Ronda Rousey: More than a Pretty Face?

Jezebel.com’s Madeleine Davies wrote that the new women’s division is “exciting news for female mixed martial artists and the little girl playground scrappers who aspire to be them.” Some think this could herald a new era in which female athletes can compete on an equal level with men in the athletic world.

But as exciting as this news may be, I’m not celebrating just yet.Unfortunately, the sexualization of women in sports undermines much of the supposed gender equality women have gained.

Take the 2012 IAFF World Junior Championships, for example. During the track and field events, the Internet was buzzing about the beautiful Australian 100-meter hurdler, Michelle Jenneke, who rose to notoriety because of her bouncy, hip-shaking pre-race dance. She ended up doing very well, placing first in her heat and fifth overall. However, in comments on the YouTube videos of her race and her multiple fan pages on Facebook, her athletic achievements are rarely (if ever) mentioned. Instead, they are inherently sexual — from praising her beauty to fantasizing about what the commenters would “do to her” if she appeared, hip-shaking, of course, in their bedrooms.

Now Jenneke’s dance was adorable, and it’s understandable that it attracted some attention. But her skill and achievements are completely ignored in the face of her sex appeal, which undermines her role as an athlete. That isn’t gender equality — it’s placing women on a pedestal that separates them from the athletically focused respect that male athletes are usually granted.

The same thing is already happening to Rousey, the supposed poster-child for gender equality in professional sports. She, like Jenneke, is traditionally good-looking; as a result, her public perception has already begun to be warped.

The front page of Rousey’s official website prominently displays a nude photo of the fighter from ESPN’s “Body Issue”; in fact, a quick Google image search shows that a large number of the photos of Rousey are of her posing nude, in tight dresses or in a bra and underwear. In fact, when typing out Rousey’s name in the search bar, “Ronda Rousey hot” is only second in the search suggestions.

In contrast, photos from a search of MMA champion Cain Velasquez show him in the ring looking powerful and athletic. While Rousey’s not portrayed as an MMA fighter who happens to be female; instead, she’s a sexy lady who happens to do MMA. Not respected for her athletic skill, Rousey is a sex object — a shame, considering her talent.

Appreciating the beauty of athletes, is fine — they can be a pretty sexy bunch. But no athlete’s value should be based on sex appeal alone; doing so does not afford him or her the respect deserved for astounding athletic skill. And the fact that this happens disproportionately to women means that, as far as we’ve come in the realm of gender equality, we still have a long way to go.