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What to Say When Your Daughter Wants To Grow Up To Be Ronda Rousey

7 minute read

By now, most of us have marveled at the skill and ferocity of MMA champion Ronda Rousey. Her recent 34-second dismantling of Brazilian Bethe Correia, and her dedication of the fight to recently deceased pro-wrestling legend Roddy Piper, places her on hallowed ground in the eyes of many fight fans. But because she is a woman — an attractive woman — complicates things for not only some fans of the sport, but the public at large.

There is no questioning the credentials of Ms. Rousey. She’s undefeated, all by knockout or submission. She’s only been taken to the third round once. She has won fights in 14, 16 and 25 seconds. Only a handful on her fights have gone past a minute. In fact, she’s only ever needed to spend a total of 25 minutes and 36 seconds to win all of her 12 fights. But the she thing remains problematic for purists, and for non-enthusiasts, whose pop culture radars have been lit up by Rousey.

Friend and prominent conservative radio host Buck Sexton expressed that side’s bewilderment, and let’s face it disgust, in a tweet:

More than 80 people favorited his tweet, and many of the comments were similar in nature. While I’m not aware of a plank in the conservative platform that states “Women Shall Not Fight,” I do believe many conservatives would cite traditional values (and gender roles) in their rejection of a woman so good at beating people up.

Rousey battles in a sport that did not allow women to fight until just a few years ago. In fact, Rousey herself was the first female competitor signed to the biggest MMA promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), in 2012.

Yet women punching each other in a ring is not necessary a new thing. The first known female bout in this country dates back to the 1870s. Women’s boxing in the Olympics debuted in 1904, albeit as a demonstration. But in the sanctioned amateur ranks, the Golden Gloves didn’t allow female fighting until 1994. It wasn’t until the 2012 games that women fought for medals. The professional boxing picture for women has grown expansively since the mid-1990s.

So, it is in this climate of wonder and outrage, my daughter fights. She’s training now, but vows, over the absolute forbiddance of her mother, to become a champion. She is 9 years old.

She and her 7-year-old brother and a handful of other little boys train together at Champs Gym in downtown New Rochelle, New York. Although anyone can train here, it is a serious place for serious fighters.

Champs Gym is not stranger to female boxers. It’s home to Golden Gloves winners, and champions like Krystal Dixon, the women’s 2014 USA Heavyweight Boxing champion. She will fight for a gold medal in Rio.

The kids and I must have passed by the gym dozens of times before I suggested we wander upstairs to take a look. When I asked if they trained girls, the owner of the place looked at me and my baby girl and said, “We train women. They are treated the same way as the men. They get no special treatment here, so don’t ask for any.” My little girl looked at him, nodded, and said “Good.”

With that, the children began their training, alongside a half-dozen other similarly aged kids. My girl is the only girl, but works hard enough that most of the boys have forgotten about that part of who she is. Here’s a sample workout for the kids, mind you:

300 jumping jacks
300 crunches
Dozens of push ups
100 toe touches
Shuttle runs from rope to rope
Running through boxes (think tires in football)
Endless circling of the ring in boxing stance

And then there’s the boxing instruction itself: they learn punches and punching technique, and how to avoid getting punched. Early on, the coach would stop the gym and point out my daughter’s jab. Other times the gym would stop and watch her climb the rope and tap the ceiling, over and over again until someone yelled it was their turn.

When your child is good at something, you feel two things: 1. pride in their effort and skill, and 2. good about yourself because you have to have had something to do with it. Never mind that my varsity sport was marching band.

Yet this is boxing, a sport where the winner physically dominates the other by punching them repeatedly. There are the injuries, and the consequences. Rare is the fighter that walks away from the sport clean and without damage. Boxers die from severe brain injuries. Studies show 15–20% of all boxers end up with the disease dementia pugilistica, or DP. It is caused by repeated concussive blows to the head over a period of time. Symptoms include mental deficiencies, memory loss and tremors. DP is just one of a spectrum of illnesses waiting for boxers as they age.

Of course, all these studies relate to men. Women simply haven’t been in the sport long enough to be studied extensively. But we are finding out some things about girls in sports — they concuss at a rate much higher than men. The Journal of Athletic Training released a study of collegiate injuries over 16 years. It found that in many sports, like basketball and soccer, women suffer higher rates of concussions than their male counterparts. In softball, the rate was double that of male baseball players. No one really knows why girls suffer more concussions, and it doesn’t get much attention. And there is essentially no data on women who fight.

I asked my daughter if she knew who Ronda Rousey is. She gave me the “please, Daddy” face, and said yes, “Ronda is the Queen of Boxing.” I asked her if she’s bothered that her admirers called Ronda a “beast.” “No, Daddy,” she said. “That’s a compliment. It means she’s better than anyone else. Better like me. She fights to show she’s better than the rest, and other people’s opinions shouldn’t stop her dream.”

UFC President Dana White says he believes if Ronda Rousey fought Cris “Cyborg” Justino it would shatter the company’s pay-per-view records. Until now, that record of 1.6 million buys goes to the Frank Mir-Brock Lesnar fight in 2009. White says Rousey-Justino would do 2.5 million, nearly one million more from combatants who weren’t allowed in the league until three years ago.

With Rousey heading into uncharted success in and out of the ring, I wonder how many other young girls will don gloves and head into the ring, and even the octagon. And I wonder how many dads will wonder if they are doing the right thing by letting them do it.

This article was originally published by Autonomous on Medium

18 Groundbreaking Female Athletes

Lili De Alvarez 1926
Spanish tennis player Lili de Alvarez after she had beaten Molla Mallory in the lawn tennis ladies singles championships at Beckenham, England, on June 12, 1926. Alvarez made headlines in 1931 for wearing what TIME described that year as "a split skirt which resembled a pair of abbreviated pajamas" (in other words, shorts) at Wimbledon.G. Adams—Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Conchita Cintron the Matadora 1941
A portrait of the 18-year-old Mexican matadora Conchita Cintron taking a bow after dispatching her first 52-stone bull, May 6, 1941. In 1947, TIME called her "the world's greatest female torero."Hulton-Deutsch Collection—Corbis
Toni Stone 1950
Toni Stone, shortstop for the Indianapolis Clowns of the National Negro Leagues, works out in a photograph around 1950 in Indianapolis. She was the first woman to play in the otherwise-male Negro Leagues.Transcendental Graphics—Getty Images
Babe Didrikson Zaharias 1951
Babe Didrikson Zaharias sinks a putt at the All-American tournament at Chicago's Tam-O'Shanter Country Club in Chicago in 1951. She set a course record of 70 for women, and also won the World Championship, never going over par for her eight rounds. And golf wasn't her only sport: when she died in 1956, TIME noted that she set hurdles and javelin records in the 1932 Olympics, played baseball and "barnstormed nationally in basketball."Underwood Archives—Getty Images
Patty Berg 1951
One of America's top ranking professional golfers Patty Berg practicing at Sunningdale, 1951. She was one of the founders of the LPGA (along with Zaharias) and TIME once noted that her father encouraged her to start golfing so she would stop playing football on a neighborhood boys team.Central Press—Getty Images
Althea Gibson, 1956
Althea Gibson kisses the cup she was rewarded with after having won the French International Tennis Championships in Paris, May 26, 1956. Gibson broke the U.S. national championships color barrier and was on the cover of TIME in 1957.Bettmann/Corbis
Nancy Greene 1968
Olympic Giant Slalom skier Nancy Greene of Canada in Chamrousse, France, on Feb. 15, 1968, after she won the gold medal in the event at the Winter Olympics. The year before, she had become the first woman to win the World Cup of Alpine Skiing. TIME noted that year that she "uses her muscles on skis, and she does it better than any other woman in the world."AP Photo
Kathy Switzer roughed up by Jock Semple during Boston Mararthon, April 19, 1967.
Kathrine Switzer roughed up by Jock Semple during the Boston Mararthon, April 19, 1967, the year she broke the gender barrier for the race. "I was so embarrassed and upset, but if I dropped out, everyone would have said that a woman couldn't do it," she later told TIME.Paul J. Connell—The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Barbara Jo Rubin 1969
Barbara Jo Rubin, 19-year-old veterinary student from Miami, holds the reins of her horse Cohesion, shortly after she rode him to victory at the racetrack of Charles Town, W.V., thus becoming the first female jockey to win a major pari-mutuel flat race in the United States, on Feb. 23, 1969. Later that year she became the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. It wasn't an easy ride: TIME noted that she had had her dressing-room window smashed by a rock during a jockey boycott.AP Photo
Billie Jean King 1973
Pro tennis player Billie Jean King holds her newly won trophy high after beating Bobby Riggs in their $100,000 winner-take-all "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match on September 20, 1973. "[The] conventional wisdom [was] that an adequate male player should be able to beat a first-class woman," TIME commented. "Almost everyone was wrong."Bettmann/Corbis
Chris Evert 1974
American tennis player Chris Evert (Chris Lloyd) with the Wimbledon Ladies Singles trophy after her victory over Russian competitor Olga Morozova, July 5, 1974. Evert was the first woman to earn $1 million playing tennis.Leonard Burt—Central Press/Getty Images
Mary Decker 1978
Mary Decker of Colorado University crosses the finish line of the National AAU 10,000-meter road racing championship in Purchase, N.Y., Sept. 23, 1978. Decker, would become the first woman to record a time under 4:20 for the mile, was the top woman finisher and 47th overall. Richard Drew—AP Photo
Ann Myers 1979
Former UCLA women's All-American Ann Meyers drives in during practice at the NBA rookie camp for the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Sept. 10, 1979, the year she became the first woman to get a contract in men's pro sports. Though the signing was called a stunt by many, Meyers told TIME that she could "dribble and make plays as well as anybody in the league."AP Photo
Marianne Martin 1984
Laurent F. Fignon, left, of France, and Marianne Martin of Boulder, Colorado, hold up their trophies in Paris Sunday, July 23, 1984 after winning the men’s and women’s Tour de France cycling races. This was the first year for the women’s event.AP Photo
Libby Riddles 1985
Musher Libby Riddles stands in front of the City Hall at Nome, Alaska, March 20, 1985, shortly after crossing the finish line, thus becoming the first female champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. "Two weeks into the 18-day trek, while her competition opted to sit out a fierce snowstorm," TIME reported, "the musher from Teller, Alaska, pressed on with her team of 13 dogs."AP Photo
Michelle Akers 1991
Michelle Akers of the United States, right, prepares to shoot against Brazil next to Marcia Silva of Brazil during their Group B match of the First FIFA Womens World Cup in Guangzhou China, on Nov. 19, 1991. That year, TIME called her "the Michael Jordan of soccer" and noted that she had almost earned a tryout for the Dallas Cowboys kicking coach. In 1999, she became the first soccer player on a Wheaties box. Chen Gou—Imaginechina/AP Photo
Manon Rheaume 1992
Goalie Manon Rheaume of the Tampa Bay Lightning sits on the bench during an NHL preseason game against the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 23, 1992, at the Expo Hall in Tampa, Fla. Rheaume was the first woman to play in the NHL, though she didn't appear in the regular season. After a 1992 game, TIME noted that a sportswriter had just one question for her: "'Did you break a nail?''B Bennett—Getty Images
Jackie Joyner-Kersee 1992
The USA's Jackie Joyner-Kersee walks the track at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona on Aug. 2, 1992, after winning the gold medal in the Heptathlon competition during the Summer Olympic Games. She was the first woman ever to pass 7,000 points in the event.Rusty Kennedy—AP Photo

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