Fighting Gender Stereotypes: Women’s Participation in the Martial Arts, Physical Feminism and Social Change



 In the past, some scholars have assumed that women’s empowerment through participation in sports, particularly male-identified sports, would result in a decrease in gender differences and performances of femininity. Recently, however, scholars have suggested that performances of femininity are not necessarily detrimental to gender empowerment, and furthermore that strategic use of them may be subversive. On the basis of my auto-ethnography and interviews with men and women who practice martial arts, I explicate the unique social conditions that make full-contact martial arts a fertile ground for gender subversive appropriation in terms of: 1. close and reciprocal bodily contact between men and women, 2. the need to learn new regimes of embodiment, and 3. the paradoxical effects of male dominance in the field. I then describe two specific mechanisms through which subversive appropriation takes place: formation of queer identities and male embodied nurturance. While the first mechanism relies on women’s appropriation of performances of masculinity, the second relies on men’s appropriation of performances of femininity.


queer identitiesgenderempowermentperformances of femininity
  • Volume: 7
  • Page/Article: 36-48
  • DOI: 10.18573/mas.56
  • Published on 21 Jan 2019
  • Peer Reviewed