How boxing and violence against women are different

Just shy of a year ago, I was training for my second fight and promoting it on social media. Someone challenged me and told me that I was encouraging violence against women. Here’s what I wrote at that time.

(Please support: Boxing made accessible to everyone.)

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It’s nice to be on vacation. It means I can go to Energy whenever I wake up in the morning and not at obscene o’clock. So, yes, I started yesterday off with an hour on the bike and “travelled” the equivalent of 15.07 km. Seems that’s all I can muster on the bike whilst reading a book. I did increase the intensity, though, so the calorie burn was higher.If I get to a point where we think I really need to work on my cardio, I’ll drop the book and jump on a regular spinning bike. Then, I can really crank it up.

Last evening was, of course, spent at the boxing club.

It was a good night. I felt strong and fast during three rounds of warm up drills. I felt more confident during two rounds of shadow boxing (I always feel weird shadow boxing). I got some really good work in on the heavy bag (including 112 Lauras) for four rounds, and three really solid rounds in on the hand pads with Billy before returning to the heavy bags for another four rounds. I also did some abdominal work at the end of the evening.

When the kids and I got home, 8yo asked if she could make me a healthy side dish to go with my dinner. I, of course, said yes. Here is that masterpiece:

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Here’s what else happened yesterday:

After posting the 55 days blog, people had opinions they wanted to share. Which is cool. Sadly, those opinions were misinformed and served only to perpetuate incorrect stereotypes about athletes who compete in combat sports (whether female or male) and the sport of boxing.

So, here’s the discussion:

Not that I should need to, but I will start by saying that I can’t recall a time in my life when I have ever hit anyone in anger. I find it extremely difficult to hit anyone, even in boxing. I blame the way I was socialized as a female on this planet for my difficulty, which is not the same as me saying that it’s a bad thing that I find it difficult to hit someone else, even in boxing. There are people with whom I’ve trained who will attest to the psychological challenge it was for me to start hitting people in the ring (and that’s the only place I hit people).

Getting in the ring to fight is a scary thing. If you’re not at least a little bit scared/nervous when you get in the ring, you’re either lying or a psychopath. That said, I have never once questioned my safety in the ring (and I’m all about calculated risks). In almost seven years of having been involved in boxing, I’ve been taken down by only two shots ever (both entirely accidental by two different trainers) and I’ve only been stopped by two other shots ever (one – a few days ago – entirely accidental, and the other – a few years ago – because another novice boxer didn’t know her own strength and the coach responsible never should have put us in the ring together to spar). In all four cases, the attentiveness to my well-being was immediate and thorough.

Now, the person who was mentioned in yesterday’s blog has challenged me before on numerous issues, most particularly around issues related to feminism, which is why I entertained whether or not he would have responded the same way (or at all) to a man posting the same thing I did.

People have a problem with women being involved in boxing, other combat sports, and so many other things that I couldn’t possibly list them all. Nearly everything that has been said to me about my participation in boxing has been to suggest one of two things: 1) that I could get hurt and that would negatively impact my appearance (because we all know that’s where a woman’s real value lies); or 2) that women being aggressive in any context or capacity is wrong (never mind all the aggression – physical and psychological – that’s directed at us on a daily basis).

To the former point, every person who gets in the ring takes a chance that they are going to get a black eye, or a fat lip, or even a broken nose (it is, however, highly unlikely that anyone at my level of boxing is throwing punches hard enough to break a nose). As boxers, we all know there’s a chance of cuts and blood. We all know that cuts and blood are not permanent. We all know that our value as human beings does not actually lie in how attractive we are or are not, and we don’t especially care if other people think otherwise.

To the latter point, aggression is a feeling just like any other. It is not inherently bad; it’s just that we (as a society) tend to only express it in bad, negative, hurtful ways. In boxing (and many other sports), this is not the case. We express that aggression in a healthy way that rarely has an impact on anyone else (as sparring and fights are far less rare than drills, hand pad, and heavy bag work), and even when it does have an impact on someone else, it is rule bound, supervised, and mutual.

When I was younger, I was quite athletic (I wasn’t particularly talented, but I tried hard), until I all but destroyed my knee (having it completely rebuilt in 2000). Boxing is a sport that allows me to get an incredible workout; to feel strong; to feel athletic; to really see what my body is capable of doing; and, yes, to work through stress and aggression (some of which is related to traumatic events like my sister’s early death, for which I also sought counselling, of course). Boxing has permitted me to express aggression I’ve felt about various things in a healthy way, and it does the same for many other people (there is, in fact, a small body of research on this topic).

Boxing is a male-dominated sport, yes, and the boxing club I box out of is also male-dominated, but I have never once felt unwelcome there or like I was in any danger getting in the ring with any of the other athletes.

To further delve into the assumptions made in the discussion above, the best way I can explain how boxing is not the same as violence against women (or anyone else) is in one word: consent.

When I get in the ring with another person (a woman if it’s a sanctioned fight; a man if it’s sparring at my current gym, as there are no women who are ready to spar), I have consented to another boxer trading punches with me in an environment that is bound by rules and is also supervised by someone (often more than one person) who is concerned about each of our well-being. I’m also not hitting my opponent out of anger. If you’re not calm, relaxed, and focused when you get in the ring, you will get hurt.

Further, when I get in the ring with a sparring partner or with an opponent, I am getting into the ring with someone who respects me as an athlete, just as I respect them as an athlete. We are in the ring as equals. When I get into the ring with a sparring partner who is more skilled or experienced than I am, they know to pull their punches a bit, to still make me work and give me a challenge, but to not go all out, because I am not capable of matching them. When I get into the ring with an opponent, my coach ensures I am not outmatched, just as her coach ensures she is not outmatched. The sport and the fighters are respected.

Finally, in amateur boxing, while there is risk of injury, it is small. The rules are such that you score no points for knocking out or knocking down another boxer. Referees are trained to stop fights if a boxer appears to be overwhelmed or outmatched by their opponent. Fights are also stopped due to swelling around the eyes, cuts, or bleeding. We are also wearing headgear, mouth guards, and boxing gloves (which are 10oz cushions). After every fight or if, by chance, you are injured, there is a fight doctor who you have to see before you can go change and carry on with your evening.

Here are the rules:

Years ago, I was hit by a romantic partner.

You know what he didn’t have?
Control over his emotions, consent to hit me, respect for me as an equal, or rules to follow.

You know what I didn’t have?
Protective equipment, a referee to stop him, or a doctor to ensure I was okay immediately afterwards.

There really is no comparison to be made between boxing and violence against women (or anyone else).

None at all.

To suggest otherwise is not only to demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge of the sport of boxing, it is also to demonstrate a lack of respect for the athletes who participate whilst simultaneously being insulting to survivors of violence.

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Oh, and I watched this great documentary about Claressa Shields on Sunday night.

One thought on “How boxing and violence against women are different

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