The first female-female UFC headliner took place last night, with Ronda Rousey fighting Liz Carmouche. The event was touted as being historic and progressive, a shining feminist victory. But, in what ways was this event made possible by capitalism while actually undermining certain feminist ideals?
Does Rousey’s Sex Appeal Taint This Fight as a “Feminist Victory?”
Ronda Rousey is an extremely fit, young woman with long, wavy blonde hair and perfect teeth who visually reads as being caucasian (little known and little discussed fact: she is actually part hispanic). She is also a disciplined and talented athlete, but it seems that her qualifications seem to have taken a backseat to her looks in public discourse.
While UFC commentary rarely focuses on the sex appeal of male fighters, fight blogs relating to Rousey have been teeming with speculation about her sexuality, comments on her looks and her weight, and demeaning banter about her by the primarily male UFC audience (the audience is around 73% male according to some statistics). She was featured on a creepy blog called “Spank Tank” on the site “fightlinker,” which included several “sexy” pictures of her – pictures from her personal life, rather than press photos. This elicited comments from readers like,
“not to sound like a dick, but you can tell that she’s got fat potential”
The same comment author speculated that Rousey might be a “party lesbian” based on one of her photos.
When a female reader jumped in to comment that it was annoying that a talented MMA fighter was featured in a “spank tank,” thus demeaning her skills and hard work in favor of a focus on her looks, the female commentator was rebuked with,
“you did notice that SHE was the one doing all the provocative posing in those self-portraits, right? RIGHT? I think we can all agree that she wants to be looked upon w/erect penis & clenched fist”
The author of this tactless comment was referring to pictures that Rousey had taken of herself in front of a mirror, fully clothed. While a reasonable person might consider that Rousey had not ever intended a huge public audience to see these photos, this misogynist assumes that Rousey enjoys sexually motivated attention from strangers.
“It’s All Business”
In contrast, Rousey’s mother, AnnMarie De Mars, who’s a Ph.D, a blogger, and former judo champion and statistician herself, published a blog about her daughter. While it is a biased article that sings Rousey’s praises and focuses on her work ethic and clean record, the author does admit that Rousey’s looks have probably played an inordinately large role in her commercial success as a UFC fighter. She also conceded that Rousey’s acceptance into the UFC was based on the financial gain that she represented, not on any warm and fuzzy feminist idealism on part of the UFC.
In 1993, during the dawn of the UFC, female fighters were turned away. In a 2011 TMZ interview, Dana White was asked when viewers could expect to see women in the UFC. His firm, unexplained answer was “Never.” This was during the heyday of Gina Carano, another beautiful female athlete who was knocking out other female fighters left and right, and who was limited to fighting in the StrikeForce league. To White’s credit, it has been speculated that the decision was based on there not being suitable opposing fighters for Carano at that time, although one could also speculate that it was due to a supposition that a female-female fight would not draw a large enough audience or generate enough money – basically, that UFC’s largely male audience was not ready for, or interested in, watching female athletes beat one another up.
Last night my local Buffalo Wild Wings was packed with spectators. I got there an hour early and had to inch past the line at the door to squeeze in at the bar. The camera showed Liz Carmouche, Rousey’s opponent and a former marine, going through the checkpoint before entering the octagon. The shot showed a tough-looking, well muscled and dark-complected woman, seemingly wearing no make-up and with visible acne blemishes. Meanwhile, most of the crowded bar around me was cheering on a guy who was attempting to eat 24 “blazin” wings.
In contrast, Rousey’s entrance on screen was greeted by a tremendous racket of cat-calls, shouts and whistles. The conventionally beautiful fighter was the crowd favorite. To the immense joy of the audience, the fight was action-packed. Rousey narrowly escaped an attack by Carmouche to eventually submit her with her signature arm bar.
It was a great match, showcasing the extremely impressive skills of both women. Talented female athletes should be allowed in the UFC based on their merit. And Carmouche and Rousey should be congratulated for being pioneers in mixed martial arts. I just don’t think that the event was as purely progressive as some would make it out to be, but must be understood as containing within it some feminist give-and-take. UFC 157 has publicly challenged conventional gender stereotypes about women (women are weak, women are not true athletes, women are inherently gentle) while reinforcing stereotypes about conventional beauty and the position of women as sex objects.
Sources: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1541189-ufc-157-rousey-vs-carmouche-is-a-step-forward-for-feminism http://fightlinker.com/spank-tank-ronda-rousey-0/ http://www.blogher.com/why-ronda-rousey-will-put-women-ufc-its-all-business-2?page=0,1 http://dialog.scarborough.com/index.php/ufc-154-audience-demographics-spotlight-on-female-ufcmma-tv-viewers/