The UFC and Femininity
I am going to try and tread softly here. Owen Strachan recently wrote an article for Patheos on the first televised women’s UFC fight. He is against mixed martial arts in general, but is particulary bothered by women competing, as he thinks that it does damage to the picture of biblical femininity. I understand his sensitivity, and respect his position. However, I have a different perspective to offer.
First I want to say that I do agree with Strachan that unnecessary violence shouldn’t be supported by Christians. This sport, along with football, hockey, and boxing, to name a few others, can certainly take it too far. And his quote by one of the female competitors, Ronda Rousey, is already proving his point. She talks about her signature submission move, the armbar, and how you can hear tendons and ligaments snapping like a chicken. But an armbar is not supposed to get to that point in the match. It is a submission move, and the one who finds themselves defeated by it needs to concede the fight by giving the “tap”. While there are certainly those who’s pride blinds their common sense, this humbling tap is very character-building for a fighter.
I don’t think that it is fair to compare our contact sports to the gladiatorial games that the early church helped put an end to, like Strachan does in his article. Most gladiator fighters were slaves, not career fighters. And the so-called rules were very different. I’m not aware of there being any rules to protect gladiator fighters. But, we do have the writer of Hebrews alluding to Grecian Olympians training for combat, even under the severe blows of their trainers, as an analogy of Christian perseverance.
I could go on about contact sports, but I want to narrow my focus for the sake of the reader. I am frankly more concerned about the ring girl’s portrayal of femininity than the female fighter. Does anyone watching a MMA match need to see a big sign held by a girl with her whole mid-section exposed, cleavage, and butt cheeks hanging out to know what round it is? What do these winking women have to say about femininity? It is a completely genital-oriented view of sexuality. Why do they even carry the number? Who’s looking at the number? And for that matter, if we want to take a stand to speak out against what socially acceptable careers women take that demean their femininity, let’s start with the NFL cheerleaders and the Miss America Pageant. Again, I could go on, but I have more points.
Strachan challenges us to look at this issue theologically. He acknowledges that since every Christian woman is a member of the kingdom of Christ, “Biblical womanhood, therefore, is fully engaged in the spiritual conflict against darkness, and the women who embody this spirit work hard on a variety of fronts to glorify the Lord. The Proverbs 31 woman is a durable, hard-working, fearless taker of dominion, for example.” But, he argues, “In contrast to a world that preys upon women, the church is to be a refuge for them.” And, “Christ did not ask his bride to suffer for him; he did not ask her to go to war in his place. He gave his own body so that his wife, God’s people, could thrive and live.” While this is true, the church is still in warfare. We still have to contend and even endure persecution as the church militant. While we know we have the victory, and are given the whole armor of God, we have our cross to bear nonetheless.
But I see Strachen’s point. The church should stand out as a refuge in a world that preys upon women. But is mixed martial arts the career that most preys upon women? Some waitressing jobs can be more threatening. There are plenty of physically dangerous jobs that women work everyday. In a quick search, you will find commercial fishing to be the most life-threatening job. Do we have a problem accepting women as aircraft pilots or taxi drivers? How about refuse and recyclable material collectors, which is the #4 most dangerous job?
You see, MMA isn’t as dangerous as the hype wants us to believe. I should know, I know many people who compete. I’ve trained in it myself (but nothing to this level, I grew up in the environment). I know plenty of very feminine women, godly women, who are trained in MMA. I think that it is actually a loving discipline to teach women (not that it needs to be associated with professional competitions, per se).
Of course, I don't think that women should fight men in competitions. But there may come a day where we need to defend ourselves in the real world. Most likely, if a woman is attacked by a man, she will be on the ground before she even knows what’s happened. Women are physically weaker than men. Your typical female will never win a boxing match with your typical male. But if she is trained to use her legs, which are much stronger, leverage her core, and yes, even have extensive knowledge on jujitsu and submission holds, she has a fighting chance. And you better believe that if someone were after a woman you love, you would want her to fight. Fighting with skill makes all the difference.
Strachen concludes, “The church should train boys to shoulder burdens, sacrifice their bodies on behalf of girls, and protect women. It’s not good for boys to fight girls, and it’s not good for girls to fight other girls. The spirit of a woman, in sum, is to be gentle and quiet (1 Peter 3:4).” Professional fighting has rules to protect the fighters. It is not the same as a real fight—the contestants are usually not in any type of argument or trying to settle an actual beef against one another. They have been strategically matched to test their warrior skills. Like it or not, there are times when some have to fight. I’m not against raising awareness for women to be trained in self-defense tactics. MMA seeks to find the best martial arts forms and combinations by testing the different arts together.
Please don’t read this as an endorsement for UFC. I think that they have gotten pretty darn sleazy and cheapened the sport. I also have a problem when the fights are not stopped in time and someone is needlessly getting their face beat in (but for the most part, they do call it).
I will say that my brother holds I don’t even know how many black belts in various forms of martial arts, he owns an academy that trains men and women in MMA for regular fitness and self-defense, as well as equips professional fighters. He is without a doubt the most truly gentle man I know (I wrote an article about it a while back). He is actually my model for a gentle and quiet spirit, and he is a very masculine dude.
By all means, I think Strachan has brought up some important points about the pictures our roles as men and women portray relating to the gospel. I am all for biblical femininity. I am not a feminist, or even an egalitarian. And that’s why I think that if as a Christian community we want to start speaking out to the entertainment industry to protect women, let’s start with the ring girls.