Jessica’s Human Ethology Assignment

This weekend I attended a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition in Atlanta, GA. While not a bar or a typical place you would think of for a ethnography study on human mating behavior, the tournament presents such a unique opportunity to study mating systems in the sub-culture of fighters. While we always see the fighter in the spotlight, as a female fighter myself, its always been interesting to me the dynamic between the male fighters and their female companions. What I ended up observing at this tournament was quite similar to what I have observed in similar situations throughout the time I’ve been involved in the sport.

I started off my focal sample with a particular female who looked about my size, mainly I started with her because I thought she looked like I might be fighting her and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to size up my competition while completing my assignment. She wore track pants and a t-shirt, quite different from the girly, dressed up females simply there to hold their boyfriends shoes while they were on the mat, but throughout the day I came to find out that she was NOT a fighter, and I’m not really sure if she was with any particular guy either. However, she was obviously with a group of men (what I had first presumed was her gym but because she didn’t compete I’m not sure). I don’t believe she was gay but I could be wrong. However, it seemed to me she was using her athletic appearance to attract the males in her group because at times I believe she was obviously flirting which was evident by her body language.  In my opinion, her apperance was being used as an attention getting mechanism to set her apart from the “glove chasers” and convey to potentional mates of her compatability and similar interests.

My scan sampling at this point became a little patchy. Since both me and my teammates were competing, consecutive 15 minute intervals of only observation became a tad bit difficult. However, some very interesting things happened. I started to notice that there were little categories couples fit into. Firstly, you would obviously see the girls in the bleachers and on the sidelines handleling cameras and keeping an eye on flip-flops and t-shirts while in full makeup. The most outstanding thing to me with these women is that even though they were obviously there for their boyfriends, I saw not one hugged up to anyone THE ENTIRE TIME. You rarely saw the guys with one of these girls and if you did it was only in them passing by after their match to pick up their clothing items. It was kind of as if dating the fighter was suplication for any actual affection there might be floating around. It was very obvious that there was to be no affections shown by the fighter to the female while it was time to compete. I believe this was probably because the men would not want to be seen by their peers as weak in anyway when in an enviroment fueled by male on male competition.

Directly opposite of this was the dynamic I observed between two fighter couples (a rarity but still observable none the less). While you still saw the girls holding cameras and shoes, you saw their boyfriends doing exactly the same! You were also a lot more likely to see these couples hug or kiss (mostly the PDA acceptible verstions) off the mats than the previous. I don’t know if that was maybe because there was not any power embalance there like there was with the male fighter couples but there was a clear difference in this aspect. They also seemed more inclined to introduce their partners to their competitors and comrads.

Lastly, one of my most notable observations was that of a lesbian couple, the one being a fighter and the other not. Although you would expect the one fighter dynamic to be there, it wasn’t. You saw them equally like you saw the two fighter couples. I found this extremely interesting but I couldn’t, and still can’t really put my finger on how or why it was like that.

Author: Johnna Dominguez

Johnna Dominguez earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies: Cultural Studies and Body Politics from the University of Alabama's New College in May 2011. In her senior thesis, Johnna explored the embodiment of identity through sexuality and sports by observing and studying Alabama football fans and participants in the local burlesque troupe, the Pink Box Burlesque. In her Master's thesis, she is investigating the psychological and physical stresses associated with southern women who get tattoos. After completing her Master's in Anthropology, she hopes to return to school for a Master's in Public Health.

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