Scholar and fighter L.A. Jennings talks feminism in the world of Mixed Martial Arts
Feminist scholar/fighter L.A. Jennings has seen her share of gender bias in the competitive arena. Now a retired a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sanshou and MMA fighter, Jennings spends most of her time training both men and women at her Denver gym, Train. Fight. Win. But she's also a scholar working on her Ph.D. in twentieth-century American literature.
At this Thursday's edition of Feminism & Co.: Full Contact at the MCA Denver, she will be discussing the intersections of these two very powerful forces in her own life. In advance of her speaking engagement, Jennings spoke with Westword about being a feminist fighter, and how she works to dispel the myth that women only want to fight for self-defense.
Westword: Can you talk a little bit about who you are and what you do?
L.A. Jennings: I'm a graduate student at the University of Denver, finishing up my fourth year and I'm getting my Ph.D. in English literature. I'm defending my dissertation next month, so I'm very close to being done. My area (of study) is twentieth century American literature and theory and criticism, which is how I got into the feminism side of things. My dissertation is on detective fiction and this character of the femme fatale. That's my academic work.
While I've been in graduate school and while I was back in Florida getting my master's, I got into training in martial arts and I started competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and submission wrestling. I used to compete in a competition style called Sanshou. It's basically Chinese kickboxing -- kickboxing with throws and takedowns. I used to compete in that, and I was trying to get into an MMA fight because those were very, very hard for women to get into six years ago. It was impossible. The first fight that was offered to me was to go straight to pro against a woman who was already five and zero -- that didn't make any sense.
My husband and I moved to Colorado about four years ago to start my program. We owned a gym back in Florida, and we opened one here and now I'm more on the coaching and training side of things; I don't really compete myself. But I have a lot of guys and girls I get ready for various events: MMA, grappling, kickingboxing and stuff like that.
I was doing that and then through my master's program, I started doing some research on feminism and seeing if there was anything out there about feminism and martial arts. At the time, there really wasn't. The only voices that were out there were talking about women learning self-defense. Which is great and very worthwhile, but it's very different from being an actual fighter. I started writing short articles about what it means to be a woman and to train and compete in this very male-centric, almost subculture.
Once I finish my dissertation, I'll be writing a book on the history of women in fighting sports. I've been contracted to do that, and it should be out in 2015.