(I apologize in advance for the heavy-handed heteronormativity of this piece. I’m female, born female, in a relationship with a man and basically always presenting and addressed as a heterosexual woman. So that’s where I come from and that’s what I know how to write when this subject comes up.)
You’ll note that I’ve been keeping this blog for almost two months now and you haven’t yet seen one picture of me posted here. There are a few reasons for that:
1. I don’t actually have any recent photographs of myself involved in any sort of boxing-related activity.
2. I don’t think what I look like is all that relevant to the discussion. (Besides, most of you reading this know me and already know what I look like.)
3. Someday when actual web traffic comes to this blog, I don’t want some fetishizing stranger whacking off to pictures of me hitting someone.
Yeah, I know this comes as a shock, but I’m not into boxing to be sexy for you, random dude on the Internet.
I’m aware that girls fighting is a recurring theme in the fantasy lives of many heterosexual men. I could ponder why that is, but Jerry Seinfeld’s line about how he’s always hoping the participants in a catfight might start making out is probably much more entertaining than anything I might come up with. For many years, mud wrestling and foxy boxing were about the only times female contact sports were seen in mainstream media, and that together with the catfight thing is a pretty big piece of why, as a female boxer, I’m a little extra sensitive to objectification. Boxing has come a long way for us, and any indication that it’s being put back into that box feels like a pretty big insult to me.
Beyond catfights, it also seems to be a fairly common fantasy to be overpowered by a woman on some level, and boxing plays into that quite nicely. More than once, while talking with me about boxing, male friends of mine have expressed a thought that it might be really hot to have a girl beat them up (well, one of them said “have a girl try to beat me up,” with bonus implied incredulity that one could ever succeed). I think it was meant to be a flattering statement every time it was said, but it merits a little unpacking. Even though it wasn’t a direct proposition in any case, what that statement in that context said to me more clearly than anything else was that they didn’t take me (or indeed, any female boxer) seriously as an athlete – or at least, that they didn’t take me as seriously as an athlete as they did as an object for their titillation. (At least when The Most Interesting Man In the World hit on me the other day, he had the decency to wait until after I’d taken off my headgear to tell me how cute he thought I was.) I guess it shouldn’t surprise me all that much, being that to be a woman in the world is to be expected to perform as an object of male desire, anytime you’re in a man’s line of vision. Boxing isn’t any different from any other arena, in sports or in life, in that regard. I wish this was not the way things are. I wish I could even say I thought things were getting better, but I’m not even sure that’s true.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – women’s boxing is exactly the same game as men’s boxing. It’s the same punches in the same ring with the same rules. Apart from putting hard plastic protectors on different sensitive bits, there really aren’t any differences, and there shouldn’t be any differences in the way it’s presented and perceived. And while there may be an element of sexiness for many men in the idea of two women hitting each other, or a woman hitting them, that sexiness is projected on it from the outside – it’s not, nor should it be, an intrinsic quality coming from inside the sport or a root cause of it catching on with participants or spectators.
As much as I (un-politically-correct-ly) love the euphemism “hit that” to describe having sex with someone, boxing and sex are not intertwined in my world. I box because I love the sport, I love improving at something I would never have guessed I could be good at, and because I love testing my limits, among many, many other reasons. I don’t do it to appeal to people on a physical level. While there are a million and one reasons someone would get into a boxing ring, making people want to sleep with you is kind of low on the list. I’m pretty sure there are many more effective ways to get people to want to sleep with you. (There are even more effective ways to get a rockin’ body. If THAT was my objective, I’d be taking that Power Sculpt class that bogarts the bosu balls three mornings a week while I’m trying to do my weights.)
It would be ridiculous of me to tell you that you are not allowed to find me attractive on any level. It’s okay if you do. It’s okay if you don’t, too. And don’t feel like you’re not allowed to volunteer that information, either (though I’m never going to ask you for it and I’m especially not asking for it now). If you find me attractive, yes, that is flattering. But you have to understand that my identity as a boxer and my identity as a sexual being are not one and the same, and when you bring up my implied attractiveness or unattractiveness in that context, you’re doing a disservice to me as a boxer. When I box, I am not presenting myself as an object for your consumption and I didn’t invite your opinions on the matter of whether or not you’d bone me.
Bottom line: if you want to flatter me, compliment my boxing skill, not how hot I looked while doing it. Or, if you’ve never seen me box, compliment something you HAVE seen me do. I’d rather be recognized for things I’ve said, done, or created than for things you’d supposedly do to me.