Paige VanZant , Curtis Blaydes and the Male Gaze
- Paige VanZant and Curtis Blaydes exchange on social media brings attention to the prevalent problem of Male Gaze in the sport
- Paige VanZant was attacked by Curtis Blaydes on social media for using sex-appeal to stay relevant
Last month all hell broke loose when Curtis Blaydes called out Paige VanZant and Rachael Ostovich claiming that they were in the UFC because of their looks and not because of their talent. Curtis Blaydes' comments read, “So you telling me Paige VanZant and Rachel Osto-whatever actually deserve time remain on the UFC’s roster for their ‘athletic achievements’ and they're not just on cards for their sex appeal? Cause if I’m wrong about that then I guess the whole premise of my original statement is wrong and I apologize but if you’re a legit fan of MMA you couldn’t possibly believe the two females I mentioned are on the roster for anything other than the fact they look good in bikinis.”
The comments set the internet on fire with multiple flashy headlines and prompted Paige VanZant to share a post with the caption, "Good thing we’re so pretty. It’s going to make when we punch each other in the face hurt a lot less..... but that much HOTTER. #prettyANDstrong"
Curtis Blaydes posted a clarification with a lengthy post on Facebook which read,
Are Curtis Blaydes' comments justified?
Now that the knee-jerk reactions have passed, maybe scrutinizing the situation might not be a bad idea. First let's start with what Blaydes mentioned in his comments, about women like Paige VanZant using sex appeal for financial gains. It is a popular sociological phenomenon called the Male Gaze. It is defined in feminist theory as an act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer
Though not mentioned in the definition, It's been around longer in the world of sports than most of us know. The entire concept of SI Swin Suits, a magzine Paige VanZant was recently featured on, comes from this very same thought, sexualizing women for commercial gain. And the fact that it's still running is something genuinely bewildering given you have more than enough content on the internet.
However, there are some genuine consequences to this. Former Strikeforce Women-bantamweight champion actually recalled being told that she's not marketable in an article on this very same topic, "There were many incidents where I was told to my face, or in the media environment, that I didn’t ‘fit the mold’ for what was marketable at that time." In the same piece, it was noted by Invicta-FC matchmaker that looks were brought up even in the legendary Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate feud, "[Rousey] had a press conference when she was challenging Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce belt and she said, ‘Well, people want to see two pretty girls fighting, not you versus Kaufman.”
Paige VanZant has the right to look good!
On one hand where there are consequences felt by female fighters for not confining to the said image one can't deny fighters the right to look good. What is required is that promoters and sponsors alike not use beauty as a bar to judge athelets. As long as they are using beauty appeal to market fighters, fighters who confine to their standards are going to try and attract attention using their looks.
Which brings us to the last part of the argument. Paige VanZant isn't using her looks to demand a title shot. She isn't even asking for a contendership match up. She's just posting pics that are getting likes, that's it! What Curtis Blaydes did through his posts was in a way shame Paige VanZant for trying to look attractive.
The entire exchange between Curtis Blaydes and Paige VanZant explains that despite all the talk of women empowerment, not much has changed in the world of sports and MMA is a sport where its women are paid and treated relatively better than other sports. Do we need to change the way we approach the entire subject of women using their sexuality? Do we need to draw a line where do looks stop mattering? These questions sadly never come up in these conversations, as reason is drowned out in rhetoric.