(This article is an expansion of a comment made in response to Tomas Rios' article, Dana White and Women's MMA)
Over the past few years, the segment of 'hardcore' MMA fans pushing for the major MMA organizations to more thoroughly integrate a female contingent has become increasingly vocal. Bolstered by the mainstream acceptance and interest in Gina Carano, and by the in-cage prowess of the human wrecking machine commonly known as Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, these individuals hold that women deserve and ought to be in the premiere MMA promotions.
A common argument used on this front is that MMA (and, to be honest, read the UFC here) is not hampered by the decades of tradition which currently separate the genders in other, more traditional sports. As their limited history provides them a cultural space to do so, the UFC ought to integrate females and thus seize an opportunity to set a standard of equality based on skills, and not gender. Or so the story goes.
In response to this account, I think a fair line of inquiry can be stated as follows. Have other (any) similarly situated leagues and/or promotions suffered a blow to their credibility as a serious sports venture for not featuring female ranks? I hesitate to think so.
Which drives at the real core of this article, I suppose, which is why the UFC and other major promotions ought to be held to such a separate code of conduct by certain fans as it pertains to this issue.
This push to have women compete in the major MMA organizations seems to secure its thrust from a collective sense of both gender-based guilt and moral opportunism. By the former, I mean our generational predilection to pay social reparations for the discriminatory behavior of our great-grandfathers, and by the latter, I mean the seemingly ubiquitous tendency in Western culture to judge others based on what we would have done or not done in situations where others ought or ought not have done something.
Now, while neither of these traits are ‘bad’ per se, and both are components of what allows us to participate in moral communities based on empathic response, neither lead us to the truth of this situation in either a sporting or moral context. So, they fail at answering the question of why women should be integrated into the UFC.
The most common answer to this question can, I think, be rendered something like this. Failing to feature women in the largest MMA organizations (again, read the UFC here) is the application of an unfair standard. (This is a seriously crude version of the story, but provisionally I think it works.)
At bottom, this kind of explanation for why women ought to be in the UFC rests on its attempt to generate the obligation to act according to a moral principle. The issue here is that moral obligations ultimately rest on a shared standard between two or more moral agents. This standard needs to be such that the differing treatment of one agent over another under the standard can be deemed ‘unfair,’ and the obligation to apply it equally can be generated
In the work world, for example, it is simple enough to generate the moral obligation to pay males and females an equal wage, ceretis paribus, as the standard of performance is shared by each class of agent. As there are no discernible differences between the way in which a female and male can perform intellectually, paying one higher than the other, ceretis paribus assumed, is unfair.
The problem is that sports is the one realm where such equal standards of performance do not exist. Without a hint of misogyny or a sexist bent, I can point out that the average male sports competitor performs better in tests of speed, endurance, strength, etc., than his female counterpart. Moreover, the distance between males and females tends toward divergence at the upper echelons of a given sport, not convergence. So, equal standards of performance do not apply in the majority of instances.
Now, as the premiere organization in MMA, the UFC is or in most instances ought to be the signpost for the standards of athletic performance for the sport. As such, it is in their interest to actively police the boundaries of that standard of performance by seeking out those athletes deemed to be at or above that standard, and jettisoning those deemed to be below it.
Most importantly, this standard need not be imbued with any gender selectivity. Which is to say, if at some point or another females reach or surpass that standard, we all ought to speak loud enough to generate the UFC’s obligation to act fairly according to this moral principle. At the present moment, however, and for the foreseeable future, females are neither at nor approaching that standard on a consistent enough basis to make their integration into the UFC a realistic business opportunity or a morally obligatory response.
Finally, and with the present squared away, I think it fair to ask whether or not Dana White should have proclaimed women will never compete in the UFC in a recent TMZ interview - the apt focus of Mr Rios' article. To put a complex issue very simply, and to agree with Rios, no.
Such a prohibitive response is, I think, the type of unfair bias that has coloured the checkered past of women in sports. While it is true that women do not currently compete at the UFC’s standards, and may never, the only morally acceptable response to that question is an indefinite one. Which is to say, the only morally acceptable response is to say, "Yes, if they consistently compete at a UFC level."
And while Dana unceremoniously brushing off the prospect of women ever competing in the UFC is distasteful, there are more than a few good reasons why they are not competing in the UFC now.