Whether or not you’re a UFC fan, you should know who Ronda Rousey is and what she’s doing for gender equality. More specifically, you need to know how she’s blazing a previously unchartered path down the middle of American society’s traditional ideals about women in sports.
Before Ronda Rousey, just about the only women that stepped foot inside the UFC octagon were ring girls or the occasional female referee. Then, in November of 2012, Rousey became the first female fighter to sign with the UFC. Other promotions, like Strikeforce, had put on fights between women before, but the UFC is the Broadway of MMA.
On Feb. 23, 2013, Rousey busted down the door to women’s MMA and fought in the first women’s UFC match. Rousey beat Liz Carmouche in the first round via armbar and consequently the first female MMA superstar was born.
Rousey isn’t just a tough woman, she’s an elite fighter that has spent her life developing her martial arts skills. Rousey began Judo with her mother at the age of 11, and by the age of 17 qualified for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, becoming the youngest judo competitor in the entire Games. She was also the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in Judo in the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008.
Fast forward to Feb. 28, 2015, where Rousey was the main event in the biggest MMA promotion that has ever existed. On that day, Rousey, a female, was the main attraction in a sport predominantly attended and viewed by men.
The night of Feb. 28, groups of men all over the world were gathered in “man-caves,” sports bars, and living rooms to watch two females fight. Let’s be clear: men aren’t just gathered to watch the UFC on a night where Rousey happens to be fighting, men are gathered because they want to watch Rousey fight.
Male elite fighters of all types—strikers, wrestlers, Jiu Jitsu artists—are all talking about Rousey’s bout. One of the world’s most elite grapplers, Ricky Lundell, and UFC’s own Carlos Condit boasting a record of 29-8, took to discussion of Rousey and her level of skill on Facebook the night of the fight. During this discussion, the fact that Rousey is a female never entered into the conversation; Rousey had a place in the conversation at least as equal, if not more prominent, than that of her male competitors.
Rousey’s aggressive, explosive style brings men out to watch, discuss, and debate in a way that doesn’t typically occur in the world of sports. Typically, discussion and debate between men regarding male and female athletics doesn’t occur in the same space. There are spaces to discuss men’s basketball, men’s football, and men’s soccer, whether at the professional level or the collegiate level, and then there are spaces to discuss women’s basketball, women’s soccer, and women’s athletics. Rousey, however, transcends such societal norms.
Rousey could easily become the most important person for gender equality in the year 2015. She’s not just challenging social norms regarding women in sports, but she’s challenging social norms regarding females in general. In a world where society’s traditional ideals have women being beautiful, small, dainty, thin, and subordinate, Ronda Rousey stands beautiful, broad, strong, talented, aggressive, and insubordinate.
And she’s doing it with a megaphone.
(Guest contribution by Trevor D. Osborn)