Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Women Boxing....Monstrous? Really?

Joyce Carol Oates wrote a great book on boxing called, "On Boxing." I say it was great, but I do have one big beef with Ms. Oates. While she wrote some really insightful, emotionally raw passages I connected with, she wrote this about women boxers:

"Of the female boxer: she cannot be taken seriously - she is a parody, she is a cartoon, she is monstrous."

After spending 10 years inside the sport, I have a vehement visceral reaction to this statement. Granted, the book was written in 1987; before the talent pool of women had deepened or before women were “allowed” in the Olympics.  Even so, this is a harsh judgement coming from a woman about another woman who has a fighter in her heart.

I'd hasten to say that one needs to fight the way another needs to write, act, eat. Maybe in the beginning it's not so good. Maybe it's just godawful.  Actually, for 99% of us, we suck. 

If I stopped doing things because I was terrible at them the first few times, I wouldn't do anything.  It's those few shining moments things come together that we strive for, and hopefully get more of each time we get in the ring, on the stage, or write a story.

On top of not having opportunities to gain experience, these women - the pioneers of female boxing, had a tough time getting male trainers to take them seriously. I've seen male coaches put female boxers on the bag to practice their 1 - 2s, while they spend their quality time with a male boxer, teaching him more intricate moves, strategy, and defense.

I have been fortunate to have an excellent coach, who will take the time to show me moves his father, a former pro boxer, taught him.  He'll stay on me for a month, or however long it takes, until my right hand is up, my footwork is better, or my conditioning is where it needs to be.   I don't feel like a "parody" or a "cartoon." I especially don't feel "monstrous."

Other coaches I've had recently have spent a lot of time with me on strategy, martial arts philosophies, and mental training. I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to be taken seriously as a person wanting to be a better boxer instead of a cute little novelty act. When I first put on boxing gloves, one of my first boxing coaches smiled and told me I looked like a teddy bear. 

My favorite female pro boxers move like gazelles. I am in awe at the way they can be elusive, technical and destructive at the same time. Anytime I see this, I well up with pride and admiration. For us, the drive has always been there, but now, the training is better. Girls are starting younger and opportunities are opening to get more experience in the amateurs. In 2012, the Olympics finally allowed women to compete. Before that, it was the ONLY sport that was exclusive to men.

Today, athleticism in young girls is encouraged. There are advertising campaigns - “Fight Like a Girl” - and networks and women's groups all supporting women in sports. I've talked to many dads who encourage their young daughters to box. They know the kind of confidence and character it builds. A busted nose is temporary; the will to get back in after you got your nose busted is a life lesson.

My own father outright told me, "Women shouldn't box." He, of course, cannot give a good reason for this. "If you've got energy, play tennis!" Even though he boxed in the Marine Corps, he will not watch any of my fights.

I was first team all-state on my high school tennis team and played for a division 1 college. Teaching tennis wound up supplementing my writing income for years, so there are no regrets, but I will always wonder what kind of a boxer I would have become if I started as a kid. I guess a lot of us do, since most of us started later in life. 

I started at 40, which is basically ridiculous.  But I have learned that when you have something inside you that needs to be expressed, you had better do it or it will come out sideways.  "Better late than never"applies in my case. Plus, it was a good substitute for the wild part of me. Fight training has been much easier on my system than the cocaine was.  It forces me to take better care of myself. Last year, I won the National Golden Gloves in the Master's division. I was 49.


If I keep at it, I will ask Depends to be a sponsor. I will put their logo on the back of my shorts and have the diapers built in.  Even then, I won't feel like a parody or a cartoon. I might feel monstrous, but in this case, I think that's a good thing. Cannot think of anything more punk rock than that.

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