Alex Channon 2016

Martial Arts Studies Conference 2016

Sexualisation, female fighters, and the UFC: #feminism?

Alex Channon, University of Brighton

In the wake of the recent and somewhat sudden emergence of women’s mixed martial arts (WMMA) into the cultural mainstream, thanks in no small part to the iconic former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, the notion of a feminist victory having been scored in the historically male-dominated realm of full-contact combat sports has become widespread. There is no doubt that the growth of WMMA has the potential to inspire change in the way that women are generally positioned in sporting discourse, but history has shown that women’s gains in sport (as elsewhere) are rarely straightforward or unproblematic. By discussing the ways in which certain fighters are marketed, specifically via highlighting the persistent issue of female athlete sexualisation, this presentation will question how well WMMA stands to meet certain feminist goals. Doing so will invite unpicking debates between competing visions of feminism, as well as attending to the appropriation and commodification of feminist sentiment by the corporate interests driving the current development of WMMA. The presentation will conclude by inviting debate over how best to continue the growth of this emergent sport without compromising on the important political ambitions that have begun to be attached to it.


Biographical note

Alex Channon is Senior Lecturer in Physical Education and Sport Studies at the University of Brighton. Along with Christopher R. Matthews, he is the editor of Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sport: Women Warriors around the World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Alex’s research interests include sex integration in martial arts, the mediated representation of combat sport athletes, and the value of martial arts as forms of physical education.