“Women always have to work harder to prove themselves.”
When Liz Carmouche said this at the UFC 157 open workouts on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but smile. Carmouche served in the Marines, is a lesbian, and is now a fighter in the UFC. She understands like few others that a woman’s work of proving herself is never done.
UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey gets this, too. She had to work harder than few other fighters in UFC history in not just preparing for her fight but in selling it. During the run-up to her main event bout with Carmouche, the first ever UFC women’s fight, Rousey trained three times a day and was interviewed by everyone from Time Magazine to Larry King. Camera crews for the UFC’s “Primetime” and “Countdown” shows, as well as HBO's “Real Sports,” followed her. Rousey joked after she won the fight with a first-round armbar that she wants a week off from talking about herself.
As a woman working in the male-dominated world of covering sports, I know this, too. I’ve been covering MMA for six years, five for Yahoo! Sports. But I am still questioned, dismissed and sometimes even attacked because I dare cover a “man’s sport.” Whenever I am confronted with sexism, whether subtle or vulgar, I have to take a deep breath and consider my response. As a woman, I have to work harder to prove myself, and remember one slip of the tongue can wreck it for me and other women who want to cover MMA.
UFC president Dana White complimented Rousey and Carmouche for dealing with so much media attention like professionals, and said he wished every fighter would be such a pro. But there’s something as a man that White could never understand about the work Carmouche and Rousey put into their preparation for the bout.
They had to work like professionals and show up and be engaging at every single press appearance. Women have to work harder to prove themselves, and the last thing female fighters need is a reputation for being difficult with the media. Their hard work paid off, as they brought more attention to this fight than anyone — even White — ever expected.
But their ability to handle all of the attention, both negative and positive, taught me something, too. Rousey and Carmouche showed me exactly how to act when confronted by those who question us because of our gender. They didn’t worry about what doubters or misogynists or homophobes had to say. They worried about working harder to prove themselves.
When Rousey escaped Carmouche’s neck crank, the Honda Center became the noisiest building I had ever stepped foot in. The 15,525 fans stood and cheered at the top of their lungs for two women. Women had arrived in the UFC, and Carmouche and Rousey showed what two women who worked harder to prove themselves could accomplish.
Thank you, Ronda and Liz. Thank you for finally busting through that glass ceiling. Thank you for showing young women that they can do any sport – even ones that involve bruised faces and busted teeth. Thank you for working harder to prove yourselves, and reminding me to do the same.