Whenever there’s a slow news day on the weekends, CNN seems to come up with some sort of “question of the day” where they run an ostensibly controversial (but not exactly Earth shattering) story and invite users to weigh in over social media. Such was the case this morning when hosts Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul were running a story on mixed martial arts fighting pretty much in a loop. This tale dealt with the women’s division in the UFC and an upcoming bout involving Ronda Rousey, their undefeated bantamweight champion. So fearsome is Rousey by all accounts that they’re having trouble finding fights for her which are worth taking.
This has led at least some involved in the sport to ask if it’s time for Rousey to “man up” and fight one of the men in her weight class. So that was the question of the day on CNN and the response seemed to be nearly universal in a rare showing of common sense on the web. Nobody thinks this is a good plan. The hosts didn’t seem convinced that it was a good idea. The viewers had all manner of objections. In fact, I’m not entirely sure why this was a question since Rousey herself has said it’s a terrible idea.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea to have a man hitting a woman on television,” Rousey told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “I’ll never say that I’ll lose, but you could have a girl getting totally beat up on TV by a guy — which is a bad image to put across. With all the football [domestic violence] stuff that’s been happening, not a good idea. It’s fun to theorize about and talk about, but it’s something that’s much better in theory than fact.”
Let’s get the obvious point which so many CNN viewers (along with Rousey) made out of the way right up front. Men still shouldn’t be hitting women, and if that turns into a spectacle to broadcast on television there is something very wrong. Enough said on that. But what of the more general question of women competing in men’s sports, and vice versa?
I’m no expert on MMA (I prefer boxing myself) but Rousey certainly looks like a tough competitor at the top of her game. I suppose it’s even possible that there are some male fighters out there who she could beat. But would she be the champion in the weight class? History suggests it’s unlikely. Even in far less combative, physical sports, the innate differences between men and women stubbornly persist. Women have tried to play in the PGA in the past which doesn’t require any fighting. In 2003 Annika Sorenstam, arguably the best female golfer in the world at the time, was given an exemption and allowed to play in a PGA tournament. She failed to make the cut.
Another historical example showed up recently in the context of a different CNN show I’ve been watching… The 70s. In one episode they talked about the era as a turning point in the rise of feminism. For an example, they talked extensively about the “game changing” moment when Billy Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs. But when feminists take that glorious stroll down memory lane, there are a few facts which they seem to forget or conveniently overlook. King was 29 at the time and fresh off her victory at Wimbledon. She was in the best shape of her life and was either the number one or number two women’s player in the world, depending on if you asked Margaret Court. Bobby Riggs was also a Wimbledon champion. In fact, he’d won the tournament in 1939. The guy was in his mid fifties, panting and huffing, and he still managed to take ten games from her over the course of three sets. Is there anyone who honestly thinks she could have taken more than a game or two from Björn Borg, Jimmy Connors or any of the other men seeded at Wimbledon that year?
The point isn’t that men are inherently superior beings, but when it comes to physical competition there are simply differences between the genders. Those show up markedly at the highest levels of competition. And as I said, the more physical it gets, the more those variables become evident. (If anyone can figure out why we need a separate chess championship for women, though, do let me know.) Let’s stop trying to shove women into men’s sports just in the name of proving that we’re all identical. We’re not.