DNBs: The newest “type” of awful women it’s acceptable to ridicule.
By Sydnie Jones
Following a quote from UFC bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey in UFC 190: Embedded Episode 2 that introduced the world to the idea of “do-nothin’ bitches,” media and fans seized upon Rousey’s blunt, unapologetic words about being called masculine. The full quote is as follows:
“I have this one term for the kind of woman that my mother raised me to not be, and I call it a “do-nothin’ bitch,” or I call it a “DNB” a lot of the time. It’s like the kind of chick that’s just like, just tries to be pretty and be taken care of by somebody else. That’s why I think it’s hilarious if people say that my body looks masculine or something like that. It’s like, listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than fucking millionaires, doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely bad-ass as fuck because there’s not a single muscle in my body that isn’t for a purpose, because I’m not a do-nothin’ bitch.”
It’s a phrase ready-made for virality: succinct, brash, seemingly contentious, easily abbreviated. Rousey has been upfront about struggling with body image issues and an eating disorder, and the quote is, in part, a powerful statement about rejecting cultural expectations placed on women’s bodies.
And then a t-shirt was released, with an image of Rousey seated on a bed, wearing either underwear or a swimsuit, putting her hair up. 13,000 were sold in the first 24 hours, with part of the proceeds going to Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.
Rousey has done a lot of great things, particularly for the inclusion of women in sports. She advocates for a more varied representation of women’s bodies in the media, including gaining weight for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit photoshoot. She doesn’t apologize for who or how she is, and she’s determined to get what she believes is her due, regardless of what anyone else has to say about it. These are all legitimately laudable things, and Rousey is a welcome addition and presence in professional sports – especially MMA.
But Rousey’s rhetoric is not exactly feminist, and there are elements within the “DNB” philosophy that are regressive. It’s predicated on the basis that women are doing something wrong and should be ostracized and castigated for it. The speech starts out shaming women who do certain things Rousey dislikes. Then it turns into an articulation on gender constructs, underscored with more disdain. And then it ends with Rousey explaining why her athletic abilities make her superior to the women she would describe as DNBs.
The goal is not to pick apart Rousey’s words to be contrarian. But Rousey’s rhetoric is often founded on an apparent belief that some women are ‘better’ than others, based on nebulous, sliding criteria determined by her current preoccupations. And in the case of the DNB phenomenon, Rousey isn’t saying anything new. In fact, she’s reiterating the long-standing condemnation of women our culture has decreed ‘gold diggers,’ a superficial vilification of the individual rather than a criticism of the societal ill at the root.
It’s another iteration of the idea that women are the problem and responsible for their continued oppression and objectification. People seized it because Rousey is such a strong, unique female figure, and here she is, condemning the “type” of woman people love to hate.
Why are they so easy to hate? Because they don’t do enough. Because they’re parasitic and money-hungry and vain. Because they’re not enough. This is the typical refrain. But it’s a simplistic perception that overlooks the reality: the women Rousey has termed DNBs are still operating within the same system of oppression that has specified a woman’s value: beauty/sex appeal and reproductive abilities. Rousey is blaming the symptoms for the disease, just one more voice telling women they’re not good enough to be taken seriously unless they meet a given set of qualifiers.
When a culture reduces women’s contributions to how much they appeal to men – as western culture has for centuries, if not millennia – then sex appeal becomes, for most, their only currency. And make no mistake; while gender equality has progressed substantially, sex appeal is still an active and extremely valuable currency. Rousey herself has capitalized on it several times, including appearing topless in ads for Buffalo jeans.
This isn’t the first time Rousey has criticized women she thinks don’t do enough. She blasted Kim Kardashian for being famous because she was in a sex tape – apparently forgetting that the sex tape was a private video leaked without Kardashian’s permission, and released into a culture that revels in publicly shaming women for their sexuality. She mocked ring girls, saying it was only respectable to earn money based on appearance as long as it was to “further” oneself.
To Rousey, having one’s appearance and sex appeal be her primary revenue stream is tantamount to being labeled exclusively as a sex object – as though it removes a woman’s agency, reducing her to a single role. In one arena, that’s semi-accurate; for a woman employed primarily for her appearance, our culture happily shoehorns her into that, and only that, role – frequently undermining or negating the rest of any contribution she might have. But the solution isn’t to punish women for pursuing a career that exclusively capitalizes on appearance, because it maintains that women who do so are only that and can only be considered as such – buying in fully to the message our culture sends to women.
Rousey wants to reject conventional ideas of femininity and redefine them for herself. Except, again, she readily buys into other things our culture says about women – things that don’t apply to her. She takes exception to what insults her, but has enough conviction that the roles she assigns to women, based on her perception of what they do, are fair – which is fueled, ironically, by what our culture has already said about those roles.
And it’s the expectations placed on women that led to Rousey’s body image issues. The women she’s criticizing have also been subjected to these expectations, and are currently entrenched and/or trying to operate within the patriarchal system established by their oppressors. Rousey says she respects “the hustle” of using looks to make money on the way to better things, but has no patience for women who are successfully operating within that system and the rules set for them. For a long time, Rousey bought into the expectations as well – and now that she’s breaking free, those who aren’t with her 100% are disregarded.
But Rousey was specifically talking about women who try “to be pretty and (try) to be taken care of by somebody else.” And this circles back to the understanding women are socialized with, from birth, that their primary value is in their appearance. Creating this regressive competitiveness, to not be like one of those women, fails to consider under what circumstances a woman is likely to pursue security through someone else taking care of her financially. You can reduce her to a simple, Gollum-like caricature obsessed with money, or you can allow for the possibility that she has internalized the messages women get every day and doesn’t believe she’s capable of self-sufficiency. Or that she’s recognized her potential for exploiting the roles to which our culture attempts to relegate women. Or any number of things that don’t entail dehumanizing a woman with an unexamined, us-versus-them mentality that simultaneously removes autonomy and accountability from the feckless millionaire.
Apparently, the lesson in self-sufficiency Rousey’s mother taught her came along with a black and white judgment of worth. Rousey’s mother undoubtedly instilled in her the drive and attitude that has helped her become the most dominant athlete in the world. Is a simplistic worldview where there is only right and wrong somehow a necessary part of that? In such stark terms, it’s clear what you don’t want to be, and that is easier. Rousey is telling us that it’s embarrassing to be a certain way, and that’s deserving of ridicule, and you should definitely not be a DNB. It’s an empowerment mantra – for some. Kind of.
Also problematic is the image used on the shirt. Rousey rails against her body being called masculine and champions a broader definition of femininity, to include being strong and well-muscled. In talking about body image previously, she said “I hope that the impression that everyone that sees the next SI swimsuits issue (gets) is that strong and healthy is the new sexy. And that the standard of women’s bodies is going into a realistic and socially healthy direction.”
Paired with the DNB quote, the choice of the image used for the shirt is somewhat confusing. For advocating for this slightly broader definition, Rousey appears to meet most of the conventional western ideals of femininity: white, slender, passive, and attractive. She’s sitting on a bed, in underwear, doing her hair. At first glance, there’s nothing to distinguish her from a sexy model. If you look more closely, the only indication of her muscles is her arms. It’s unclear, at least to me, what about this image conveys the strength and ability on which she prides herself.
And the image of a passive, thin, white woman isn’t exactly revolutionary. There are numerous pictures of Rousey that show us something new and inspiring. This one doesn’t, unless you look closely, and even then the element is minimal. And why is she on a bed? What about this challenges the existing constructs of femininity?
This specific presentation of femininity, along with the idea that women need to do more, or aren’t doing enough, adds to the pressure on girls and women to look a certain way. And in this case, it’s thin and seemingly DTF.
A fighter who wants to remain anonymous shared with me her own history of disordered eating, and what this DNB idea and shirt brought to mind. She says, “When I felt like I was really productive, and when I was most happy with myself, was when I would starve myself for weeks and then work and work and work out, running for hours and lifting and all that. And I would flip through magazines and look on the internet and find these pictures and stuff of thin women or models who got lots of attention and had these perfect bodies. And I would look at them and be like well, I want to look like that.
“And the pictures always had some quote or some shit somewhere on them that said, “work harder,” or “do more,” or something to that effect. So that’s what Ronda’s picture made me think of.
“She is so inspiring to many young women and I don’t want to take away from that. A lot of healthy, hard working women look up to her. Here you’ve got a famous athlete with a great message: “Be yourself, don’t let anyone tell you you’re too muscular, if you work out a lot and you love it, don’t let anyone tell you different.”
“But then she’s sitting on a bed looking perfect in a photo that is most likely Photoshopped and edited to be acceptable to print on a fucking t-shirt, calling other women bitches if they “fuck millionaires” and let other people take care of them. It’s just contradictory.”
Rousey not only wants her physique accepted as feminine, but she actively degrades the type of physique typically associated with femininity, even if its presented in the specific context of a ‘DNB.’ She doesn’t leave it at, “hey, my body is just as feminine.” She didn’t articulate what exactly a woman does to render her body suitable for “fucking millionaires,” but apparently having sizable muscles is not part of it. She objects to the expectations placed on her, defines femininity for herself, but then wants the expectations she’s rejected broadened to allow her entry.
Rousey’s not in it with her fellow women. She has recreated a type of woman we can publicly decree bad and unworthy. At one point, in her eyes, it was women like her, teased for not meeting conventional constructs of femininity.
Rather than do away with the concept of a “type” of woman entirely, Rousey has shifted the condemnatory tide toward DNBs, women she believes are weak and opportunistic.
There’s not much empowering about that.
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