Archive | September, 2013

Hey guys, no one blames you for liking those Kyra Gracie pics.

18 Sep

To the guys:

After the pics from Kyra Gracie’s recent photo shoot showed up online, lots of women in martial arts voiced their displeasure, which Grappling Girl explains so masterfully I’m not going to rehash it here (also in that post are numerous examples of the type of pictures in question, including the actual Kyra Gracie pics. check out that kimura pic. tell me that that doesn’t insult you, as a bjj practicioner. her elbow is up way high, she’s kimura-ing from the dubious choice of a poor half guard, and there’s so much space between them you could just wedge a guy in there to complete the fantasy, which would probably be more honest anyway. or that rear naked choke pic – since when is grabbing the biceps a reasonable defense? “Oooh yeah, hot girls doing shitty jiu jitsu, that’s what I want to see!”).

When the pics surfaced, and women in martial arts/BJJ started objecting, one of the inevitable responses that comes along in situations like this (and did in this one) is what I’m going to call the Biological Imperative Defense. It goes like this:

“What’s wrong with liking to look at pictures of beautiful women? She has an incredible body and is a master of this thing I’m super passionate about, of COURSE I like seeing her all sexy. I’m a (straight/bi) man. It’s natural that I like to see sexy pictures of sexy women.” Or something to that effect. I’m just pulling stuff from the recesses of my memory, but you probably know the type of comment I mean.

When you hear people objecting to those pictures, maybe you consider those objections, and then experience something of a cognitive dissonance because you still find those pictures sexy and fun to look at. And the question that logically follows that train of thought is, “if these pictures are demeaning/objectifying/offensive, but I’m still enjoying them, what does that say about me and my sexuality?” Not much, as far as I’m concerned. Basically, all that makes me think is, ‘here’s a straight/bi dude who likes sexy pictures of women.’ You are not to blame for pictures like that, or the ire they draw, or for finding them titillating. The (reasonable) people who are voicing their problems with it are not blaming you – not directly, and not by extension for enjoying them. I’m prepared to look at pics of Carlos Condit shirtless all day, if that’s what it takes to prove to you I think there’s nothing wrong with it.

There’s nothing wrong with liking those pictures, and that’s not what’s ruffling feathers. No joke. No one – no one reasonable, anyway – expects that a straight/bi man would not be intrigued to see sexy pictures of a woman he finds sexy, and no one could blame him for it. No one’s objecting to your sexuality (unless, of course, you’re expressing it in a tasteless, demeaning way and making comments about hoping to get caught in her triangle or whatever. Then you might get some flak. Incidentally, the proliferation of crass comments is an example of the effect of the patriarchy – thinking that those comments are reasonable, appropriate, and relevant, regardless of how they may make half the population feel (alienated, objectified, marginalized, dehumanized, disregarded, etc). Do you remember how displeased Jon Hamm was when the media was freaking out about his junkThis is what happens on the daily with women’s bodies.)*

The whole Kyra Gracie thing is not a new discussion. In fact, it’s just another iteration of the main issue at the core of feminism. And in any discussion where one group is drawing attention to the negative impact of another group’s actions/reach/legacy, and you are a member (willing or not) of the latter, it’s easy to start feeling defensive. I understand why you might. A major, integral, and intractable part of your identity belongs to a group that, it sounds like, is under fire. But the thing is, it’s not feminists vs. men. When feminists point out an injustice/mechanism of oppression/sexist thing, it’s not an attack on men at large. It’s often not even an attack on a man, unless it’s something irrefutably fucking horrific and sexist. It’s an attack on the system of oppression. You are not necessarily or by default an active cog in the system of the oppression of women. And you can certainly choose not to be. So, good news, you don’t have to feel defensive and under attack…since you’re not.

To make sure we’re on the same page and working with the same basic understanding of this rhetoric, here’s a very brief explanation of one of the main concepts shaping it:

The Patriarchy
A social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. (<– that’s from Wikipedia; emphasis is mine.)

A popular way of dismissing and ridiculing feminism is to make fun of any reference to the patriarchy. My guess is that to those unfamiliar with it, it may sound like it’s bordering on being a conspiracy theory. So let’s optimistically assume there’s not an intentional, conscious, and collective effort to sustain the patriarchy. Let’s just look at the facts.

The majority of world leaders, politicians, CEOs, the clergy, etc, are men. The US is, by definition, essentially a patriarchy. Maybe not the patriarchy of Georgian England, but still a patriarchy. And even if no party to the patriarchy is literally saying, “Women, we require your subordination,” efforts abound to ensure it – ludicrous reproductive health legislature, the systematic deconstruction of any powerful (or potentially powerful) woman’s appearance, women being treated as ornamentation/decor/trophies in the media, etc. Let’s be generous and assume much of that is a straight-from-hell holdover of less enlightened days, and not a conscious effort (except the policy-making stuff…that’s about as conscious as it gets) to be assholes.

So if it’s not conscious and intentional, then all these manifestations of sexism, rape culture, the minimization of women and their concerns, etc, are emblematic of an insidious, far-reaching cultural subconsciousness that suggests these things are expected, reasonable, and fair. And when feminists point out that a lot of this shit shouldn’t be the status quo, is not reasonable, and is not fair, and then have it dismissed by, primarily, men in power who seem to think they’re both the Masters of the Universe and the arbiters of How Things Are? You can see how a group of oppressed people being told they’re not being oppressed by their oppressors is a pretty maddening thing. Even if the oppressors are not consciously, intentionally, and avowedly trying to oppress/contribute to the oppression of women, it can still happen. This is the patriarchy in 21st century America (well, that’s a brief and incomplete description, but hopefully you get the idea).

So what might this all mean for you?
What would women in martial arts/feminists want out of you? A greater awareness of the systems that result in this being almost de rigueur for many women in the public eye, regardless of occupation. An understanding of why the people who don’t like it feel that way. An understanding of how it makes your female training partners feel to be represented like that. And, of course, the understanding that it’s not you personally as a man against whom feminists are railing. That’s my guess, anyway. That’s what I want.

I’m not saying this to pander to any guys who might read this. No ‘hey bro, I’m a cool chick, I can hang with the guys and understand that you’re guys and you’re attracted to sexy women (if you’re straight/bi) and I’m one of the crew.’ I’m saying this because it’s a fact that I don’t see mentioned, and its omission results in an unnecessary straw man-type dialogue that distracts from the actual concern. And I’m also saying it because, really, guys. It’s not us versus you, unless you’re an asshole, but you’re probably not, especially if you’re engaged enough to read this far. And I’m also saying it because I like you guys! A lot! I like you guys so much I can even envision marrying one of you some day! I operate under the assumption that people are inherently good and generally have good intentions, and I approach discussions of equality with that M.O. I’ve always been treated with respect by all the guys with whom I’ve ever trained, and if that genuine affection for men, as fellow human beings, is not currently a part of the discussion, it’s an oversight. It’s vital and germane to effective communication. The efforts for equality are collaborative, and we need allies. And, if you’re in favor of equality, and not sexist, it’s not hard to be an ally. We want you with us. We’re psyched when you’re with us. SO psyched. And, really…why wouldn’t you want to be an ally?

Daniel Strauss. Enjoy!


*in my research, I discovered that, hilariously, Salon has the topic “jon hamm’s penis“. sadly, there is only one article within it. 😥


Dana White Almost Managed a Sexism-Free TUF18 Premiere!

16 Sep

When I heard Ronda Rousey and whoever won Tate vs. Zingano were going to be the coaches of the next TUF, featuring female contestants, I was totally psyched. Then I heard that they’d be coaching both women AND men, and my mind was blown.

In virtually any arena, the endeavor for gender equality is a constant, unrelenting struggle. When women were finally let into the UFC, the biggest and most prestigious MMA promotion in the world, I was elated. Feminist MMA-enthusiasts everywhere were too, no doubt. So when Dana White took a gigantic leap forward for women in MMA by sending the message that a coach is a coach, regardless of the coaches’ or the fighters’ genders, I was sincerely impressed. Wow! Big ups to Dana! That was more than even I was hoping for. The progression of women in the UFC was not going to be incremental, each victory feeling like the begrudged result of an exhausting battle of will; it was going to be fast, unapologetic, and all in, much like the typical TUF contestant. What a banner day for women’s MMA. Truly.

The premiere was great. There were a lot of good fights, lots of skill and talent and hunger. I was watching the premiere with an equally socially-conscious friend. At 6 or so minutes in, Dana directs a speech to the female contestants about how he doesn’t have to tell them to work hard, because they already bring some of the most exciting fights the UFC has seen (his words, though not verbatim). That’s great, too. It’s nice to hear his respect for and confidence in the women and their efforts so far in women’s MMA.

Then, Dana says, “Gentlemen, you have your (fucking) work cut out for you this season. And I’m not even joking. You know what I mean? You don’t want to be the guys on this season having the women’s fights show you up. Remember why you came here, and what you came to do.” The guys chuckle. There are a few perfunctory laughs from the women; this is what cultural norms expect of them. Jokes made at their expense, and if they don’t laugh, or worse yet, object, they’re invariably chastised and told to lighten up. LOLLOL. Is this what they’re in for? A season of being treated as a novelty by Dana White & Co in every indirect interaction?  Of having their effort and hunger summarily dismissed as secondary to the men’s stories? Of feeling like a precursor to and time-killer until the real fights?

My friend and I looked at each other. She said, “Aw, he almost made it the whole time without saying anything sexist!” I laughed, because examples like these abound, and any pre-verbal hopes we had to see a truly sexism-free premiere was probably naive and overly optimistic anyway. We had the same feeling you get when you see a toddler trying really hard for something and just missing it. It’s endearing, you still give them a pat on the head, and you have warm feelings for them and hope for the future.

I don’t think Dana White is sexist. I’m not cynical enough to believe his inclusion of women in the UFC was solely a marketing ploy conceived to increase viewership and revenue. However, when you parse his statement, you come away with some disheartening questions. Such as:

What would be so terrible about having women’s fights showing the men’s fights up? If women are being taken seriously by Dana White and the UFC and treated as equal to the male fighters in terms of ability and appeal, why would it be embarrassing for you, as a male fighter, to fight worse than the women? Is it because, heaven forbid, you couldn’t even hit like a girl? I mean, that is the lowest of the low, right? The ultimate schoolyard insult, up there with throwing like a girl, or being called a homophobic slur? How unbearable would it be if your capabilities as a man were called into question by superior female fights? Wouldn’t that just be basically the most emasculating thing you could think of?

I doubt that Dana White consciously meant any of the above, but the question of what, exactly, he did mean with that statement remains. Even giving Dana the benefit of the doubt, the unfortunate net effect of the quote above is the perpetuation of sexism in MMA. The tacit implication is still that it’s embarrassing to be outdone by a woman. Women in MMA face enough obstacles without the president of the UFC not being aware that some of the stuff coming out of his mouth is sexist. It’s a shining example of how the more insidious types of sexism manifest, even in people who aren’t consciously or intentionally sexist. And even if the only reason he said it was to light a fire under the asses of the guys and avoid boring fights, it still reinforces and panders to the notion that women don’t really merit being taken seriously in MMA.

I still applaud the comprehensive inclusion of women into the UFC. It’s genuinely impressive, and I remain impressed by the decision and Dana White’s commitment of jumping in with both feet. And I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season, and upcoming UFCs and TUFs and the women who will be in them. Such a substantial paradigm shift won’t be without some obstacles and tangles along the way, but to ensure the equal treatment of women in UFC, an environment where people are conscious of the implications of what they say – as anyone in the public eye undoubtedly is – is vital, for both equality, and for the female fighters who have probably had to fight their entire careers to be taken seriously (see: Shayna Baszler‘s heartfelt speech about her history in MMA in Episode 2).

“I got picked by Miesha Tate? Is that her name? Is Miesha Tate her name? I don’t even know what her name is, so really, I don’t even care that she picked me last, ’cause I don’t even know who she is.” – Tim “The Asshole” Gorman sums it up in an impressively butthurt manchild fashion. Is that not his nickname? My mistake.