In honour of #InternationalWomensDay I thought it fitting to post a blog post on the role of feminism today, especially the role it does or doesn’t play for women in their own lives. I was inspired to write this by a news article I came across about UFC women’s bantamweight title holder Ronda Rousey, who according to UFC President Dana White could begin to fight men after a recent 14-second win against fellow female fighter Cat Zingano. In response Rousey said:
“I really just don’t think that any athletic commission on Earth would ever condone something like that,” …”Fights are going to go both ways. You’re going to see both people hitting each other. I don’t think we should celebrate a man hitting a woman in any kind of setting.”
The article noted that UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan believed Rousey, 28, could possibly beat 50 per cent of men in the UFC’s bantamweight division. To which she responded:
“I would have to say if you’re just talking about what’s in the realm of possibility of what’s possible of who I could beat, well I could beat 100 per cent of them,” “You can’t tell me that there’s a zero percent chance that I can beat anyone on the planet, so I’m never gonna say that.”
So here we have an individual woman who is incredibly talented at her sport talking herself out of taking on men in the main arena, all in the name of feminism, because she feels that to do so would be to create a destructive precedent that encourages domestic violence against other women.
This is what I call The Feminist Paradox. It describes when as a woman you are made to feel you can’t do something that you would enjoy and would arguably make you grow as an individual, because of what feminism tells you should do as a member of the discriminated female sex. Yet, feminism also says that women should be able to develop themselves in whatever way they wish to personally pursue. So in result the woman is encouraged to thwart her personal growth and in this instance, the growth of female fighters after her, because she feels to do so would thwart the growth of other women.
I find this a very difficult argument to swallow and I would like to say unequivocally that I think she is making the wrong decision; she should take her talents as far as she is able and in this case get a shot at the big money and prestige that comes with male fighting, which is systematically denied to women.
I have seen the argument that individual women should just “butt out” of the feminist revolution many times, of course most notably in the various sex industries where women’s decision to work in the bedroom or in front of the camera is almost entirely derided and seen in terms of betrayal by some feminist camps. Such women are encouraged to go without their personal ambition of becoming a coveted sex symbol, etc. in order that women elsewhere are taken seriously as other than sex symbols, in the office for instance (a very tenuous logic indeed, but that’s another point).
I probably don’t have to outline my position regarding that argument in too much detail, being a female porn director, but I feel it is important to question any political campaign that requires the silencing of some on its side in order to maintain the illusion of a united front (and then rues and cant understand when women don’t call themselves feminists!) Not only does this line of thinking result in reductive ideas about what it is to be a woman, and what can be respected, it reinforces ambivalent sexist ideas about women’s roles, as non-sexual beings and non-fighting beings in this instance.
As gender is something we do, not something we are born with (although, yes of course we have sexed bodies, usually male or female) I think Rousey should take the inspiration from herself as someone who performs masculinity as a woman. Clearly her own masculinity is important to her; after all she made it central to her life, her ambition, her career. If others who are in the know think she is able to take on the big prize, she should try her hand at it and open a door for women, not only other female fighters, but other participants of her industry, and importantly those fans who watch her. She will send out an important message that our sex is only of relative importance and the sexes much more closely resemble a Venn diagram that overlaps in the middle with men and women being much more fluid in their gender, rather than two entirely separate spheres, which is how the sports industry is structured at present.
Importantly we have the ability to view men’s participation in combative sports as separate from the violent behaviour of those men who participate in aggressive acts in public like fighting on the street, which has no such overt rules. We know that boxing, for instance, has special parameters and constraints that clearly differentiate such fighting from street brawling and therefore we don’t argue that boxing causes street fighting. It would seem illogical to do so because doing so would be to ignore such parameters. If we truly see women in terms more empowering than as perpetual victims, we ought to be able to do the same with women who professionally fight men. They are in a different cultural set of parentheses than female victims of domestic violence, anything else is ultimately reinforcing the basic immovable premise of female victimhood.
I describe the way we should approach the paradox as holding two balls out in front of you. Yes I am a woman and therefore I am subject to all of the inequalities that involves, but I am also an individual person who can and should extend her own ambitions as I imagine them. The metaphor of two balls is useful because you can then imply balance; both should be part of your conscious decisions. Focusing on female disempowerment solely will not let you develop your own future, focusing on your own individuality alone will make you blind to the structural obstacles in your way which are not personal to you and therefore not your fault when you cant surpass them.
In this instance, Rousey should have taken up the gauntlet because of her own ambitions as well as for those of other masculine women who wish to live their dreams vicariously through watching her fight. But also, in the absence of any social science that can support the view that her fighting would encourage more domestic violence – and in a realm of gender debate that almost entirely ignores the prevalence of female to male violence – progress cannot be made without bringing such discussions out into the public sphere, which her fighting would encourage.
In other words, we have no idea how far the female body can go in sport because we have never had a situation where the social side is equivalent for both sexes.We happily acknowledge that the psychological and supportive side is of paramount importance to a competitors chances of winning, yet blythely ignore this fact when segregating the sexes in sport. When women are offered the kind of deals and promotional and financial gains that male sportsmen have had and can enjoy the resulting social and personal esteem, for three or so generations, we will have a clearer idea. When there has been long enough for young girls to aspire to become famed in that way because successful female sportswomen have been normalised (just like voting or wearing trousers have for women), we might begin to see how much women’s supposed integral physical inequalities in comparison to men, are in fact social. Just like so much that historically was assumed to be physically ‘make sense’, such as women’s physical smaller size meaning they couldn’t manage companies or take on responsible jobs etc., turned out to be just prejudice. I believe Rousey has an important role in this, one I would argue calls for her to own up to her responsibility to all other women, more so than to her supposed responsibility to victims of domestic violence. I believe this is what feminism really means, the progression of the female sex, not the thwarting of it in the name of supposed universal female victimhood.