It happens every time Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, or Cyborg steps into the octagon. It happens every time Gabi Garcia’s name gets mentioned. It happens every time just about any woman with visible muscle mass shows up to the gym just to do what she does: kick butt and get strong.
In all of these cases, it’s practically inevitable that someone, whether online or out loud, is going to make a comment that sounds a little like this:
“Can’t believe they’re letting dudes fight in the women’s division.”
“She definitely has a penis.”
“I wonder how long it’s been since her sex change.”
No matter the phrasing, the underlying message is the same: this woman is less of a woman because she’s taller, stronger, more muscular, tougher, or less conventionally attractive than your average Instagram fitness model. It’s an easy joke to make; otherwise it wouldn’t come up so often.
But why do people keep making it? Why is so appealing to make tired weiner jokes about a woman when she’s out there doing what the majority of us (yes, even men) would be scared to do?
Perhaps it’s the fact that she boasts traits that are more masculine than those of a lot of the armchair critics. Fighting, grappling, and lifting are generally considered to be men’s activities; so when a woman does them, does them well, and perhaps most importantly, looks like she does them, it’s threatening. Or rather, it’s threatening to the men who are insecure with their own less-impressively masculine traits.
Perhaps it’s a way of marking territory, in a sense. Even in 2017, I continue to see comments from guys either implying or directly stating that women “shouldn’t” be lifting weights, punching each other in the face for fun, or competing in jiu-jitsu matches. Some men are uncomfortable sharing their gym space with women at all, so it would make sense that these same guys would take it as a personal slight that members of the opposite sex would venture into and succeed in a sport that is stereotypically “male.”
Perhaps these people are uncomfortable with the fact that these women aren’t dainty. They might have broad shoulders or killer thighs or a jaw that looks like it could take a hit. Maybe the guys who make these comments are more attracted to women with curves instead of abs, so because these other women aren’t the type they’d try to sleep with, they dismiss them as being “dudes.” In their mind, there’s only one way to be a woman, and these chicks just don’t make the cut.
The reasons why could be picked apart for hours. The bottom line is that no matter what the reasoning may be for suggesting that muscular or combative women aren’t actually women, the same message is being sent: you can either be feminine or a fighter, with nothing in between. Sure, you’ll occasionally get people like Mackenzie Dern or Felice Herrig who are celebrated for being both tough and conventionally attractive, but if you aren’t, sorry, you’re a guy now.
It seems harmless on the surface — just a bit of internet trolling. But imagine for a moment that you’re a girl in high school who’s always been bullied for being taller, broader, and more athletic than her peers. You feel like you’ve finally found your place on your school’s wrestling team or at the local jiu-jitsu gym. You see other women who look like you and are succeeding at what you do on an international level. You finally start to see yourself as a powerful woman and begin embracing your body and talents even though they’re different from the ones you see all over social media.
These women are important role models not only because of their abilities and appearance, but because they are women. Denying their femininity is denying a massive part of not only their identity, but also the identity of other female athletes who have embraced their more “masculine” attributes and found their place in the sun in the athletic endeavor of their choosing.
I know, I know — the world is a cruel, dark place and you have more important things to worry about than hurting some random girl’s feelings on the internet, because if it’s not you, then someone else is going to do it anyway. But let me present to you one more possibility for why you feel the need to pretend to be confused about a female athlete’s gender:
Perhaps you’re just a douche.
In which case, stop being a douche.
The world sucks enough as it is. Stop making it suck more with your lazy, juvenile non-jokes about people who are doing awesome things with their lives.