Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

The UFC and Femininity

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Feb• 25•13

rouseyI 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.

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12 Comments

  1. kim says:

    I totally agree Aimee…My biggest problem with that Rousey fight was her outfit. As soon as a boob pops out the legitimacy of the sport will take a huge hit. And don’t get me started on the “ring girls” ugh!

  2. Tim says:

    “He is actually my model for a gentle and quiet spirit, and he is a very masculine dude.” That is one of the best descriptions of biblical manhood I’ve ever read, Aimee, because it’s really abut biblical personhood, which is one of the things the Spirit of Christ leads us into.

    I really appreciate your statement at the end about not being a feminist or complementarian too, as it shows what common ground there is for you and those who are (*cough, cough* – perhaps someone like your present commenter – *cough*) to stand upon in Christ.

    Did Strachen provide any biblical support for his assertion that men are to protect women? It reminds me of Dr. Piper’s illustration that if a woman with a black belt and capable of self-defense and a man with no fighting skills at all are confronted by a mugger with a knife, the man should step in front of the woman and give his life while she waits in back.

    The problem here of course is two-fold: First, the woman, as an expert in martial arts, would have been the better suited one to confront the attacker. Second after the poor guy she was walking with is dead, the woman will still have to fight off the knife-wielding attacker but this time with a dead body on the ground getting in her way. (I bet Piper wanted the woman to run to safety. I’ve had too many cases in my courtroom that suggest that’s not a likely outcome, and it is more likely the attacker would catch up to her too.)

    Tim

    P.S. This may be one of those days when you and I are operating on parallel planes again, Aimee. I wrote about how men see women in the church, too, although not black-belted women.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Tim, I think Strachan’s biblical support for men protecting women is that they are imaging Christ’s love for the church, and Christ has laid his vary life down for her. But, yes, Christ in his wisdom and love does have us in warfare…knowing the victory is his.
      And you make a point that there are more ways to protect a woman than foolishly running into a fight you can’t win.

      • Tim says:

        Hmm … That imaging Christ’s love for the church comes up in the context of marriage in Ephesians, of course, but I don’t see it applied across the board for men’s relationship with women to model Christ’s relationship with the church. If he’s relying on Ephesians as a model for men and women generally in the church, I think he’s broadly overstepping and unfortunately doing a disservice to the Body.

  3. Reid says:

    Great job on this Aimee. I answered Owen’s MMA allergy a few years ago in general as well – http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2008/3/27/consumed-by-mixed-martial-arts-a-biblical-apologetic-for-mma.html

    Fully agree about the ring card girls – a part of MMA culture that is base and unnecessary.

  4. Great article. The part that stuck out to me is the inconsistency regarding MMA and other sports and careers. And I get tired of men telling women what Biblical womanhood is. I’m creeped out by CBMW and avoid them.

    I don’t like violence and for a while couldn’t even watch a commercial for MMA, especially when a guy is ‘ground and pounding’. But I watched a show called Fight Quest where two guys travelled around to different countries and spent one or two (can’t remember) weeks learning a form of martial arts and then competing at the end. That completely changed my view. I realized that they aren’t victims, they for the most part respect their opponents–except for the loud mouths who either really do hate their opponents or are just doing it for marketing–and they’re highly trained, including how to get hit. Also, like you say, there are rules now, and I think people last a lot longer in MMA than the NFL in certain positions (meaning running backs, linemen etc.).

    That second paragraph was just for the inevitable comment from someone who will write about how horrible the sport is. You’re braver than I am to write about this.
    Jeff

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Jeff, good point, they are not victims.
      I will say that I have learned from CBMW, and appreciate the materials they provide. I don’t think Strachan was specifically speaking on behalf of the Council, but giving his personal opinion. Although I disagree, I respect his contribution to the conversation. Part of my point is that complementarianism isn’t cookie-cutter in application. I think it is healthy to show that.

      • I didn’t mean to imply that Strachan is part of the CBMW. This just reminded me of it. It’s interesting in a good way that you feel that way about the CBMW. Maybe all the articles I’ve seen have been the more sensational ones (or just dumb sometimes) and they’re worth another look. I think D.A. Carson is a part of it, and he’s always reasonable.

        I missed that part of your point. I have specific views of complementarianism that I haven’t had the courage or energy to write about. Some would call it ‘soft’, but I think it’s Biblical and may be close to your views. Thanks.
        Jeff

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