Supporting Women’s Competitive Jiu-Jitsu Is A Team Effort

Photo Source: Kitt Canaria for Jiu-Jitsu Times

Like many (or even most) sports, jiu-jitsu is heavily dominated by men. Although the number of female participants is steadily growing, any tournament or class you go to is going to have far fewer women than men. It’s not necessarily convenient, but most women in the sport have gotten used to it. What many female participants do have a problem with, however, is the amount of attention given to BJJ women in the competitive scene.

This past year, many BJJ athletes called out various media sites for not giving the same coverage to female jiu-jitsu competitors as male competitors. The counterargument was generally that, one, there are far fewer female athletes than male athletes, and two, the numbers on social media (shares, views, clicks, etc.) were showing that people didn’t really care about coverage of the female athletes anyway.

So who’s right here? Should media sites be completely responsible for supporting women’s jiu-jitsu by giving them the same amount of coverage even when it may cost them money? Or should readers and viewers bear all the weight by religiously sharing every article and video of a female athlete that pops up on their newsfeed?

As someone who’s both a female jiu-jitsu athlete and a member of the jiu-jitsu-based media, I believe that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Yes, the media absolutely has a responsibility to give equal coverage to male and female athletes. Really, this is “How To Not Be Stuck In The 1950s 101” here. People pay attention to what gets the most media coverage, and if the media tells people they should care about something over and over and over again, people are going to start caring about it. When women aren’t given equal coverage in sports media, the message that’s being sent out is that they aren’t worth the coverage. So then when they occasionally do pop up in articles or videos, they’re seen as insignificant sidenotes or afterthoughts by the audience, because that’s how they’ve been treated all this time.

We saw this at work in the women’s MMA scene. For years, women’s MMA wasn’t mainstream. There were no female fighters in the UFC (which is honestly crazy to think about now). People knew that female MMA fighters existed, and there were absolutely fans who followed them before they started becoming more popular, but it wasn’t until Ronda Rousey created a media frenzy that people started to demand more women’s MMA in droves. Now it’s hard to imagine a world where Holly Holm and Rose Namajunas wouldn’t be immediately recognized by anyone remotely familiar with the industry.

All of that said, the massive amount of media coverage that helped Rousey rise to fame and fortune was driven by the fans. And that’s what needs to happen in jiu-jitsu as well. We as participants need to encourage our female teammates to compete more and seek out competitive role models. Men are generally driven to jiu-jitsu for the sport aspect, whereas women have it drilled into their heads that they need to train for self-defense. I’m not arguing that jiu-jitsu isn’t a great self-defense system, but a lot of women I know don’t even consider competing because, well, they haven’t really thought about training for sport. If more women start competing, they’ll take up more space at tournaments and be harder to ignore. And if they seek out competitive role models, they’re going to be more likely to spread the media that’s being created for female BJJ athletes.

We as consumers could also probably do a bit more to show media outlets that we want to see more coverage for female athletes. Share and “like” articles and videos that showcase BJJ women. Read their stories and watch their matches. Prove to the media that this is what we want to see, and they’re going to start believing us when we say we want more of it. As a writer, I pay attention to the articles you guys interact with most on social media, and I try to give you more articles that focus on those same subjects. Most content creators do the same. So as a consumer, I try to interact with the content I want to see more of.

Ultimately, this is a cycle, and everyone involved needs to do their part to keep it moving if we want to see women’s competitive jiu-jitsu keep growing. There will be naysayers who claim that we shouldn’t force equal coverage of female BJJ if no one is that enthusiastic about seeing it, but I don’t think the issue is a lack of enthusiasm — it’s a lack of exposure on one end and a lack of support on the other end. Both ends need to work together and hold each other accountable in order to make women’s jiu-jitsu as commonplace as men’s, and I think that in 2018, we owe it to our sport to make the effort.


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