September 28, 2015

POOR | Sexual Politics: N.Y. and the MMA

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Two eager boys and their nanny sit down at Comella’s, a family-run restaurant where the five-dollar pizzas offer a cheap distraction — a fleeting reprieve for a tired nanny. Tom and Ben take small bites of their molten, gooey slices, half-smitten with the cheesy carbohydrates and half-preoccupied by the large flat screens peppered around the restaurant. We’re watching FS1, and I sink into my chair, guilty that the boys have already watched their quota of TV for the day, but gratified by the screens’ simple diversion. We munch and chat, but slowly, conversation tapers as we fall for the enthralling, high-speed whir of commentators, coaches and footballs sailing across the screen.

In a flurry of transitional graphics, FS1 takes us to a packed crowd in Times Square — we’ve left the iridescent greens of football stadiums for the grayish hubbub of shuffling tourists traversing under the stuffy sky of billboards and neon lettering. The camera zooms in and focuses on two blurry yet notably topless women among the crowd, whose nipples have been haphazardly obfuscated under a veil of pixilation. Words superimpose ominously on the screen: “Going topless in N.Y. is allowed,” and the scene shifts to a glittering fighters’ ring, encompassed by waving, cheering fans: “But MMA is illegal.” Across the table, Tom giggles. “Ew! Those women were showing their boobs!” I struggle to formulate a rebuttal, but I falter, unsure how to distill institutionalized shame and control over female bodies into a digestible package for the 10-year-old I nanny. Instead I shrug wearily, and say, “Why shouldn’t they?” but Tom had already prepared his evasive counter argument (a classic: the raspberry), and we shelve the topic in favor of replenishing our plates.

Long after we finished the pizza, I continue to chew on the injustice of the juxtaposition on the screen. By contrasting female bodily autonomy with the illegality of a highly violent athletic institution, FS1 reinforces the criminalization of women’s bodies. This spotlight on a woman’s right to be topless indicates a perceived moral and legal quandary.  FS1 implies that surely half-naked women in public are more contestable than two professional athletes fighting in a ring. How can a powerful, multibillion dollar corporation be exiled in a state where measly women are allowed to dress how they like?

This discourse feeds on the historical construction of women’s bodies as indecent when self-governed, but as necessarily compliant sexual and commercial entities when coveted by men. In contrast with the outcry over legalized toplessness in N.Y., MMA fans have not rabble-roused to curtail the institution of “Ring Girls” — the bikini-clad ringside models who reify the objectifying commodification of female bodies, as well as reinforce conventional gendered notions of passivity versus dominion.  MMA forums share and discuss links to nude pictures of the Ring Girls, as well as photos of the female fighters — who undergo immense pressure to embody a marketability that relies on both athletic prowess and saleable sex appeal. Two years ago, UFC President Dana White asserted that women would never compete professionally in the UFC, arguing that women who fight well would lose the feminine aesthetic necessary to market them. Of course, Ronda Rousey prompted White to revoke his decision, but White overtly prioritizes sex appeal over athletics, emphasizing: “Obviously she’s pretty. That’s the first obvious thing. No. 2 is her fighting style.”

Furthermore, UFC fighter Matt Brown publicly proclaimed that if he has to pay $60 per view of a women’s fight, “they should at least be topless,” underlining the principal subject of the male viewer’s gaze. No matter the competition, women’s bodies primarily function as objects of fantasy. The capital potential in female sex appeal far eclipses any capital attached to their athleticism. FS1’s assertion that female autonomy embodies more immorality than the MMA illustrates a corporate athletic culture that does not value women’s bodies unless men can exploit them for money or sex. The MMA’s own marketing of female bodies exposes FS1’s double standard in comparing the UFC ban with N.Y.’s legalization of toplessness.

Founded in 1993, the UFC is a fledgling professional sport, yet the company has already garnered a smutty track record of disrespecting women. Innumerable fighters have undergone prosecution for assaults against women, intimate partner violence and rape allegations. For example, UFC fighter Tito Ortiz’s $15 million net worth tends to obscure his horrific trail of domestic violence crimes and maintain his position of fame and prominence in the MMA. Executives similarly exemplify disregard for female lives through the renewal of criminal fighters’ contracts and in their own spew of misogynist rhetoric. White once told a female reporter that women fight differently because they suffer emotions and cattiness; another time, he urged Ortiz to put the woman he violently assaulted “on a fuckin’ leash!!!” when she spoke out about the crime. Fan bases often fortify this culture of misogyny. When White called journalist Loretta Hunt a series of expletives (culminating in “fuck you, dumb bitch”), he apologized but asserted that the general response from the fan community supported him: “It was overwhelmingly positive from our fans. It was, ‘Yeah, you go, Dana. You’re the man.’

Support for Dana White’s  misogyny reifies, reflects and reproduces the culture of patriarchal dominion. Crowning him as “the man,” for his abusive language highlights the devaluation of women throughout the MMA. Support for the manipulation of women’s bodies — controlling when, where and how female bodies can (re)present themselves in public space — propagates the socially ingrained notion that all women, as athletes, Ring Girls, journalists or women in Times Square, exist to satisfy, obey and perform for men.

The scene we saw in Comella’s still eats away at me. What will Tom, already an avid sports player and fan, learn from sportsmen like Dana White and the MMA fighters? At age ten, he has already absorbed and internalized rudimentary tenets of social power structures. Will he, and others, mimic — or will they resist this culture of misogyny?

Kate Poor is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected] Triple Jump appears alternate Mondays this semester.