Laura Winter debates the pros and cons of boxing for women in the light of double Olympic champion Nicola Adams’s successful second professional fight. The Mixed Zone writer believes female fighters’ bodies can once again be their own and no longer purely objectified by male punters
Nicola Adams not only blazed a trail through her home town of Leeds on Saturday night with a third-round stoppage against Mexican Maryan Salazer, the world and European champion is also blazing a trail for professional women’s boxing.
What a wonderful example of empowerment Adams represents: a woman, not least a gay, black woman, being paid to fight in front of thousands. It marks a realisation that not only is women’s sport being take seriously, it is being celebrated in all its bloody, sweaty glory. Simply, the women’s arm of the sport is developing at a blistering rate.
I strongly believe that if you can see it, you can be it. Visibility is key. Suddenly female boxers are being paid. They are professional athletes. And so, the girls at grassroots boxing clubs around the world have a purpose, a path and a reason to punch. Boxing can offer women and girls so much more than a way to keep fit and stay lean. It is not just an excuse for another Instagram post. Sport is an empowering force for women. Women’s bodies are no longer solely the subject of male gaze; they are no longer objectified, nor are they passive. In boxing, as in sport, women’s bodies are their own once again, to be used however they see fit regardless of what they look like. The pure and simple joy of moving your body is at times an endorphin hit like no other.
For La Diva, the nickname of the Mexican middleweight Maricela Cornejo, boxing is art. She says it is lonely, painful and hard to understand, but it is an outlet for past experiences that once threatened her very life. Sexually molested as a child, Diva turned to meth. She tried to commit suicide. Once she hit her lowest low, boxing was her only way up. What was once a drug addiction became an addiction to fight. Where once Cornejo’s body was so painfully and cruelly abused, now she boldly and unashamedly reclaims it as her own in the ring.
For her, women’s fights are more entertaining than men’s: “We have more to prove,” she said. “They already doubt us because we are women.”
So what’s the problem? Well, perhaps it depends how women’s boxing is packaged. Is it sport, or is it fight-porn engineered entirely for a male audience? Two women beating each other to a bloody, messy pulp in the ring, flanked by ‘glamorous’ ring girls, an enduring and frankly downright pathetic sideshow that also blights cycling and darts.
Adams was our darling of the ring, winning a gold medal at the sport’s introduction into the Olympic Games at London 2012. Four years later, she defended her flyweight title in Rio. Now she is professional, can something that once seemed so pure and empowering feel like exploitation?
We cannot deny that sex sells. After all, the earning potential of some of the more attractive female athletes amply demonstrates that. Indeed, how a predominately male audience views a female’s body can be considered more important than what that body is actually capable of achieving. The treatment of Serena Williams by both tennis “fans” and pockets of the media is a firm indicator of that. Never mind if she’s won 23 Grand Slams, she’s not a leggy Russian blonde.
The question is, do promoters want to sell women’s boxing on the premise that the fighters are supreme athletes, who deserve recognition for their talents? Or do they see women’s boxing as a way of exploiting women for a male audience – a salacious and titillating sideshow rather than a serious sporting event?
Yes, boxing can be vulgar, crass, tacky and sometimes downright ostentatious. However, if the sport, in its purest form, empowers and enriches women’s lives, if it gives them a strength that life has cruelly taken from them, then punch on, girls.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.