According to the always wise and useful Zoe Sadokierski, you can develop strange obsessions while doing your doctorate. I’ve developed an obsession with Fiat Arbaths. The top end of the current Fiat Bambino/500 series, they sit low to the ground, are best had as manuals and emit a satisfying rumble for such a small package. I know this because I heard one ‘roaring’ into the car park at South Maroubra beach one day. It was black, it had a big exhaust and I was in love.
I just can’t justify spending $40000 on such a small package, or any motorised package really. At least not until I work full time again, then all bets are off.
My other current obsession is Ronda Rousey.
Rousey, a former judo champion, is a mixed martial arts fighter in the UFC. That’s the U-something Fighting Something. I don’t know. Before her most recent fight Rousey was 12-0. That is, she had won 12, lost none. Her opponent was Holly Holm, a boxing champion who was 9-0. Their fight was held in Melbourne, the first time Rousey had fought in Australia. It was a fucking circus. And Rousey lost.
Rousey crept up on me. One of my brothers watches MMA fights and he and I mentioned her in passing on Facebook. I’ve never seen one of her fights live, I’ve watched them on YouTube. Most of them are less than 3 minutes in duration so it’s pretty easy to catch up. When I realised she was going to fight in Melbourne I looked into tickets but couldn’t justify it. I love sport but flying myself down to watch a fight (a FIGHT!) that may last less than a minute? And I’m supposed to be doing a PhD?
I tried to find out who was televising the fight. I asked a bar tender at a pub in Surry Hills if they were showing the fight. When he asked me why I was interested the several middies of beer in me forced my guard down and started discussing Rousey and how she was not just a fighter, she was a whole story. He wasn’t really interested. Lucky I didn’t launch into my Rousey as feminist icon-discuss mode.
In October I went to Hawaii on holiday and I was looking for something to read that was easy but could possibly fuel my attempts to get back on neutral terms with my PhD. We’d fallen out of love. I needed to remind myself why I was here, why I was doing this thing. I’d recently started with a personal trainer at the local gym and that was helping. My attempts to rehabilitate my body after having a child have been embarrassing. Not that I haven’t tried, rather I’ve been so misguided in my assumptions as to what I can do I’ve managed to injure myself more than is feasibly possible for a woman my age, not playing a combat sport. I needed someone to sort my shit out. Alongside a personal trainer, a sporting memoir that would make me punch the air seemed like the obvious option. Rousey’s memoir is full of punch-the-air moments. There are also enough moments of self doubt and general flagellation to make it feel real. Yes, her mother was pretty full-on in terms of training, but if she was sending her kid to maths tutoring no one would bat an eyelid.
The day Rousey fought I was so busy with grocery shopping and taking my son to futsal that I didn’t make it to a pub to watch it. I got online in the afternoon and saw she had lost. Disbelief.
I sent a message to my brother, have you seen the Rousey result? “Yeah watched it, Ronda fucked up, chasing her around with her chin up, smashed”.
Then I watched the footage. Rousey was rushing, chasing Holm, no control. Then she got a kick to the head. She fell and Holm continued to hit her, oblivious to or in spite of Rousey being unconscious. This was hard to stomach. I’ve grown to love AFL for its honesty and wary of football for its cynicism and dishonesty. And here was a woman smashing into another, unconscious, woman? What the hell am I supposed to do with that?
I don’t hate UFC. I don’t hate boxing. Peter Fitzsimons is one of my favourite sports writers and he rightly questioned why this is ok: why is it ok that someone can beat an opponent as they lie unconscious on the mat? That I agree with, but this is not just about the rules of the UFC. Rousey refuses to be a “do nothing bitch”. She acknowledges girls look up to her and she doesn’t want them to grow up and say what she says or do what she does, she wants them to do and say what THEY WANT. I admire Rousey’s physical prowess (hell, there’s a massive picture of her at my gym and I pay homage to it every time I wheel my inflexible body in there) but it’s not the fact that she punches people, or arm bars them or loses so spectacularly that gives me pause, it’s her assumption that women can do anything they want, and the fact that she’s out there demonstrating it.
Feminists shouldn’t like people punching each other, but why not? The footage of her loss sickened me. I couldn’t bear to see it, not just because it was her but because I was finally confronted with what the UFC actually is and what it does to people. The Rousey story is a lot more complex than pure violence and it’s made me question a number of things. We need women like her and we need them to lose and we need them to rise up again.