Mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey became a professional wrestler Sunday night. The UFC women’s bantamweight champion agreed to terms with WWE and appeared unexpectantly on the pay-per-view Royal Rumble show in Philadelphia. Rousey, who won a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Olympics, took over the mixed martial arts world, winning her first fifteen fights in overwhelming fashion. She won five of her first six professional fights in sixty-six seconds or fewer. She then parlayed her octagon success into pop culture fame, appearing in film, television, and magazines, and even hosting Saturday Night Live. I am a fan of neither MMA fighting nor professional wrestling, but I’ve been familiar with who Rousey is because of how mainstream she has become. Even ESPN, the self-styled worldwide leader in sports, reported her joining WWE as breaking and important news Sunday night. What are we to make of Ronda Rousey? Are we to celebrate her athletic achievement? Do we ignore the story altogether because what responsible adult has time for the shenanigans of pro wrasslin’? Do we cheer because we finally have a famous badass woman? Is it okay to be repulsed?
Under normal circumstances I would be happy to ignore any and everything related to professional wrestling. But we live in a time when our current president is someone who has made multiple appearances in the ring, and the mere notion of normal is codified as hate speech in approximately thirty-seven states. We live in a time where we pay to watch women step into a cage and bludgeon one another. (How very Roman of us.) We live in a time when Christian men will either stay silent on the matter or, God forbid, even cheer her on. We do not live in normal times.
We live in feminist times. And Ronda Rousey represents feminism in full flower: the masculinization of women. In the feminist vision, women, at long last liberated from the surly bonds of the Patriarchy, do not become more glorious and feminine women. They become manly, capable of kicking butt and taking names. To be sure, I do not dispute that Rousey is a capable fighter. This essay is not an exercise in keyboard machismo. I admit that I would not last sixty-six seconds in the cage with her either. The point is not her competence as a fighter, but her fittingness as a fighter. To be frank, it is ugly. Now, I am not calling Rousey herself ugly—she is not, and, besides, I’m too much of a gentleman to call a woman ugly in print. But the image of a woman cage fighting is ugly because it goes against nature, the way God created the world, which is good and beautiful. God did not create women to fight in the same ways as men. God has certainly given His strength to women, but it is strength to nurture, heal, and build, not to maim and destroy. That Rousey is a novelty worthy of news coverage reveals that her warrior woman persona is incongruent with normal womanhood. But, again, we do not live in normal times.
Feminism has an interest in promoting strong female characters, with Rousey being the real-life version of the trope normally peddled in film. Whether through one of the many Disney princesses or the latest Star Wars heroines, Hollywood has sought to shift cultural attitudes regarding gender norms by empowering women through martial prowess. Theologian Alastair Roberts has written extensively here and here about the problems with the strong female character trope. He writes,
“Within the kickass princess trope lurks the implication that, to prove equality of dignity, worth, agency, and significance as a character, all of a woman’s resolve, wisdom, courage, love, kindness, self-sacrifice, and other traits simply aren’t enough—she must be capable of putting men in their place by outmatching them in endeavors and strengths that naturally favor them, or otherwise making them look weak or foolish.”
The pop culture glorification of warrior women is unfair to both men and women. It teaches women that to be truly dignified, they must play to their weaknesses. They must prove themselves physically as strong as men through violence. This is unfair because women in general are not as strong as men, and a few outliers like Rousey do not negate the fact. Roberts points out that it is also unfair to men, who are taught to stifle their natural strengths in order to give the appearance of physical equality with women. Both sexes end up frustrated because their respective strengths are despised. Feminine glory is jettisoned in favor of masculine strength, and masculine glory must be kept on a leash out back. But because God created the world in such a way that men will dominate—for good or ill—masculine strength will never stay on the leash. Instead of being a guard dog, nobly protecting the house, he becomes an attack dog on the prowl for prey. This is partly how we ended up with such a culture of sexual abuse. Refusing to recognize what is good, true, and beautiful about God’s design for manhood and womanhood, we cut the legs out from under responsible interaction between the sexes. In other words, you cannot make a mockery of men and marriage and not end up with #metoo.
Warrior women also make economic sense. Movies and television shows will continue to promote the strong female character trope because it draws viewers, thus making dollars. Our culture will continue to promote the masculinization of women, not just as fighters, but as laborers because our economy depends on a large female workforce unencumbered by the demands of home, most notably the raising of children. This is also why the primary arena for female violence will not be the mixed martial arts cage, but the uterus. Our current economy is dependent upon abortion, which may explain why Republican politicians at large have grown so feckless in the abortion fight. Or, perhaps, their strength has just been duly stifled.
To be repulsed at Rousey fighting, whether in the gory UFC or the goofy WWE, is not to be repulsed at feminine strength. Rather, it is in appreciation of true feminine strength, not the over-sexualized and violent knockoff version. A godly woman is a strong woman—strength and dignity are her clothing. But she uses her strength self-sacrificially to nurture, heal, teach, and build her house. Ronda Rousey is physically powerful, but a mother breastfeeding a newborn baby at 3:00 a.m. is more powerful. Rousey is physically strong, but a mother locked in mortal combat of the wills with a toddler refusing to eat her peas is stronger. Rousey may stir up the lusts of adolescent boys, but a woman with a Bible on her lap and prayers on her lips will influence civilizations. True feminine strength is glorious, but it will be seen as folly to the world. But who cares? We are not friends with the world. We are the children of Abraham, and we are friends of God.