Clint Eastwood, Gina Carano, historical analysis, historical film analysis, history, Labragirl Pictures, laurie chin sayres, Liz Carmouche, marilyn hernandez, Million Dollar Baby, Mixed martial arts, MMA, Ronda Rousey, Sport, UFC, UFC 157, Ultimate Fighting Championship, women fighters, women in sports
This week in our Images Shaping History blog series, Resident Blogger Cecilia Portillo takes a look into UFC 157. When Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche stepped into the Octagon, they made history. This was the first women’s championship bout in MMA history. Ronda Rousey won on an arm bar and forced Liz Carmouche to tap out. With a focus on this historical arm bar—a move that electrified the world of MMA—Cecilia explores the representation of women’s identities in the media. In particular, Cecilia focuses on the image of the fighter.
Labragirl believes that it is important to explore these representations in order to shape our understanding of our shared history.
As you read, keep these question in mind:
What is femininity?
How do you think these images of female fighters change the scope of women’s history? Sports history?
We can be sure that somewhere in the world there is a woman or young girl who is defying societal standards and expanding the definition of femininity. She is revolutionizing her character by acting outside of her prescribed role. By breaking gender norms, these girls and young women take a step towards defying gender inequality.
When these types of rebellions are portrayed on a grand scale and reach the eyes of thousands of people around the world, it is not only exciting, but also historically important.
THE UFC 157
UFC 157 is an example of just such a historically significant and groundbreaking event; this fight changed the face of female athletes and women’s sporting events.
This electrifying event, Rousey vs. Carmouche, has done something that very few other women’s sporting events have done in history. This fight held the main card in a predominantly male centered sport with equal measure, agency, and—impressively—with the support of male viewers. I believe that male viewership is important for a sport where women are glorified and celebrated for being talented and superlatively skilled athletes.
“These girls and young women break gender norms and take a step towards defying gender inequality”
In the past, female athletes who have gained praise and attention in the media were known for characteristics other than their athletic abilities—they tended to look and act in a certain accepted feminine way that adhered to modern notions of femininity and beauty. And although several attempts were made at sexualizing one of the fighters in UFC 157, the sole purpose of this event was to galvanize women’s MMA and to promote the fight between two respected and revered athletes.
UFC 157 was influential because it provided a new image for women. In an interview, Ronda Rousey described the difficulty of growing up as a female fighter because she had very little female role models to look up to or to emulate. She discussed the lack of female representation in MMA and how that resulted in the need to create her own mental image of what it meant to be a female fighter.
The power of images.
The lack of female fighters and images of female fighters results in a lack of participation in the sport. This essentially results in the lack of women taking space in a predominantly male world and leaves gender roles untouched and defined. UFC 157 exemplified how images in the media can influence our modern vernacular and cultural mores. Not only were the unconventional actions of women supported, they were consciously chosen to be the main event. Everyone paid to see these two women fight—the expansion of women’s identities was at the epicenter of the night.
The fight between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche was neither the first nor the only representation of women’s MMA or women in the fighting world. We have seen images of women fighters in film and in sporting events for several years now. There have been movies over the years such as Girl Fight and Million Dollar Baby that tell the stories of women who have entered into the ring to fight.
“This essentially results in the lack of women taking space in a predominantly male world and leaves gender roles untouched and defined.”
The 2000 movie Girl Fight takes a hard look at the complexity of femininity and masculinity in the boxing ring.
Girl Fight Movie Trailer
Hillary Swank portrays a muscular and skilled fighter in Clint Eastwood’s 2004 Million Dollar Baby.
There have been tremendous athletes such as Gina Carano, Chris Cyborg, and Claressa Shields in the professional fighting world. However the Rousey/Carmouche fight was historically important due to the magnitude of the event, the promotion it received, and the fact that a female sport took precedence over a male sport—a sport that in its very nature defies conventional feminine roles and standards.
The UFC fight between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche is an example of a new image and representation of women’s identities in the media. Historically, it is unlike the images we have seen before—certainly not to this magnitude and can arguably be seen as an expansion of women’s identities as a whole.
To what extent does the media create an understanding of our histories and identities in terms of gender?
How does the support of the professional female fighter create new understandings of femininity?
How important are sports in determining the current standards of gender equality?
Until Next Time,
Read Cecilia’s first blog: Changing Faces. Changing Times.
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