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Elite Adult Female Fighters are Women, not "Girls"

by Maria Morales 10 months ago in fighting

It's time we talk about the sexism that still subtly arises in the world of professional combat sports.

Amanda Nunes, UFC Bantamweight and Featherweight Champion

Two weeks ago, the most dominant female mixed martial artist in the history of the sport, Amanda Nunes, defended her featherweight title at UFC 259. Her performance was outstanding. She destroyed her opponent, former Invicta featherweight champion, Megan Anderson within 2 minutes of the first round. The performance was unforgettable and should have left female MMA fans, like myself, in euphoria over the dominant performance. Yet, I turned off the TV after the post-fight conference with a knot in my stomach. Sexism had reared its ugly head again.

As the rare two division champion that has actively defended her belts in both weight classes, Nunes got on the podium to take questions from the media and an issue stood out to me at once. The first was that every time reporters asked about other athletes in her division or potential contenders, they were consistently referred to as "girls" when not called by their actual names. I don't know why I never noticed this before, but it stuck out like a sore thumb. I went back and re watched the fight to decide if this was an anomaly from the post-fight conference. To no one's surprise, the commentators (Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier) had both also referred to fighters in Nunes division as "girls." This sent me down a rabbit hole of media and commentary. Surely, this had to be an isolated incident, right? Nope! After reviewing 30 different video clips from earlier female fights, You Tube videos and ESPN segments I found that the majority (roughly 90 percent) included at least one pundit referring to women fighters as "girls."

Now one might ask what's the big deal? The sport can't be sexist since they let women compete, right? Wrong! While the UFC has come a long way from the days of Dana White arrogantly saying that women would never compete in the promotion, there's still incredibly sexist undertones to how female athletes are perceived and discussed. Don't believe me? Let me give you another example from the same post fight conference. Amanda and her wife, Nina Ansaroff, recently became parents to their adorable daughter, Reagan Ann Nunes. Amanda was asked about the impact of being a new mom on her fight preparation and performance repeatedly. While this may seem sweet to some, keep in mind that Nunes, unlike Serena Williams, did not carry their daughter, Nina did. There was no physical effects for her outside of losing sleep with a newborn, which is something all new parents experience. Yet the questions about motherhood kept coming. In contrast, another UFC champion that is a new parent as well, Jan Blachowicz, was not asked a single question about the effects that being a new father had on his performance. Conversely, he actually brought up his son, not the reporters. In a separate pundit clip through UFC, Michael Chiesa even talked about how great it would be for Amanda to fight Juliana Peña because "new mom vs. new mom." This one really baffled me; what does both women being new moms have to do with how competitive the fight will be or how well they match up stylistically? By suggesting that this would be an angle to the fight or pre-fight lead up, Chiesa completely invalidates their actual competence as fighters. I'm sure this was not his intent, but a consequence of his choice of focus in the moment. And this seems to happen a lot when you have the majority of commentary handled by male pundits and former fighters (who often fought before women were allowed in the UFC).

Micro-aggressions like these can be damning to women in sports. Referring to women as "girls" directly implies that they are less than their male counterparts. As playwright Bonnie Green summed it up, "a girl is someone who is not an adult, not a grown up, is not someone who takes responsibility for herself." Calling adult women "girls" is patronizing at best and sexually suggestive at worst. Women fighters work just as hard as their male counterparts, both inside and outside of the cage. To refer to them as anything less than women is insulting and unacceptable. I get it, it's easy to use a universal term to refer to a group, like how we use "guys" to refer to both women and men in a group (which, has its own set of issues). But just because it's easy, it doesn't make it right. Think about it - how would it be perceived if we began referring to male fighters as "boys"? How well do you think that would go over? Let's face it, it wouldn't. Outside of the racial connotations that the word "boy" would have for fighters of color, the general disdain would likely come from the hyper masculinity that is prevalent in combat sports in general, and mixed martial arts in particular.

It's high time that the promotion, the media, and us as fans show female fighters the respect that they deserve and stop referring to them as children, which is what a girl is. It's not hard. Simply replace the word girl with the word woman (women) when discussing female fighters.


Maria Morales

I'm a foodie, mom of 5 beautiful & complicated young adults, lover of all things Wizarding World & Star Wars, proud Blerd, podcaster/YouTuber and huge MMA fan.

Hope you enjoy my perspective on all of the things I love!

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