Let’s be clear on a few things. Ronda Rousey is a fighter. And one of the best fighters at that. She just knocked out the very skilled and tough Bethe Correia in a 34 second slugfest. But she is not a feminist hero, and I don’t think we should expect her to be.
Recently, she got some love from various sites around the Internet for her response to truly obnoxious sports journalists who talk about how huge she is, say she looks masculine, etc, etc. (This is obviously not a new trend in sports journalism, and definitely not a new subject on this blog.) Now Rousey’s response is a positive influence for women and girls who struggle with these kinds of issues. But that’s it. And we, as her adoring public, should really stick to adoring her skills in the ring, and the fact that she is deservedly proud of her body and what it can do.
But she’s not the body image role model we need. Nor is she the feminist role model we need. She is just the talented and hard-working knockout and submission artist we need. The quote that people are pulling from her UFC pre-fight video is this one:
I have this one term for the kind of woman my mother raised me to not be, and I call it a do nothing bitch. A DNB. The kind of chick that just tries to be pretty and be taken care of by someone else. That’s why I think it’s hilarious if my body looks masculine or something like that. Listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than fucking millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely badass as fuck because there’s not a single muscle on my body that isn’t for a purpose, because I’m not a do nothing bitch. It’s not very eloquently said but it’s to the point and maybe that’s just what I am. I’m not that eloquent but I’m to the point.
Yes, she is femininely baddass as fuck, and yes, she should be proud as hell of every single muscle on her body. But also, fuck throwing other women under the bus. Fuck the category of “do nothing bitch,” because it doesn’t help any of us to put other women down. In her defense, the language she’s using is the language of the people she is addressing, who are pretty happy to say anything they like about any woman’s body. Too fat, too skinny, too manly, too ugly, too much of lots of things I can’t even think of at the moment. But still. Rousey’s response has some positives, but it’s also got some elements of exactly what keeps gendered oppression going, namely women turning against each other. Instead of telling these jerks to fuck off because MMA athletes aren’t those kinds of bitches, we should tell them to fuck off because what any woman looks like or does with her own body is none of their damn business. Because whether someone wants to be an athlete, fuck millionaires, be a millionaire, be pretty, wear dresses – or any or none of the above – is her own business. Let’s not allow our body-positivity to turn into negativity about other people.
And while Rousey’s been silent about her lately, one woman who’s suffered a lot of discrimination in her MMA career is Ashley Fallon Fox, who came out publicly as a trans woman in an interview with Outsports. She was almost immediately subjected to a transphobic rant from UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione, who later apologized. Mostly. (Though I thought Fallon Fox’s public acceptance of his apology was quite the display of understanding and class.) So I’m not really as concerned about Rousey putting down some unspecified DNBs as I am about her public statements about Fallon Fox, stating that she would have an unfair advantage and that having a trans woman as a UFC champion would be a socially difficult situation.
The whole issue of unfair advantage is one that many people seem happy to weigh in on, regardless of whether they have any actual medical expertise in the area. But if you’re looking for a place to start, there are some nice summaries of some of the empirical evidence that’s out there having to do with testosterone levels, bone density, muscle mass, etc. And as therapist and trans advocate Katy Koonce pointed out in a recent interview with Fallon Fox, if we’re going to be so concerned with unfair advantages, is it really so clear that a supposed bone structure difference is more of an advantage than having a mother who woke you up with an arm bar every morning?
The point here is that none of us should be putting Rousey on a feminist pedestal. But why should we need to? Thankfully, we are not short on badass women heroes as a society, nor are we short on feminist writing. There’s no need to try and read Rousey as delivering a perfect feminist message, and there seems to be no conflict between celebrating the positive things she brings while being critical of the ways in which her messages still fall short. That’s the thing about intersectionality. Just because someone has faced barriers because of their gender, that doesn’t mean they understand the struggles that others face due to other factors in their lives. Here’s a quote from Fallon Fox now.
I mean [Rousey’s] whole thing is like, “Look at what I did. I was persistent. This is how I got women into the UFC. I didn’t take no for an answer. I never stopped, and I rose to the top, and I convinced Dana because I was persistent.” But when I’m persistent? Yeah, when I’m persistent about transgender women they’re like, “You should just stop. Just go away don’t even try to attempt it.” Now Rousey is doing the gatekeeping.
This is a perfect illustration of the problem that arises when we forget that oppression and discrimination affect different people in different ways – and that those who are subject to discrimination along some lines may nevertheless perpetuate discrimination along other lines. I don’t know why we would expect Rousey to be better informed than Mitrione about what it means to be trans. Sometimes I suspect that people see his ignorance as more excusable or understandable than hers, which doesn’t seem right. Just because one of them has good things to say about the body shaming of athletic women doesn’t mean she would know anything about the other kinds of oppression that are out there in the world. So don’t be surprised that she doesn’t. Be disappointed that more people don’t understand the oppression that trans folks face, and the gender policing that goes on in athletics.
So don’t expect Rousey to be a feminist hero – or Fallon Fox either, while we’re at it. Expect them to kick ass in the ring. Support Rousey when she says that muscular women are attractive. But definitely also support Fallon Fox when she says that trans women are women, and when she criticizes Rousey for not understanding that, and for standing in the way of trans women’s participation in athletics. But here’s the thing. You too can tell the body shamers and the transmisogynists to fuck off! You don’t have to be a knockout artist to be your own feminist hero. That’s something we can all work towards.