Sex Roles

, Volume 79, Issue 3–4, pp 239–252 | Cite as

“Some Women Are Born Fighters”: Discursive Constructions of a Fighter’s Identity by Female Finnish Judo Athletes

  • Anna KavouraEmail author
  • Marja Kokkonen
  • Stiliani “Ani” Chroni
  • Tatiana V. Ryba


Martial arts and combat sports have been traditionally associated with masculinity, and a range of contradictory meanings have been attached to women’s engagement and experiences. The present study draws on cultural praxis and feminist poststructuralist frameworks to explore how female martial artists are subjectified to dominant cultural discourses surrounding fighting and competition. Interviews with nine female judoka (judo athletes) were gathered in Finland and analyzed using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA). The FDA revealed that in female judoka talk, judo was constructed as a sport for all, but also as a male domain and a manly sport with fighting and competition as innate masculine qualities that are not learned. Two sets of wider, competing discourses provided the dominant structure for participants’ constructions of judo: (a) a mass sport discourse versus an elite sport discourse and (b) a gender equality discourse versus a female biological inferiority discourse. Drawing on this discursive context and in seeking to make sense of their experiences, participants constructed a “naturally born fighter” identity. Although this might be an empowering identity for female judoka, it does not advance the agenda of gender equity in martial arts because it constructs “ordinary” women as biologically incapable of competitive judo. Our findings reveal that even in the relatively egalitarian culture of Finland, gender hierarchies persist in judo and that it is only by disrupting prevalent constructions of fighting and competitiveness as masculine that progress toward gender equity can be made.


Cultural praxis Cultural sport psychology Feminist poststructuralist theory Gender Martial arts 



This study is part of a larger PhD research project which was partly funded by Urheiluopistosäätiö (2010–2012) and by Aarhus University Research Foundation (2013).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study is part of a larger PhD research project which has been accepted by the University of Jyväskylä Ethical Committee.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11199_2017_869_MOESM1_ESM.docx (12 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 12 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Sport and Health SciencesUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  2. 2.Department of Sports and Physical EducationInland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Terningen ArenaElverumNorway
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland

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