Posted March 19, 2015 by Sydnie Jones in Editorials

Think women’s achievements in sports are ‘cute’? Evolve or get out of the way.

Rousey with her belt

Ian McCall will never experience this.

Guest contributor Rachel Piazza is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt living in New York City. She has a master’s degree in women’s & gender studies, and aside from teaching courses in social justice at a university, leads feminist self-defense programs for women and girls. She recently did a TEDx talk on sexist language. Don’t try to mansplain to her, or she’ll choke you out.

What do Ronda Rousey and the now infamous black and blue (or is it white and gold?) dress have in common? Aside from dominating our Facebook newsfeeds, they are both challenging our perceptions of reality – forcing us to consider what is possible, and confront the limitations of our own thinking. Just as the dress made us question the ability of our eyes to accurately interpret our surroundings, entertaining the idea of Rousey beating a male fighter makes us question one of our most closely held social beliefs – that women are physically inferior to men. The possibility that Rousey could beat a man calls into question our ideas about what is and isn’t possible – and what women are and aren’t capable of.

Challenges to our core beliefs and knowledge create the well-known phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. When we are presented with information that conflicts with our previously held knowledge/beliefs, we experience discomfort, and will seek to alleviate that discomfort by striving for consistency. For those whose “reality” is centered on male dominance and superiority, the mere suggestion that Rousey could beat a man has incited visceral anger and disrespect towards Rousey and women in general.

It turns out that the more deeply held the challenged beliefs are, the stronger the efforts will be to quell the dissonance. The aggression with which many men have responded is indicative to how deeply embedded male superiority is in our social fabric. If UFC fighter Ian McCall, and the 235 lb ex Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Jesse Holley can assure us that Rousey, albeit talented for a woman, is still inferior to a man, they can once again feel comforted, knowing that their power (physical and otherwise) over women is unchecked.

As if two centuries of exclusive access to self-actualization weren’t enough, little sexist crybabies like McCall and Holley wish they could continue to hoard all the attention and opportunities for themselves. For all of U.S. history, this society has failed to provide equal opportunities for women in pretty much every segment of society. Incredibly capable women, full of unlimited potential, have been relegated to very limited and undervalued roles. Athletic opportunities were simply unavailable to most women in the U.S. until the 1970’s, even after the passage of Title IX. Heck, at one time, it was believed that women’s reproductive organs would fall out if they engaged in strenuous exercise. Even after science caught on, girls were discouraged from playing sports and lacked the outlet for youth sports that attracted boys in droves. Rousey’s mom, Dr. AnnMaria DeMars, has said that she started training Judo in 1970 because it was one of the ONLY sports women were allowed to participate in. And now, while we’ve made great strides in a short amount of time, the professional opportunities for women still pale in comparison.

Nevertheless, men who have reached the pinnacle of success in their respective sports are coming out of the woodwork to discredit the one woman who, despite every barrier (you know, such as not even having a women’s division in the UFC to compete in until her talent forced Dana White to create one) has risen to a level of success and notoriety McCall and Holley can only dream of. If McCall and Holley are using Rousey’s fame for attention, they’ve succeeded. Instead of being known, as Rousey is, for unprecedented athletic accomplishment, they’re making names for themselves as douchey insecure sexists.

Despite the fact that Rousey will never actually fight a man in the Octagon, the debate has been thrilling for those of us who know what women have been capable of all along: Ronda Rousey’s level of physical prowess, mental toughness, and martial skill. With her at the helm, McCall, Holley and the rest of the haters can only expect more of us until they can no longer pretend that what we’re doing is “men things” and discredit our accomplishments as “cute.” The cognitive dissonance must be settled, and they can either evolve to recognize what we’re capable of or get out of the way.

You can follow Rachel Piazza on Twitter.

Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!

Sydnie Jones