the sexual/sexualised athlete

Local athletes Tiffany Teo and Nurshahidah Roslie are making their mark in mixed martial arts and boxing. Today, female fighters are still sexualised in a largely male-dominated martial arts industry. How do female athletes handle being seen through a sexual perspective? Justin Ong writes for Channel News Asia.

Justin Ong’s article for Channel News Asia: “‘There’s always more to prove’: Singaporean female fighters grapple with combat sport’s cliches

“Why watch women fight?” The question, posted as an online comment, leaves local mixed martial arts (MMA) prospect Tiffany Teo stumped for a bit. The 26-year-old’s record speaks for itself: three consecutive, commanding victories since her professional debut in February led to an offer by Asian promotional giant ONE Championship to be the only Singaporean woman in its ranks.

She will now have the honour of kicking off the main card for ONE’s 11th show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Nov 11.

“You see, there’s always a lot more to prove,” Teo’s compatriot and teammate at Juggernaut Fight Club, boxer Nurshahidah Roslie, chimed in. “That’s why I focus on not just winning, but going out there and looking really good in terms of my skillset. I want to make sure people say, ‘Eh you know what, she can really fight’.”

There is no questioning Nurshahidah’s credentials either – undefeated over four fights, Singapore’s first professional female boxer is also the country’s first professional boxing champion with her Universal Boxing Organisation intercontinental title won in June. The 28-year-old will next contest the World Boxing Association (WBA) Oceania belt on Nov 12 when she headlines the fourth event put on by grassroots promoter Singapore Fighting Championship (SFC).

SFC founder Arvind Lalwani, who also coaches Teo and Nurshahidah, similarly described female fighters as driven by wanting to prove themselves.



Nurshahidah’s conundrum points to the lack of depth in female MMA and boxing circles, in part due to their infancy compared to male counterparts. “Women have had to work so much harder to get to the point they are at now,” said Gannaway. “From finding training partners in the gym, to finding a match-up in the individual’s division.”

And their job is compounded by an industry run and consumed by largely males, typified by the continuing presence of scantily-clad ring girls and Google searches for “women’s MMA” generating results such as the “20 hottest” and “15 sexiest” female fighters.

“Yeah, it’s all sexualised. I guess you can’t help it, sex sells,” said Teo with a shrug.

Her fellow female fighters, however, chose to embrace the positives of their situation. “If I have to be marketed that way, I’d feel confident about myself,” declared Nurshahidah.

Said Gannaway: “I’m sure there are many situations where women or whoever is representing them will intentionally sexualise their image in order to sell (fights). However there are just as many situations where there are women that feel and look good and flaunt that with the purpose to inspire other women.”

She added: “It is a great thing to see women that are part of an industry often understood as violent and masculine, who can in fact embrace their feminine side and look great while doing what they do. If anything, those fighters have … broken down the many negative barriers associated with women in MMA.”

It’s all part of marketing, said Ooi. “If you look good and can fight, it’s bound to attract attention and that attention is diverted to ticket sales. Human nature is such – we turn our attention to aesthetically pleasing things and people.”

“It’s not exactly selling sex to men. It’s a tool to promote fights,” she stated. “I prefer to see it as a way of empowering women in a male-dominated sport.”

Read the full article here at Channel News Asia. Original article was published on 18th October ’16.

Featured Image: Grapplearts


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