When you think of the word misogyny, what comes to mind? Maybe women in the sixties with rollers in their hair, shining the shoes of a man in a grey suit, or perhaps you think of more current examples, like the wage gap or the glass ceiling. What if I told you that a blatant display of misogyny exists right now which we are—for the most part—blind to.
“Ring Girls” have played an integral part in the “charm” of the boxing and MMA world since the 1960s. Ring Girls are attractive women who stand next to the athletes at the beginning and end of matches, and walk across the ring holding up a number to indicate the start of a round. The average Ring Girl makes between US$30,000 to US$75,000 a year, and the main job requirement for this position is to be conventionally attractive. While the title of “Ring Girls” is boxing and MMA specific, similar positions exist in other sports such as “Grid Girls” in Formula 1, “Walk on Girls” in professional darts, “Podium Hostesses” in cycling. However, both Formula 1 and professional darts recognized the blatant objectification of women and have removed the Grid Girl and Walk on Girl positions. Formula 1 stated that having women in these positions was “at odds with modern society.” As over 50 per cent of the MMA and boxing demographic is men, the majority of the marketing decisions, like Ring Girls, are geared towards attracting this demographic to the sport.
Surprisingly, this decision was not fully supported by the Ring Girls themselves. Kristie Raby, a Ring Girl, said that “Not once have I been put in a position where I have been groped or felt like a piece of meat.” Charlotte Gash, a Grid Girl said that she was “disgusted” that Formula 1 had “given in to the minority to be politically correct.” Their comments embody the feminist idea that women can choose what to do with their bodies and how much of it they want to show. But they also highlight a primary flaw in the concept of “empowerment.”
People hide objectification under the label of empowerment. Those with internalized misogyny use the blurred line between empowerment and objectification as a means to satisfy their own desires. The primary difference between the two practices is that empowerment comes from within and is for the benefit of oneself, whereas objectification comes from outside influences and is geared towards an external gaze. Stacey Copeland, British professional boxer said that she uses mascots to do the same job as ring girls because “[ring girls’] role only has to do with how they look [and] I don’t think that’s the most positive representation of women in sport.”
Although it is true that being comfortable showing skin is empowering for women as individuals, the fact remains that the undisputed purpose of the Ring Girl is to keep male viewers entertained and attracted. Also, not being groped or feeling like a piece of meat shouldn’t be the only things that determine whether a woman is being treated with respect or not—that is the bare minimum.
The question remains: how do we identify the people who disguise themselves as well-wishers and sell us misogyny using the false tag of empowerment? We must first differentiate between empowerment and objectification, and then understand the elements of misogyny that influence our daily actions and interactions. It is difficult and complicated to filter through daily actions that are rooted in toxic gendered ideals, but having these nuanced conversations is a right step towards equipping ourselves—and our future generations—with the tools to recognize and fight against hidden misogynistic agendas.