In the ordinary work world, women are urged to “lean in,” but warned against “the bitch factor” — a career-threatening condition that involves crossing the line from assertive to super-aggressive.
That’s not a problem for Ronda Rousey. It took her 34 seconds to punch, kick, and beat Bethe Correia into unconsciousness during last weekend’s UFC bantamweight title bout. Then, after strutting away from her inert opponent, Rousey mouthed these words: “Don’t cry.”
For that, Rousey is now celebrated as “unstoppable,” “badass,” and an “American superhero.” She’s a “transformative athlete, whose fights are now stepping beyond the UFC’s loyal following and becoming bona fide cultural moments,” writes The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay. “People who watch her don’t want to watch her fight. They want to watch her destroy.”
Rousey not only smashes opponents — which is, of course, the point of martial arts — she’s smashing gender barriers. Her pay-per-view takedown of Correia was that night’s main event. It began after men with less star power pummeled each other.
Post-fight write-ups bill it as a breakthrough moment for women in sports, putting Rousey in the same category as Serena Williams and the US women World Cup soccer champions. But Rousey is not just beating another woman, she’s beating one up. And there’s something about that spectacle that really appeals to guys.
If Rousey is a role model for women, however, she’s a confusing one. Her success sends a mixed message: Female aggression is fine in the UFC universe, particularly when the aggressor is a great-looking woman. And her level of gloating would likely be considered poor sportsmanship on a tennis court or soccer field.
The 28-year-old Rousey has blond hair, awesome muscles, and a bad-girl attitude to go along with it all. “Just because my body was developed for a purpose other than [having sex with] millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine,” she said in a UFC interview. Her physique, she said, shows she is not a “do-nothing bitch.”
She’s a phenomenon — even if I had to find out about it from my 26-year-old son, who chipped in with friends to watch her fight.
The New Yorker profiled Rousey a year ago in a piece entitled “Mean Girl.” Her life story includes a father who committed suicide and a bronze medal victory in judo at the 2008 Summer Olympics. After the Games, she took up mixed martial arts and worked her way into a world that, at the time, wanted no part of female fighters. She changed that. She has already appeared in several movies, and Variety just reported that Paramount Pictures has secured the rights to her best-selling autobiography, “My Fight/Your Fight.” Rousey will play herself.
Feminists can cheer her swipe at Floyd Mayweather and his history of domestic violence at the recent ESPY awards. When she won for “best fighter,” she said, “I wonder how Floyd feels getting beat by a woman for once?”
But in the female blogosphere, there’s some ambivalence about Rousey’s success. Some wonder how much her appearance plays into her marketability, and whether it provokes sexist commentary.
“Girl Fight: Feminism or Capitalism?” one blogger wondered, suggesting that Rousey’s athletic qualifications “seem to have taken a backseat to her looks in public discourse.” Another blogger said she appreciates Rousey’s positive body image but questioned her stance toward transgender fighters.
But men simply adore Rousey’s ability to dominate other women — FiveThirtyEight’s Andrew Flowers analyzed the stats — and her willingness to revel in it.
Rousey wins “by pulling and popping her opponents’ elbows and arms in ways that are not meant to be pulled and popped,” writes Alex Abad-Santos at Vox. He admiringly notes that her fights are “like watching a freight train run through cotton candy.”
Opponents beware. Annihilation is Rousey’s personal brand.
Before last week’s fight, Correia made a mocking reference to Rousey’s father. At their weigh-in, she also said to Rousey, “Don’t cry” — the same words Rousey spoke back to Correia after she knocked her out. That, wrote Abad-Santos, was “the best, most Rousey part” of the victory.
Afterwards, Rousey said it was payback for Correia’s trash talk.
On the subject of pay, while Rousey is earning a lot of money thanks to pay-per-view and endorsements, Fortune, says her UFC base salary is still lower than what male fighters get.
Changing that would make her a truly fierce role model.