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Warrior Women: Boxing's New Appeal! 
By Mamie Nash

 Boxing. The word brings to mind all sorts of images, like sweaty runs, weightlifting, and pounding that heavy bag. Of course, the famous scene from Rocky 1 always flashes through my mind, of Rocky bashing away on the speed bag with  Eye of the Tiger blasting in the background.

Sylvester Stallone brought boxing to the screen as a sport full of glitz and glam, where dedication to the goal never weakens, and drinking raw eggs before running in the freeze of the winter dawn seems almost effortless. It’s stories like these which have brought men to boxing gyms across the world for decades, with fire in their eyes and excitement in their hearts. But what of the women? What inspiration is there to encourage the females of the world to step into the ring?


Two ladies boxing in the ring

Of course, there’s the hugely popular 2004 movie Million Dollar Baby, starring Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman. In case you haven't seen it,  The story of a girl who finds a purpose for living through boxing, of hard work which leads to glory, and the ever wondrous transition of stranger to friend, drew millions of viewers into the story, including audiences itching to jump into the screen and help win the fight. The tragic ending left millions in tears, wondering at the unfairness of the world and debating the ethical soundness of the characters actions. The film took home four Oscars, and grossed over $216,000,000.

But touching though this film may be, in what way does it encourage your average female to climb in the ring, lace up a pair of gloves, and have at it? The story shows the thrill of victory, yes, but it doesn’t leave off there. You dodn’t walk away from the theater glowing and victorious, oh no. The tragedy of the ending, the what-might-have-been, haunts you every time you revisit  Million Dollar Baby.

Pink boxing glovesWhy the difference between male and female characters, between the pink gloves and the black? Why, if you hear about a woman fighter, do you picture her so masculine that she loses all femininity? Is the sport so inherently male that a regular woman has no place in it? And will this vision ever change?

In a world populated by males and females, gender roles play a huge part in what is and what is not considered acceptable behavior. Men traditionally don’t knit baby socks and teach children how to read,while women stay away from exceptionally rigorous physical labor. This is the natural order of things, man the protector, woman the caregiver. It is difficult to find stories of female warriors throughout the past centuries, and those we do know of are more often fictional figures than not (think Enyo, the Greek goddess of war, and female counterpart to the god Ares Enyalios).How ironic, that even in the myths of old, the female warriors had a man!.

So why the modern day shift? Why do some women, with very few role models to look to for inspiration, decide to take up the brutal sport of boxing? Why is the prospect of climbing in a ring to knock out an opponent so inviting? Is it the breaking of new athletic ground that draws the interest, or is there something more? Perhaps this sport represents role reversal to the extreme?

Personally, I don’t believe this is the case. I don’t see gender-specific roles disappearing altogether. Sure, they’re already greatly modified from the past. The average woman is, overall, much more independent today. We can join the military, graduate law school, start a company. We have the same resources that men do, and we use them. Maybe the generations of the past didn’t view such behavior as appropriate, but here’s the difference: In general, life is easier to live than it used to be. We have cars, running water, medical care. We order a pizza if we don’t want to cook, we hire a maid if we don’t want to clean. And from a health perspective, we have fewer physical challenges now than ever in the history of the world.

So where does the fighter in us go? If we use such little energy to fulfil the basic human needs, what are we supposed to do with the rest? It is not in our human nature to live life minus challenge, but in the absence of the traditional challenges of basic living, where do we expend the rest? For some, the answer is waiting in the ring.

Whether your “thing” is jogging, riding horses, traveling, or hula hooping, most humans who live healthy and happy lives have an activity that they use to challenge their brains and build their bodies. If challenge to life is both necessary and common, what’s wrong with a woman choosing the ring? And does she have to be overly masculine to do it?

Laila Ali, daughter of the famous Muhammad AliThe answer lies in the fighters. Look at Laila Ali, daughter of the famous Muhammad Ali, who was named Super Middleweight Champion by the International Boxing Association in 2002 and Super Middleweight Champion by the International Women’s Boxing Federation in 2005. This chick has brains AND brawn. Ali is not only a great fighter, but a smart and beautiful woman who takes the spotlight at fashion events as gracefully as she does in the ring. Or take Nicola Adams, who claimed the first Olympic Gold medal for women's boxing in history during the 2012 Summer Olympics. This 30 year-old woman stands at 5’5” and weighs 112 lbs- not your typical vision of a female fighter (possessing a shamefully large amount of testosterone).

Nicola Adams, who claimed the first Olympic Gold medal for women's boxing in history during the 2012 Summer Olympics

Women’s boxing appeared in the Olympic Games for the first time as a demonstration bout in 1904, but was banned in most nations for most of the twentieth century, before the International Boxing Association accepted new rules for Women's Boxing at the end of the century. In August 2009 it was announced that the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board had approved the inclusion of the sport for women for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Women’s boxing started in force in the 1990’s, around the same time that professional women’s sports leagues such as the WNBA and WUSA became prominent. Boxers such as Laura Serrano, Christy Martin, Laila Ali, and Sumya Anani, all world champions, came in to the scene at this time. There are now a few organizations that recognize world championship bouts, and fights are held in more than 100 countries.

With these developments, women’s boxing is looking nowhere but up. The traditional view of the testosterone-filled female fighter is slowly being replaced, and gyms are now much more open to training women than they were in times past. If you’ve been in the market for a career or sport that offers challenge, mental toughness, and general bad-assery, then maybe the ring is for you. So go on! Let your freak flag fly!

Join the world of the tough and beautiful Women Warriors, with the style of a lady and the uppercut of a man. Be powerful, you 21st century woman, you! And if someone has an issue with your new sport, maybe you should extend an invitation for them to join you in the ring. Move over Sylvester Stallone. Eye of the Tiger just might be your  theme song, too, after all.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 153 - September 3430
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