatively de-
gendered representation, and her status as national icon are dependent on both
the spectacular nature of her fights to date, and the hype she enjoys in global
media spaces afforded by the UFC brand, then any impact her example may be
having on wider gender discourses in Polish culture remains a contingent and thus
possibly temporary thing. Therefore, as our parting thoughts in this paper, we
argue that further research efforts into the reception and interpretation of
mediated figures such as Jędrzejczyk may be needed before any substantial
conclusions over their symbolic value can be accepted. We remain confident,
however, that the data presented here adds to a growing body of knowledge which
recognizes the potential that female fighters hold to challenge, subvert and re-
write traditional gendered logic.
Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg, 15 August 2009. Female fights continued to be broadcast on
the Strikeforce promotion until its demise in 2013, but would not headline again until
Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey in 2012.
See Khomutova and Channon (2015) for a recent theoretical discussion of the paradoxical
meanings attached to sexualized but ‘powerful’ female athletes in sports media.
These data are taken from the Polish Central Statistical Office in 2013; particularly the report,
Kultura fizyczna w Polsce w latach 2011-12.
For instance, see and,galeria,499001.html
Although we sampled these sources online, it should be noted that many news items were
also available through other platforms, including radio stations and television programs.
There are 3 genders distinguished within Polish grammar: masculine, feminine and neutral.
The English word ‘Pole’ has different forms for women and for men: Polish man is ‘Polak’ and
Polish woman is ‘Polka’. The form Polak is sometimes used regardless of sex, as a more
general indicator of nationality. In plural, ‘Polki’ refers only to women, while ‘Polacy’ can refer
only to men or to mixed groups of women and men (e.g., the Polish nation). In the case of the
media coverage of Jędrzejczyk, she was mainly described as Polka, so her sex was indicated,
but not in a context that would be interpreted as discriminatory by the audience.
An Internet search for images of Jędrzejczyk vs. Penne is worth a moment of the reader’s
time; the focus on facial damage in some of the quotes given here is no exaggeration.
Rousey is a highly skilled judoka, whose MMA career has shone a bright spotlight on the
wider field of WMMA. Her fighting proficiency has fascinated many commentators since she
began competing professionally in 2011 although her first loss (to Holly Holm, by knockout
in November 2015) undermined some of the more overstated claims as to her brilliance.
Although contemporary MMA fighters often possess well-rounded skill sets, many favour one
particular fighting style, depending largely on their competitive history prior to entering
MMA. As a former Muay Thai kickboxer, Jędrzejczyk prefers to stand and throw punches and
kicks; both Esparza and Penne adopt a more grappling-based approach, preferring to wrestle
their opponents to the floor and either beat them up from a dominant position (‘ground-and-
pound’) or catch them with a chokehold or joint lock to force a submission. In both fights,
Jędrzejczyk’s ability to defend against her opponents’ wrestling allowed her to remain
standing and out-box them comprehensively.
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... The bulk of research on female athletes' media representation concerns the United States and Western European countries, although there is as well research about situation in Central European countries (Antunovic 2019;Jakubowska 2015;Jakubowska et al. 2016;Mazur et al. 2018), in Asia Xue et al. 2018), Australia and New Zealand (Sherry et al. 2016;Yip 2018), and Africa (Nieland and Horky 2013). All of them confirm the thesis of low presence of women's sport in media. ...
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Female athletes’ media representation is an object of scientific attention during the last forty years, but few studies analyze the situation in Eastern European countries. Meanwhile, there is no research on sportswomen’s representation in Ukrainian media. Using a content analysis methodology, we analyzed women’s sports coverage in the sports section of the online version of popular Ukrainian daily newspaper Segodnya (Today). We found that most articles in the sports section are dedicated to men’s sport, and women’s sport is poorly covered. Female athletes are controversially framed in news stories. While ‘sports stories’ depict sporting achievements of female athletes and are accompanied by photographs of female athletes in action, the percentage of stories that are not related to sport is quite high. These «non-sports» stories are dedicated mainly to sportswomen’s appearance and sexuality, as well as their private life.
... Social science literature, however, especially those studies produced within the disciplinary interests of "martial arts and combat sports (MACS)" (e.g., Farrer and Whalen-Bridge, 2011;Sánchez-García and Spencer, 2013;Channon and Jennings, 2014), and "martial arts studies" (Bowman, 2014(Bowman, , 2015(Bowman, , 2017(Bowman, , 2018, have so far contributed to provide a picture of martial arts as first and foremost a fearsome activity dominated by action, physical confrontation and violence. This literature has extensively inquired into the history, developments and deployments of many martial arts (e.g., Green and Svinth, 2003) and their deconstruction (e.g., Bowman, 2019a), focusing especially on their "culture of combats" (e.g., Sánchez-García and Spencer, 2013;Brown et al., 2019), pedagogical environments, processes of apprenticeship, and knowledge transmission (e.g., Wacquant, 2004;Brown, 2005Brown, , 2011Downey, 2005Downey, , 2008Spencer, 2009Spencer, , 2014Brown and Jennings, 2011;Downey et al., 2015;Jennings et al., 2020), embodiment and sensuous involvement (e.g., Stephens and Delamont, 2006;Samudra, 2008;Farrer and Whalen-Bridge, 2011;Spencer, 2011Spencer, , 2012Jennings, 2013;Channon and Jennings, 2014;Southwood and Delamont, 2018;Telles et al., 2018), religious and spiritual bearings (e.g., Maliszewski, 1996;Brown et al., 2009Brown et al., , 2014Jennings et al., 2010;Brown, 2013;Tuckett, 2016;Pedrini, 2020), and media representations (e.g., Brown et al., 2008;Jakubowska et al., 2016;Yip, 2017;Bowman, 2019bBowman, ,c,d, 2020aTrausch, 2019). Moreover, as this body of work increases, specializes and further develops, also its attention to conceptual clarity and theoretical developments intensifies, with the consequent introduction of a host of new concepts and theoretical perspectives (e.g., Brown and Jennings, 2013;Sánchez-García and Spencer, 2013;Cynarski and Skowron, 2014;Martínková and Parry, 2016;Bowman, 2017;Cynarski, 2017Cynarski, , 2019aJenninings, 2019;Pedrini et al., 2019) oriented to the creation, maintenance, and reinvention of the disciplinary boundaries of martial arts and combat sports and martial arts studies and to their legitimacy as autonomous fields of study. ...
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This paper introduces the case study of Odaka Yoga, an innovative style of postural yoga blended with martial arts elements which emphasizes the importance of practitioners' health and processes of self-transformation as pivotal to the school's ethos. More specifically, the paper explores how Odaka Yoga's philosophical backdrops and practical repertoire, composed by a mixture of "exotic" resources such as Bushido, zen, yoga, and a constant reference to the ocean waves and biomechanics, constitute a very specific vision of health at the intersection of Western science and esoteric knowledge. Theoretically, the paper borrows from Jennings' theory of martial creation and enriches it with some of the central analytical tools proposed by theorists such as Bourdieu and Foucault. Methodologically, it relies on a multimodal approach including discursive analysis of the school's promotional materials, interviews with the founders and other key teachers, and observant participation of practitioners' apprenticeship processes. More Specifically, this paper discusses the birth of Odaka Yoga as occurring at the intersection of Asian martial arts and yoga, as well as the founders' biographical trajectories from the world of competitive martial arts and fitness, to yoga; it then turns to an examination of Odaka Yoga's conception of health as a mixture of the Western biomedical model and the subtle body model of Asian traditions such as yoga and martial arts. It argues that the conception of health promoted by this school gives rise to the Odaka Yoga Warrior, the ideal-typical practitioner whose body is simultaneously exposed to the medical gaze and its imperatives of control, knowledge, and manipulation; while it also deifies it, as it is animated by the elusive flows of energy (qi or prana) that prolonged practice aims to master. The paper concludes with a reflection on hybrid conceptions of health and the ubiquitous role of health discourses and narratives across sociocultural domains.
... Regarding professional combat sports, the Ultimate Fighting Championship likewise took until 2012 to introduce women to its roster of professional fighters. Public reception of these athletes has, however, been largely positive -both within subcultural spaces built around the sports, and in more mainstream media coverage (Godoy-Pressland, 2015;Jakubowska et al., 2016;Woodward, 2014). The high-profile exploits of women fighting has provided ample opportunity for the construction of discourses challenging orthodox ideals of gender, arguably weakening the symbolic value of these sports as male preserves. ...
... The nature of fighting sports results in a considerable difference in the numbers of male and female participants, to the point that these sports are sometimes regarded as male-only activities [37,38]. This poses a problem regarding the justification of participant categorization by sex when exploring variables. ...
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Background: Physical activity yields exceptionally positive results when it takes place out in the open air, in contact with nature. Both contact with nature and practicing sport constitute a certain kind of philosophy of life and living by its rules plays a vital role in positive mental health―understood as maintaining a high sense of coherence. Martial arts are examples of sports that are rooted in a philosophy. The goal of this study was to explore the links between a sense of coherence and connectedness to nature in the context of motivations for practicing karate. Methods: A total of 127 practitioners of karate were examined using the Inventory of Physical Activity Objectives (IPAO), the Sense of Coherence Questionnaire, and the Connectedness to Nature Scale. Results: The most important objective for women training karate was a fit, shapely body, and for men the most important objective was physical fitness. Connectedness to nature had the strongest positive relationship with the measure of physical fitness (in both genders). A sense of comprehensibility increased men’s motivational conflict, whereas, in women, this IPAO dimension was positively related to feeling emotionally connected to the natural world. Connectedness to nature was related to motivational conflict positively in women and negatively in men. Feeling emotionally connected to the natural world correlated with a sense of comprehensibility, a sense of manageability, and a sense of meaningfulness. Sense of comprehensibility and sense of meaningfulness tended to increase with age. Conclusions: Understanding both the natural environment and the utility of setting sport-related goals led to increasing one’s efforts on the way to both successes and defeats, and, most of all, overcoming one’s weaknesses
... Wensing and Bruce (2003) posit that when women receive media coverage, specific representation techniques have been used that are in line with cultural ideas about femininity, that is, gender marking, compulsory heterosexuality, appropriate femininity, infantilisation and the downplaying of sport, and ambivalence. More recent research on media representation of sportswomen paints an ambiguous but progressive picture (Jakubowska et al., 2016;Petty and Pope, 2018), with more positive coverage of women's sport, sometimes in de-gendered ways, but countered with a persistent dominance of male sport. Although McClearen (2018) draws attention to the ways in which the sports media can be used as a source of empowerment, she notes that the media still adopt traditional approaches in their presentation of women. ...
In May 2018, the men’s European Tour invited five female professional golfers to compete in its GolfSixes event in England, against 27 professional male players. This was significant, particularly given the female struggle for equality of access, participation, employment and decision making in golf settings. This research investigates the print media representation of these five female professional golfers competing in this male domain. Using the Nexis database, data were collected from print newspapers in the United Kingdom and Ireland over six days before, during and after the event. Following thematic analysis, findings highlight a double-edged sword with regard to media coverage of female athletes competing against men: women received greater media coverage when in the male sport spotlight, but the coverage was framed by gendered discourses. The results document a slow shift towards more equal and equitable print media coverage of female athletes, whilst drawing attention to the problematic ways in which sportswomen are represented.
... Interviewing the MMA fighters about aspects of their lives, such as their family and social relationships, Spencer (2012a, 84) found that 'heroic life is incommensurable with family life' . This seems to be a common finding of many studies on lifestyle and extreme sports (see also Hirose and Pih 2010;Naraine and Dixon 2014;Jakubowska, Channon and Matthews 2016). ...
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Drawing on qualitative interviews with Mixed martial arts (MMA) athletes and stakeholders, this study aims to investigate the relationship between, on the one hand, MMA as a spectacle and imaginary world, and on the other, the fighters’ experiences of violence, pain and ‘the real’. Analytically, we are influenced by the literature on the spectacle and on hyperreality. The results show that athletes’ negotiations concerning the sport largely connect to a particular way of approaching violence – culturally and in terms of physical experience. On the one hand, there is a desire to portray MMA as a civilized and regulated sport. The athletes develop different strategies by which to handle or renegotiate the physical force and violence in the cage. On the other hand, however, the fighters’ bodily control and management of their fear sometimes breaks down. When the spectacle of the octagon becomes ‘real’, the legitimacy of the sport is questioned.
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A inserção das atletas nos esportes de combate rompe estereótipos sociais e revela novos olhares sobre a feminilidade. O estudo reflete o estado da arte da presença das mulheres atletas no Mixed Martial Arts. Realizamos uma busca de estudos em bases de dados com os descritores específicos MMA e Women, Qualitative/ Essay/ Interview/ Discourse. Após as leituras e seguindo critérios de inclusão e exclusão, oito estudos compuseram a amostra, resultando tais categorias: A masculinidade e o ser mulher; O corpo in/out no octógono; Fisicalidade das mulheres atletas. É possível verificar que que as lutadoras subvertem o discurso de heternonormatividade, lutam e constroem uma visibilidade social para além da espetacularização dos corpos.
Recent scholarship suggests that women in martial arts and combat sports have increasingly begun to undo gender by challenging gender norms and constructing new femininities. Most of this research, however, has focused on gender dynamics within martial arts and combat sports settings, rather than outside of them. For this study, I conducted semistructured interviews with 40 professional women’s mixed martial arts athletes to examine the extent to which these women challenged gender norms in their intimate relationships. My data revealed that because they possess traits that are traditionally interpreted as masculine, many of the heterosexual women in my sample actually oversubscribe to gender norms in their intimate relationships to combat feelings of feminine insecurity. I argue, therefore, that rather than undoing gender, these women overdo gender in their intimate relationships. This study provides a cautionary tale to the celebrations of undoing gender for women combat sports athletes.
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Within the sporting landscape much has changed from the proliferation and integration of new technologies, for example, the practice of mixed martial arts (MMA) has developed on the fringes of modern sport. It combines several martial arts, is practised in a cage, and allows ground strikes. MMA is presented here within a framework inspired by Norbert Elias’s theory of civilizing of aggressive impulses through sport. We reviewed more than 20 years of literature, with 785 international references and a triple analysis of the discipline, those being physical violence, symbolism, the play impulse.
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Our initial motivation for producing Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors around the World began several years ago when, as PhD candidates studying together at Loughborough University, UK, we developed a shared interest in combat sports through our separate but related research projects. Christopher’s work, involving an ethnographic study of a working class, predominantly male boxing club, and Alex’s, which explored the phenomenon of mixed-sex training in a range of martial arts schools, fuelled many discussions between us on the sociological richness of these activities. Topics such as the contentious definition of ‘violence’, the emotional landscape of training to fight, the social class characteristics of participants in different clubs and schools and the complex relationship between ethnicity and authenticity in the martial arts occupied many of our debates. However, the most salient issue for both of us, and that which we returned to with the greatest regularity, was the manner in which gender was constructed, portrayed and lived out within these activities. Indeed, both our doctoral theses and subsequent publications were eventually based on analyses of the gendered behaviour of practitioners within such settings, and these marked the beginning of our academic careers as scholars in this particular field (e.g. Channon, 2012a, 2012b, 2013a; Matthews, 2012, 2014).
From a feminist perspective sport has been viewed for a long time as a sexist institution, male-dominated and masculine in orientation. And yet, in recent years, women have truly advanced in organized, competitive sport. In this context this article looks at the role of the media in relation to women and sport, reflecting on the literature which has accumulated over the past two decades in this field and considering the notion that more recently a shift in the coverage of women's sports and female athletes has occurred. Through examining changes that did take place, this article shows that although women have gained some ground as far as media visibility is concerned, especially in major sporting events, it is far too early for a ‘victory lap’. By looking at findings of studies from the late 1990s and examining the media coverage of Marion Jones and Anna Kournikova this article shows that the type of coverage female athletes get has still a long way to go.
Messner states that ‘violent sports as spectacle provide linkages among men in the project of the domination of women’ (1990, p. 213). Boyle and Haynes (2000, p. 137) claim that ‘nowhere is the metaphor of the male body as weapon or fighting machine more evident than in the sport of boxing’. Lindner (2012, p. 464) argues that ‘boxing has been the last “bastion of masculinity” within the Olympic content’. Given these appraisals of boxing, what is the feminist approach to understanding women’s desire to box? Cultural feminists are most likely to oppose women’s boxing on the grounds that violence has been one of the most prominent factors in women’s oppression. Conversely, physical feminists (e.g. McCaughey, 1997) argue that boxing can be empowering and has the potential to change gender scripts, which is part of the endeavour for women’s liberation. Hargreaves (2003) explains that boxing is at odds with the supposed ‘essence’ of femininity and blurs the traditional male/female boundaries. She argues that women are taught to be vulnerable, passive and not aggressive, whereas women who box ‘are empowering themselves by appropriating male symbols of physical capital and shifting gender relations of power’ (Hargreaves, 2003, p. 219).
The commercial is highly stylised, set in black and white with large text in red. A woman with wavy blond hair and a black bodycon dress stands in front of a white backdrop, followed by a close-up of a woman with short, spiked blond hair biting her lip seductively. The screen then pans to a pouty-lipped woman wearing an American flag T-shirt cut off at the extreme top of her thighs, standing with legs wide in front of the word ‘BEAUTY’ in red, all capitalised letters. More images of women with perfect blowouts and flawless skin drift across the screen as the announcer, sounding eerily similar to the standard voice-over in a movie trailer, proclaims in an oozing voice: ‘Beauty is only skin-deep, but Strength comes right from the heart.’ The pronouncement is discordant, given the cinematography continued to focus on close-ups of the women’s mouths, legs and hair: scopophilia as a fight promotion. Rose Namajunas, the 22-year-old professional fighter who previously wore the American flag dress, opens her mouth, revealing a red mouth guard with Ultimate Fighter emblazoned across the front, introducing the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF 20).1 Where previous seasons’ trailers previewed the upcoming fights and dramas, the TUF 20 promo video focused exclusively on the fighter’s looks, pronouncing the fighters in dichotomies: ‘jaw-dropping’ and ‘jaw-breaking’, ‘women’ and ‘fighters’, who are ‘easy on the eyes’ and ‘hard on the face’.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) broadcasts mixed martial arts (MMA) fights in more than 149 countries to nearly a billion households worldwide. In 2012, the UFC signed its first ever female fighter, ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey. To emphasise how gender is constructed, and the tension surrounding women fighters in the UFC, a controversial media report published after Rousey’s first headlining fight helps to set the stage for this chapter: Ronda Rousey put hot, steamy meat in her mouth to celebrate her UFC 157 victory over Liz Carmouche. Rousey had apparently been craving tender, juicy meat throughout her training camp, but she wasn’t allowed to indulge because she had to worry about contractual weight requirements. Once the ‘W’ was secured and the fight was over, Rousey was finally able to suck on some delicious bones, as her camp explained that she feasted in her private hotel room following UFC 157.1 (emphasis added)
This article presents ethnographic research on a women's self-defense course and proposes that socially available gender narratives of white femininity are potentially disempowering and victimizing to,women. Changes in self-narratives as a result of the course reflect a more powerful self that challenges dominant discourses. The process illustrated in this article consists of refraining victimization, liberating the self and enabling the body in a transformation of gender and self-narratives that affirm "femininity" while subverting its defining ideologies. What results is a physical agency within which narratives about femininity are reinterpreted and reembodied as powerful instead of vulnerable.