Battle of the Sexists: On Women vs Men in Combat Sports.
We’re drawn to the idea of women fighting and winning against men.
From the mythical Amazons of Ancient Greece, to Ronda Rousey at the height of her fame, bad bitches have put butts in seats since time immemorial. While exploring this age-old argument of if a female could (or should) engage in combat against a male*, I was struck by the polarized reactions these two genders. Although it did vary, the majority of both reactions were:
1) Fuck yes, girl power!
2) Fuck no! This is woman-beating or domestic abuse!
Although I don’t intend on invalidating the existence of intersex, or transgender people, there unfortunately is not enough data in studies or sociological papers on their role and performance capabilities in athletics. As a result, I am limiting this two biological sexes, and aligning them to cisgendered athletes whose gender identity matches their bodies. I don’t intend on erasing Intersex individuals, and understand that variations in primary sex characteristics can differ. This is about secondary sex characteristics, and hormones. This may be ham-fisted, but my fists are two golden-brown honey roasts, so that’s to be expected. Additionally, I have to generalise because I’m speaking in respectable sample sizes, not individual cases.
Women appeared to relish depictions of the archetypal Ass-Kicking Woman who could roll with the boys and take on all comers. Men however, felt negatively towards the concept of women fighting men; while they also support gender equality, there is a culturally-socialized discomfort towards the thought of men striking a woman, even in a ring.
Reaction 1: Fuck yes, girl power!
When we see a woman besting a man, we feel this represents the true essence of martial arts; using technique and training, the underdog can dominate in a conflict against a larger, stronger opponent. It’s because of this appeal that clips of girls tapping out boys in the park and Rousey saying she could beat Floyd Mayweather go viral. Some feminist theorists and women believe that females could ostensibly win against men in a fight. To bolster their argument, they bring up the concept of gender constructivism- how us ladies are socialized to play with barbies, instead of pursuing athletics like men. Gender is all nurture and no nature, they say.
Reality: I don’t discriminate by biological sex, but the pituitary gland sure does.
Hormones really do run the show, regardless of what gender studies professors wish to believe. Sexual dimorphism* is a very well-accepted fact by experts such as biologists, physicists, zoologists, anthropologists, and basically everyone.
Boys and girls are very similar in their physical capabilities until puberty hits, and then testosterone and estrogen respectively are secreted in high levels throughout their bodies. Individuals exposed to high doses of testosterone (an androgen hormone) results in bodies with larger body size (and bigger organs,) more muscle development, and ease in maintaining a lower level of body fat and strength.
Compared to estrogen’s effects, where it aids in endurance sports, but with the trade-off of higher chances of injury and body fat. There’s a reason as to why athletes use testosterone as a performance-enhancer in sports; it makes sports people way better at sportsing for longer, faster and harder. Athletes try new techniques, new diets, anything to get an edge, because the margin of error is infinitesimal at a world-class level.
Even within one men’s division, the #7 ranked fighter can knock the Welterweight champion out cold; how can we expect women to cross the gaping chasm that is the differences in male and female physiology?
Studies that demonstrate how males have higher maximal energy output, higher and longer V02 max expenditures, are found here, here and here. For those MMA-savvy fans feel that hormones aren’t that big of a deal, I want to point out how Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem and Chael Sonnen’s physiques changed drastically after USADA banned Testosterone Replacement Therapy and applied a stringent PED screening program.
Dadbods don’t lie.
And to provide an example of an actual fight against a man and woman, I present Lucia Rijker. Heralded (in an almost undisputed fashion) the greatest women’s kick/boxer ever, her record is flawless except for a loss against male Thai boxer Somchai Jaidee. “The Most Dangerous Woman Alive” was decimated and shortly knocked out by a journeyman fighter whose sole claim to fame, is having beaten Lucia.
If the most decorated woman striker in the world couldn’t win against a guy without their own Wikipedia page, how can we expect a competitive fight between run-of-the-mill WMMA and MMA fighters?
Reaction 2: Fuck no! This is no better than domestic violence.
How many times have we heard, “Under no circumstances, never ever hit a girl?” And it’s generally correct advice; as mentioned before, physiology tends to favour men in violent altercations and it’s not good for social groups to have one side physically dominate and terrorize another.
Guys are really uncomfortable with this notion and often have reactions of outrage, claiming that this is exactly like a man beating his spouse. A pertinent example would be the resultant furor that raised over a Brazilian card, where the headliner was a man versus a woman. Further driving home this conflation of mixed-sex combat basically being woman-beating, it turned out to be a publicity stunt in order to bring awareness to domestic violence.
Reality: Women are adults with agency, and the difference between a fight and a felony is consent.
Domestic violence is a horrifying thing and likening it to a sanctioned bout between two consenting adults, is enraging.
Trained fighters don’t have to focus on walking on eggshells because they’ve a time bomb near them constantly, the 24/7 dismantling of their self-esteem and wondering which blow will be the one that ends their life.
A woman never has the luxury of a commission sanctioning the beating, nor the safety of having a referee whose job is to watch and ensure their personal safety.
I get the desire to protect the vulnerable but these are professional fighters, not unwilling, unwitting participants. They’re mentally-developed adults who are extremely highly trained. They are presented with a legal contract, sign it, and spend the next 8 to 10 weeks tailoring a strategy and their conditioning for this singular event. Feeling protective instincts is fine, but it really does reeks of paternalism and patronizing of grown-ass people.
Wanting to keep these poor girls safe is commendable and I don’t fault you for it; I only ask for you to explore why this sentiment is not extended to mismatched same-sex fights. No promotions, not even those with a propensity for freakshows like RIZIN and Bellator would allow men and women to fight each other.
So why do they put on one-sided beatings like Fedor Emelianenko, the Greatest of All Time, versus Jaideep Singh, a kickboxer with a 2–2 MMA record? Or Gabi Garcia, a 6'1, 210 lb BJJ champ, fighting a 49 year old retired pro wrestler, with no MMA experience.
We joke about how it’ll be the first time someone dies in the MMA ring, and we watch it with twisted curiosity. Very few, if any accusations of the vastly more dominant fighter committing assault occur.
The playing field is forever uneven when it comes to men versus women, for reasons like the depth of the talent pool, and just plain ol’ human physiology.
Gender equality is applicable (and crucial) for providing a framework on how we treat others, but it can’t overwrite the ways human bodies work. Empowering women and girls is great, but deluding or coddling them is unproductive at best and creating individuals who feel they can behave with impunity at worst; many a World Star Hip Hop video stars women assaulting men unprovoked and either being shocked when the male reacts and they get very badly hurt.
Lastly, we as women should not have to fight men in order to prove ourselves as athletes. Why would we have to use the yardstick of masculinity and male performance in order to receive respect and admiration for our achievements?
We don’t need to square up against men to be seen as deserving of respect.
**Sexual dimorphism, the differences in appearance between males and females of the same species, such as in colour, shape, size, and structure, that are caused by the inheritance of one or the other sexual pattern in the genetic material (https://www.britannica.com/science/sexual-dimorphism)