Why Women Champion Themselves in the Fighting Sports

I was having a conversation with an accomplished and very thoughtful female fighter, Mae-Lin Loew of the incredibly well written Loew Factor blog. She was at once applauding me...

I was having a conversation with an accomplished and very thoughtful female fighter, Mae-Lin Loew of the incredibly well written Loew Factor blog. She was at once applauding me for being so honest and open in my writing, and at the same time kind of wishing she could move more in that direction herself. The subject of social limitations to what might be perceived as self-aggrandizement in blogging came up, and this little portion of my response seemed to stand on its own and say important things, so I duplicate it here:

…There’s a lot of sniping and criticism no matter what you do. It’s a cost-benefit issue, at least how I see it, in that the people who take shots at you will always hurt you, even if you don’t know them or they don’t know you or it should be easy to shrug off. It just simply isn’t. But there are far fewer of them than there are people who will be inspired by you. And that’s who you do it for, not for the people who don’t get it. So the cost of petty shit-talkers is pretty low considering the benefit of people like you and me being able to connect, out of nowhere, really.

But you know, I don’t like writing some of the updates I write. They feel like braggadocio at times, even when they’re not coming from that place. When I was first starting out there were two or three female fighters on Facebook who I felt were selling themselves too hard and it turned me off to them, but I realized then and I’ve come to realize more now that as female athletes, NOBODY else is going to do it for us. I had to tell my mom this for her own position at her job, which is basically a secretary at a university. She doesn’t like pointing out what she does to get credit for it and then she literally just doesn’t and she’s been passed over for promotions and raises because of that. There aren’t any cultures I can think of that actually support self-aggrandizement in a blatant sense, but all cultures that allow it at all certainly are more accepting of it for men; it’s a greater sin when committed by women, to be sure. But women don’t talk each other up the way we ought to either and small competitions and snipes are something that women athletes simply can’t afford… but that’s how it goes. So talking about yourself, while it may feel awkward and immodest to some degree, isn’t really about YOU. It’s about all of us. It makes room for the concept that women CAN be talked about as having accomplished something, rather than just being something men might have some appreciation for, if they’re open to it.

[Update: Mae-Lin Leow responds]

Thank you for this: it’s given me some food to thought over the last few days. It’s so true that female athletes are simply not given the same amount of exposure (which directly translates into opportunity, financial income, and therefore ability to train and develop to a higher level). It IS up to us to do it for ourselves.

 When I was starting out in Muay Thai, before social media, there were people who said that women’s combat sports would never be as popular as men’s, and would never be televised because people just didn’t want to watch it. Since social media has allowed athletes to promote themselves, this has been proven really wrong. But, as you said, it has been up to us to do it for ourselves.

 Enabling personal connection is very important too – thank you for reminding me of this. When I was a teenager I was involved in a gym with a very abusive dynamic, and I believe that this dynamic was able to exist unchallenged because of the isolation involved – not only were all students forbidden to associate with members of other gyms etc., but I was the only woman in the gym. I really believe that things may have been different for me if I were able to have contact – even just through reading blog posts – with other female fighters, so that I had other experiences with which to compare my own. This has been a strong motivation for me to be involved with the regulation of combat sports in my hometown on a government level. Thank you for reminding me that social media can be used this way too.

It’s still a case of women being told that “good girls should be seen and not heard,” isn’t it?

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay

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