Overcoming Challenges and Myths for Women in Boxing.

In 2013, researchers at University College London found that just 51% of the 6,500 children they monitored achieved the recommended hour of physical activity each day.

In 2013, researchers at University College London found that just 51% of the 6,500 children they monitored achieved the recommended hour of physical activity each day.

By England Boxing

For girls, the figure was just 38%, compared with 63% for boys.

The drop off rate for girls in sport gets higher as girls get older. This is a problem not just for a healthy and more equal society, but for boxing and the potential boxing has to promote equality, inclusion and diversity.

For sport, and for boxing, to contribute fully to society, we need to examine closely the challenges faced by women and girls in the world of boxing.

It may be argued that there no longer a problem of access. Boxing gyms across the UK have opened their doors, and their minds, to the possibility of women participating and competing in the sport. The 2012 Olympics went a long way towards introducing boxing to new audiences and showcasing the talent being nurtured in the ranks of our female contenders. The most obvious hurdles for womens participation, in the UK at least, have arguably been overcome. A closer examination however, brings to light some underlying issues. Here are three problems which reflect to some extent the nature of these issues.

“People don’t want to watch women fighting” is a view I have commonly encountered, and surprisingly most often from boxers.

The 2012 Olympics have surely disproved this view. More important, however, is the underlying assumption that boxing exists only to serve the consumer audience. While this may be true of professional boxing, seemingly particularly vulnerable to capture by the private sector, the raison d’être of Olympic-style boxing is entirely different.

Sport is about having the right to compete, to represent oneself and ones country, and most do it for the love of their chosen sport. When asked why they wish to participate, the answer produced by many male boxers is, “because I love it”, and not because a large audience is watching them.

Unsurprisingly, female boxers typically answer the same. And so should the right to participate not be sufficient to allow girls and women to box unhindered by commercial prospects?

Women and girls face particular pressure to conform to certain norms. We are constantly being bombarded by the stick thin images portrayed in the media. All boxers, male and female, face grueling training regimes that along with improved skill, speed, fitness and stamina, often alter physique. Whilst coaching young women, I have encountered concerns and questions reflecting the perceived masculinization of their bodies. Our identity is intertwined with ideas about gender, and that cannot be left outside the gym as we enter it. What we might progress towards, is the idea that power, strength and ability can be part of the feminine as well as the masculine identity. This is a change that we cannot alone instigate in boxing, but will require significant effort by our wider society.

Boxing is being pulled, kicking and screaming into the 21st century, leaving behind its old image. But we find exceptions in gyms that do not allow women, and in traditions such as ‘card girls’. Boxing shows are an opportunity for most clubs to promote competition, motivate their boxers, and perhaps raise some much needed funding. As one takes a look around the audience at a boxing show, we see mums and dads, sisters and brothers, women and men, girls and boys. Yet the outdated skimpily dressed young women, holding cards between the rounds signify a time when objectification of women was acceptable, the audience was mostly men and opportunities for women were limited to this role. This doesn’t happen in other Olympic sports. Should it in boxing?

Women are now supporters, participants and coaches in boxing and this will be a proud part of the tradition and history of boxing in years to come. Women in boxing will also belong to bigger story about women in sport and women in society. We all have an opportunity to be part of that story.


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