I know how the One Direction On the Road Again tour could be vastly improved. Have Ronda Rousey come onstage to beat the living crap out of Harry, Niall, Louis, and Liam, in that order. “You’re insecure. Don’t know what for.” Bam, blam, arm bar, silence. That 30-second shit show would be well worth $150 a seat.
The only problem is that Rousey, the reigning bantamweight UFC champion, won’t fight men. Does that include over-produced 20-something meat puppets?
This is only one of the questions that haunted me as I paid $60.00 to see the UFC 190 fights on television last night. I also wondered if I would regret spending that much money on what would likely be a short bout between Rousey and her trash-talking competitor, Bethe Correia of Brazil. The fight lasted all of 34 seconds, which is long by Rousey’s standards. She usually suffocates her foolish opponents immediately. In the end, Rousey proved that she is a freaking awesome fighter. Just wow. But I am not sure how marketable these brief non-contests can remain. The other fights on the card were much more entertaining, especially the rematch between Rua and Nogueira. I always root for the old, almost washed-up guy, so I thought Nogueira won the fight. All the same, I was interested in more than the kicky, kicky, punch, punch. The main reason I watched this UFC event was to see how the commentators would characterize Rousey in terms of gender.
In some ways, I was pleasantly surprised by the respect shown to Rousey. All the reporters and officials described her in glowing terms, as the best female fighter who has ever lived. Few of them mentioned her appearance or body. Instead, they talked about how hard she trained, her stellar technique, and her killer instinct. Yet the PPV event was sexist in other ways.
Rousey was consistently portrayed as an “exceptional” woman. She is “one of a kind,” in a category all her own, heads and shoulders above other women. The implication is that she is not really a woman at all. This strategy of representing highly skilled, athletic, or intelligent women as special cases has a long history. When a woman shatters stereotypical conceptions of femininity, those conceptions can nevertheless remain in place because the woman is depicted as an unusual rarity. Consider the example of the eighteenth-century artist Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun. Critics argued that she was able to paint like a man because she was a unique woman, not like the others. Such exceptional women rise above the category of woman and (almost) enter the sacred sphere of men. They have masculine qualities, including substitute lady penises. They are hermaphroditic in nature, a delightfully monstrous and mythical combination of both man and woman. According to the online sources I recently consulted, Rousey is this kind of wondrous being. She is blessed with a strong work ethic, hand-eye coordination, quickness, toughness, a potty mouth, and a high sex drive. She is seriously bad ass. Practically one of the guys.
Rousey might not agree. After all, she tells anyone who calls her masculine to go fuck themselves. Here is her recent reply to critics who argued that her body too muscular:
“Just because my body was developed for a purpose other than fucking millionaires, doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely bad-ass 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.”
Rousey went on to clarify that a do-nothing bitch is “a bitch who just tries to be pretty and be taken care of by someone else,” a statement that will no doubt offend women who identify primarily with their appearance and are either emotionally or financially dependent on a man, while lacking in substantial educational, career, or other accomplishments. Rousey has no time for such women who understand their appearance, body, and sexuality as forms of currency that they bring into a relationship, trading them for housing, dinners out, flattery, and continual reassurance. Rousey appeals to strong, confident women who take care of themselves and enter relationships with adult men who are equally independent (i.e. they are not co-dependent sugar or other kinds of daddies). I absolutely love her characterization of “do-nothing bitches” because looking good is not much of an accomplishment and it definitely will not stand the test of time. I also love Rousey’s blunt way of speaking, which makes her seem like an authentic, no bull shit kind of gal. Her public persona is utterly different from the controlled image offered by the members of One Direction, who spouted banal pap and repeatedly thanked their fans for buying expensive concert tickets.
Rousey’s direct approach did not come off as well when she was asked about fighting Fallon Fox, a trans woman and impressive MMA fighter. According to Rousey: “She can try hormones, chop her pecker off, but it’s still the same bone structure a man has. It’s an advantage.”
Rousey clearly thinks that Fox will always be a man, an identity that is permanent. Rousey is not versed in trans discourse and is not adhering to the relatively new recognition of gender non-conformity. It is somewhat ironic that Rousey has faced discrimination and yet appears to have no sympathy for Fox. Yet I am not interested in criticizing Rousey for I think she makes an important point: the presence or absence of a penis is not key to gender identity. It is not necessary to have a pecker in order to “be a man.” This opens the door for a more productive conversation about what exactly does make a man, if anything. Rousey locates gendered difference in the skeletal system, an argument that dates from the eighteenth century, when bone structure (and especially the structure of the pelvic bones) was offered up as the ultimate proof of the binary divide between men and women. Before that women and men differed according to the kind of humours or fluids that flowed through their veins. Much later, hormones were considered the ultimate foundation of sexual distinctions. I think you get the point without me providing a lengthy history lesson, as much as I would like to do that. The basis of gendered difference has changed historically and will continue to change. The ultimate distinction between the categories of man and woman is completely unclear and, given the increasing understanding of trans identity, may eventually collapse altogether. Then how will athletic competitions be divided? By reach, anger management issues, or crazy-ass stare down ability? Bethe Correia might have a future career after all.
Rousey could probably beat almost anyone. Still, she made a good point when she argued that it would not be great for UFC fans to watch a man punch a woman, implying that it could encourage even more domestic violence against women. But what about a goddess such as herself taking down a few pop idols? Surely pummeling Liam would do no harm. And it might well do some good. Then Rousey would be worshipped as a role model by pre-teen girls. The boy band phenomenon is hardly positive; it encourages girls to focus on being compliant and beautiful. Sure, it also allows young ladies to scream and act out in public, thwarting parental control while testing out their sexuality in a completely safe and acceptable manner. It’s not entirely bad. Still, kicking ass inside the octagon is a little better.