Tag Archives: Mixed martial arts

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.