White-washing: Sexism, Misogyny, and Domestic Violence in MMA, Part 2
In the first part of this series, I discussed casual sexism among the biggest names in MMA, the types of MMA stories that reach mainstream media, and touched on how Dana White’s stubbornness is the bullet he’s putting into his own foot.
The image MMA presents for consumption is almost entirely cultivated by the UFC and White, who seems to have taken a dictatorial, North Korea-esque approach to growing the UFC. He relies heavily on controlling the narrative, threats of excommunication, and agitprop. Didn’t like what a mess of a card UFC 177 became? Well, FUCK YOU for questioning the UFC, because that card turned out great! Hence, you should implicitly trust and purchase whatever they want you to buy, dumbass. White was so personally offended by the criticism that he said,
“I’ve never seen anybody ever write a story telling people to not buy a pay-per-view. It’s the most disgusting fucking despicable thing I’ve ever seen.”
In fact, White takes all criticism as a personal affront, as though the only possible goal is born of a desire to hurt his business. And what kind of asshole wants to hurt MMA? I mean, surely there’s no chance it could come from a desire to see the sport improve. Come to think of it, it’s probably all the criticism that makes MMA look bad.
While the UFC may be the biggest MMA promotion in the world, let’s clarify a niggling point that seems to have escaped White’s notice: no one (currently) uninterested in MMA is intimidated by White’s position of power. They don’t know much about MMA, and what they see is a gruff man incapable of listening who will exact personal vendettas against people who displease him, from vilifying them in public to banishing them from events. He’s prone to outbursts of profanity, mockery, and personal insults. And the spokesman of MMA is paired with the perception that it’s a violent sport, catering to a bro-centric fan-base that’s salivating with bloodthirst.
This is why it’s vital White take a closer look at how he, MMA, and the UFC are perceived outside of the industry. The casual sexism, the marketing of their female fighters as sexy novelties, the continued association with men who have been violent toward women – it all contributes to the image of a boys’ club with its head up its ass. It’s unfortunate Dana & Co. can’t be bothered with acknowledging that reality, much less addressing it. The truth is, there are plenty of people in MMA not only repulsed by the sexism and misogyny, but who actively work to staunch it. Given that it’s fans who will see that type of reporting, it rarely reaches the mainstream. And why would it? It’s specific reporting on a rough-around-the-edges sport that many people neither care about nor understand.
Bloody Elbow has earned a reputation as an MMA news site that somehow managed to report objectively on women and not be gross. Managing editor Brent Brookhouse is among the most vocal opponents of sexism and misogyny in MMA, and the commitment to not being horrible is due in no small part to him. Brookhouse is responsible for one of the first appeals to not be shitty to women in the MMA community, the extensive coverage on the Team Lloyd Irvin rape allegations (click here for our piece about BJPenn.com’s horrendous near-plagiarism on it), uncovering Dustin Holyko’s history of domestic violence and animal cruelty, and sparking the investigation of a pastor featured in the documentary Fight Church for accusations of abuse.
By fostering this environment, Bloody Elbow is now home to several writers who knowledgeably write about the tacit acceptance of sexism and misogyny in MMA. For example: Karim Zidan, reporting on local fights in Ontario, noted the convicted rapist on the card that was welcomed to the cage with cheers. Zane Simon broke down the unfair expectations placed on female fighters and the implications of Ronda Rousey appearing to embrace them.
Irreverent blog CagePotato.com called Dana White out for the Cyborg comments and asked Felice Herrig about using sex appeal without a single innuendo or inappropriate question. Bleacher Report has done its fair share as well; Jeremy Botter uncovered Will Chope’s domestic violence record. James MacDonald called out the MMA world for being ignorant, transphobic assholes to Fallon Fox.
I could go on, but the point is that there are plenty of advocate voices in MMA that signify a useful intersection of knowledge about MMA and sexism. And it’s a shame they’re the middle of shit-sandwich, squashed between an uncaring, spiteful ruling body and a largely embarrassing, ignorant fan-base.
“Easy on the eyes, and hard on the face.”
The UFC’s promotion of female fighters when they were first admitted in early 2013 was fine. They didn’t overtly focus or capitalize on the fighters’ sex appeal, but apparently they got tired of missing out on the milk of that cash cow. It didn’t take long for their marketing to devolve into, essentially, “SEXY GIRLS WHO ALSO FIGHT.” This promotion for the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter is ludicrous, as I discussed more in depth here.
Lest you think that was a singular example of bad judgment, take a look at how Fox Sports is promoting the show, and encouraging the women who competed on it to promote the show. Yes, shoehorn them into the expectation that they not only need to be both strong and beautiful, but also that they should care that they’re perceived as strong and beautiful. I’m unclear what bearing beauty has on their potential as fighters, and by extension, their viability as interesting fighters.
Not only is it regressive and condescending to market fighters like this, it’s also not necessary. People generally don’t need to be told someone is attractive. Unless, of course, the UFC and Fox Sports feels presenting the women solely as fighters without highlighting their sex appeal is just too much to ask of their audience. Maybe they take such a dim view of their target demographic they assume viewers would find women presented in such a way off-putting, enough outside the conventional ideas of beauty and sex appeal that no one would watch. I suppose the alternative is that they assume without playing up the sex appeal, the fighters aren’t interesting enough to draw viewers on merit alone.
— FOX Sports 1 (@FOXSports1) September 3, 2014
The promotion of this season is just embarrassing. Here’s a graphic with a theme from a promo that I think is running only in Canada:
Oh, yes, the inspiring theme of romantic love that runs through every season of The Ultimate Fighter.
The UFC has also partnered with Metro PCS, who gave us this advertising masterpiece. Check out the opportunistic cleavage shot at :15, and the skeevy as shit inflection in the closing line: “It’s everything she wants, and frankly, we’re okay giving Ronda everything she wants.”
The issue isn’t sex appeal in and of itself. The issue is creating a professional environment wherein female sex appeal is valued, promoted, and capitalized on as a matter of course. Male fighters don’t have to worry that their lack of conventional sex appeal is holding them back, and women’s MMA faces enough obstacles without the UFC insinuating it’s necessary for a place of prominence as a female fighter at the pinnacle of the sport.
“Such a non story. War Machine is a zero fighter who hooked up with a professional whore. Who the fuck cares.”
When the directive comes from the top down that sexism is no big deal, misogyny is usually a simple misunderstanding, and female fighters are sexy girls who could kick your ass, it’s no wonder the culture and fan-base echo this sentiment.
When I wrote about Adam Hunter back in February, I was more surprised by the positive reception than I was the insults that followed. At right is one of the images now associated with my name and “MMA,” left in a comment by ‘Ravelife’ on Middle Easy’s declaration of the piece as MMA’s Beef of the Week. And here’s the text of that comment:
“Dude is a comedian that is gaining some success and some bitch wants to leech off it by writing pissy moans in menses ink.
“It is about intent, and Adam’s intent is to make people laugh. If you don’t laugh you don’t get to fucking pretend he meant to hurt YOUR SPECIFIC FEELINGS.
“If you don’t laugh at him or some other comedian, usually this means you are not their target audience.”
There are two options; I’m stupid, or I’m a bitch, because I write something that disagrees with homeboy’s appreciation of Adam Hunter’s comedy. It’s not possible anything I say has merit. I guess I just don’t understand the concept of humor. So I internalize everything and make it about me, naturally. Oh, did you hear Adam Hunter reassure Ronda Rousey’s mom AnnaMaria De Mars that he “wouldn’t even try to hook up with (Ronda) til the third date” and ask her if that would be “good” (36:40)? This is after he starts the podcast by literally saying “women are crazy” and talking about how he got “teased” when his four-girl-deep quest for “some booty” proved surprisingly fruitless, and during an interview with Dr. De Mars focusing almost entirely on motherhood, despite her numerous and varied accomplishments in academia and professionally.
Ravelife is right; I’m not MMARoasted‘s target audience, but that’s almost like saying black people aren’t the target audience of minstrel shows. No shit a woman may not want to listen to a braying manchild objectify women, make tired jokes about dumb stereotypes, and talk about his fantasies all the time. How novel that Adam Hunter finds women attractive and wants to stick his penis in them. Just because Hunter has made a career pandering to the lowest common denominator doesn’t mean it’s harmless fun. But Adam Hunter just. can’t. understand. why everyone’s always ragging on him, when he’s just trying to be a funny guy!
By relying on sexist stereotypes and humor, Hunter reaffirms to his audience that not only is it common and acceptable to treat women this way, you can also do so without repercussions. Hell, you can say this stuff, and still be employed by Fox Sports and broadcast your radio show where you interview the biggest names in MMA and ask the bantamweight champion’s mom about sleeping with her daughter!
It’s unsurprising that among fans, women are generally treated one of two ways: elevated on dehumanizing pedestals and turned into untouchable trophies, or viciously castigated when they threaten some aspect of the bloated male fantasy that is MMA. MMA is replete with images of hypermasculinized men who are so dominant physically they can take and say anything they want without fear of consequences, and the fan base supports this – if not by majority, then at least by vocality.
This false idol worship, in an environment already dismissive of sexism and misogyny, in our culture of permissiveness toward sexism, takes on an especially toxic quality. Throw in obstinate ignorance, absolute certainty of convictions, and a petulant demand to be heard, and what you get is a cesspool teeming with men who are automatically suspicious of women and in a position to keep them ostracized from the community.
As soon as the news broke that War Machine had allegedly assaulted Christy Mack in the middle of the night, rumors began flying. War Machine posted a handful of cryptic tweets before going silent:
I can’t believe this…I must be cursed. — War Machine (@WarMachine170) August 8, 2014
@ChristyMack I love you and hope you’re okay. I came him early to surprise you and help you set up for your convention. I can’t believe
— War Machine (@WarMachine170) August 9, 2014
@ChristyMack I’m so heart broken…in all ways. I will always love you.
— War Machine (@WarMachine170) August 9, 2014
I’m not a bad guy, I went to surprise my gf, help her set up her show and to give her an engagement ring and ended up fighting for my life.
— War Machine (@WarMachine170) August 11, 2014
The cops will never give me fair play, never believe me. Still deciding what to do but at the end of the day it’s all just heart breaking. — War Machine (@WarMachine170) August 11, 2014
I only wish that man hadn’t been there and that Christy & I would behappily engaged.I don’t know y I’m so cursed.One day truth will come out
— War Machine (@WarMachine170) August 11, 2014
Despite War Machine’s history of violent assault, despite the images Mack posted, it was Mack’s account that was immediately questioned and doubted. Many people automatically took War Machine’s account as the narrative worth trusting, which is a common reaction when women accuse men of assault and/or rape. It’s a misguided and truly unfortunate byproduct of a society steeped in rape culture.
Assuming there’s a good chance a woman is lying about being assaulted presupposes several things so irrational they essentially necessitate a fundamental distrust of women.
Popular presuppositions include:
1) women are so petty and vindictive they will falsely accuse a man just for the sweet, sweet vengeance
2) women are so loopy and irrational that if they have a sexual liaison they regret, they’ll just say it was rape
3) women are opportunistic and will seize any chance to further themselves no matter the expense to the man
4) women are crazy and beyond reason, and therefore, you can’t possibly know what they’re thinking and shouldn’t even bother trying to understand them
As Aaron Bady says, “We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges, and that fact is important here.” This is true; nevertheless, false allegation stories are the stories the media has traditionally focused on. False allegations are a common plot point in film and television (Chicago Fire did it in an arc starting with Season 1 episode ‘Ambition,’ for example), and any time accusations are made against a celebrity, the default is to doubt the claim. And if it actually turns out to have been a false allegation? The media has a field day.
In fact, false rape accusation rates are probably around 8%, a rate that’s about the same as any other crime. And that is determined from the amount of rapes actually reported. If every rape was reported, the rate of false accusation would nosedive to negligible. Only 46% of rapes are reported to police. The numbers are, in general, bleak as fuck.
So, bearing that in mind, what incentive, exactly, does a woman have to falsely accuse a man of rape? She subjects herself to a lengthy, possibly costly trip through the legal system, public scrutiny, and abuse for the very slim likelihood he’ll be convicted and she’ll get what? Money? Satisfaction? Yeah, that seems reasonable.
Christy Mack suffered a violent physical assault, not a rape – despite War Machine’s best attempts. War Machine concocted a story casting Mack as the unfaithful villain and himself as a lovesick boy ready to propose, blindsided by his discovery. So of course people like Ken Pavia thought it was important to say things like this:
@jennajameson saying all the facts are not out. My mom or sister wouldnt date War nor would be caught in bed cheating (no excuse for DV)
— Ken Pavia (@KenPavia) August 13, 2014
Yes, because War Machine has shown himself to be a trustworthy individual whose word we shouldn’t question, even when he’s admitted to being in the same place at the same time as the woman who says he physically assaulted her. Not only that, but these are definitely relevant details, and if we get enough of them, they may indeed negate the actual attack.
FrontRowBrian, who’s made a name for himself as soooo subversive via being an asshole, at least had the good sense to delete these. However, he also has a following of 12,000 on Twitter, and he chose to spout this malignant garbage that’s factually inaccurate, unapologetically ignorant, and irresponsible. So here it is. He’s appointed himself the devil’s advocate, asking the stupid, hard-hitting questions that have been answered a million times before, but that he can’t be bothered to research.
You’ll note the adamant denial of any advocating of men beating women. Of course they don’t advocate it, because it’s horrible. Instead, they just question the reliability, accounts, and judgment of the women involved. I don’t believe they secretly think domestic violence is no big deal, either; what’s most likely is that they’re entirely ignorant with rape culture, sexism, and the multi-faceted nature of domestic abuse.
Luca Fury seems to be operating under the impression he’s a thinking man, as he passionately argues his point that while he’s DEFINITELY NOT BLAMING CHRISTY MACK, she needs to take responsibility for her own poor decisions.
— Luca Fury – FFP (@FurysFightPicks) August 9, 2014
@Brandon_Bart_80 Exactly. Christy was a moron for dating him knowing all about his violence
— Luca Fury – FFP (@FurysFightPicks) August 9, 2014
And what happens when you Tweet things like this? You help perpetuate this kind of thinking.
Who, indeed. Mack, for one. I care. Other survivors of domestic violence probably care, along with the hundreds of thousands of followers she has. So, I don’t know, shut the fuck up when you want to share your uneducated contrarian opinions on serious issues that leave people dead? Sounds reasonable to me.
But I’m not an expert in domestic violence. I asked people who were, at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233. Brian Pinero responded, and there is a lot more information on their website, as well.
1) Is someone a “moron” for becoming romantically involved with a partner who’s had prior convictions of (non-domestic) violence? If not, why?
No. There is a very good chance that someone does not display violent and controlling behaviors in the beginning of a relationship. They got involved with their partner because they were presented with the best of that person. The abusive partner rarely shows their controlling, jealous behaviors at first. When talking to people on the lines, they always referred to their partners as “prince charming” in the beginning. I never talked to anyone that stayed in a relationship that was violent on the first date. However, once love and care for the other person is established, it’s a lot harder for them to think about leaving.
2) If someone becomes romantically involved with a partner who’s had prior convictions for (non-domestic) violence and that partner becomes violent toward him/her, are they “responsible” for their “bad decision” making? If not, why?
I actually want to flip this. Anyone who is violent in any way (physically, emotionally or mentally) is responsible for their actions or decisions. Abuse is a choice.
In my experience talking with victims of domestic violence, they always described their partner as caring and loving in the beginning and they always had convincing excuses for their past behaviors and actions. They all had hope that maybe this time “they will be different”.
It is in our nature to want to be loved and accepted and to want to give people we care about the benefit of the doubt. Most of us want to be believe in the best of the people we love.
3) Does anything change in the answers for the first two if the partner has committed domestic violence against other partners in the past? If not, why?
No. If we judged everyone (friends, relatives, partners…) now off of anything they did in the past, we would be incredibly lonely.
4) Why is somebody staying with a partner who’s become violent not a “moron”? What part does the cycle of abuse/domestic violence play in that situation?
Relationships are complicated, just reducing abuse to a “cycle” minimizes what happens in them. Most abusive people are unpredictable. In one moment they can be the sweetest most loving person ever and in the next moment they can make their partner feel like they’re a nobody.
Even in the worst situations love exists and that is important to remember when we talk to victims of DV. What we repeatedly hear on the lines from victims is that the good times are so wonderful that they feel if they just hang in there long enough that those good times will return. Unfortunately, what we now see happen is that it often gets worse. It is also important to remember that even though abuse is happening in a relationship it is possible for there also to be love in that same relationship. Unfortunately, the choices the abusive partner is making to hurt is not okay.
5) Is it helpful to the conversation in the public arena to inform potential victims/survivors that it’s a bad idea to get involved with people with prior violent behavior and classify people who do so as “morons”? If not, what are the effects of doing so?
I think it is important to inform the public to think about and talk about healthy relationships. Always look at how someone treats you in the beginning of your relationship. Can you negotiate what is important? Can you disagree with your partner? Can you set a boundary and it not be habitually violated? A lot happens long before someone is violent. If you can’t have honest conversations and say “no” in a relationship for fear how your partner will react, then there are red flags waving and it may be time to think about getting out.
The only saving grace here is that it’s unlikely potential fans will run across these people on Twitter, or see the septic tank that is the comment section on most MMA news sites.
But tweets and comments like these are prolific in MMA culture. While promotions may not have yet figured out how to censor the fan base, there are definitive measures they can take to distance themselves from the image they’ve cultured. We’ll go over what those measures are and the rationale behind them in part three.
You can follow Sydnie Jones on Twitter.