Why Have There Been No Great Women Boxers?

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In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin posed the question, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”  Her scholarship focuses on the biases of patriarchal norms illustrating how women did not have access to the same financial and educational support of church patronage and art academies as their male counterparts.  The same institutions that denied opportunities for women, helped foster greatness for male artists.  As a result, the chances of a female Michelangelo appearing on the scene were pretty darn slim.

I read this essay many years ago as an undergraduate, and had all but forgotten about it until my recent interest in boxing (yes, I said boxing!) emerged.  I took up boxing through a personal training session early last Fall and I’ve been hooked ever since, dedicating the majority of my time outside of work to training, watching YouTube videos, pay per view fights, and any blogs I can get my hands on.


What I’ve noticed is that women’s boxing suffers from a great lack of coverage and support by the media.  Outside of a small collection of sites, the resources for women’s boxing online are microscopic compared to men’s. I can’t help but wonder, why have there been no great women boxers?

The fact is, there have been and there are, but most people don’t know about them.  While I am not trying to project Linda Nochlin’s feminist theory onto a discourse on women’s boxing, I think it’s fair to say that the sport has suffered similar levels of marginalization.  Consider the names of famous male boxers that permeate popular culture; Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson…the list goes on. Now do the same for women.  It’s more challenging.  A few have made it into the media spotlight like Lucia Rijker or Laila Ali, but most female boxers go largely unnoticed, for the same reasons Linda Nochlin proposed.  Until recently, the sport has lacked the solid infrastructure, financial backing and public support that enables men’s boxing to thrive.

Historically, women who aspired to take to the ring, did so by alternative channels, experiencing obstacles very different from their male counterparts.  But the comparison to male boxing isn’t really a fair one, given the nascent state of the sport for women.  Throughout most of the 20th century, women’s boxing was banned as an official sport. It was not until the 1970’s that some US states began granting boxing licenses to women.  And it was not until the 1990’s that USA Boxing, the official governing organization for amateur boxing in the US, allowed women to compete in amateur bouts.  For instance, The Golden Gloves tournament only began allowing women to compete in 1995, and The Pan American Games, as recent as this year.

But finally things are changing!  2012 marks the first year that Women’s Boxing is being accepted as an official Olympic sport.  This is huge. To add to the challenge, there are only three weight categories for women to compete: Flyweight (51kg/112lbs), Lightweight (60kg/132lbs), and Middleweight (75kg/165lbs).  This means many athletes will be attempting to make weight to compete in weight classes other than their own.  Only three US women will get the chance to represent their country at the 2012 games.

There are four key qualifying events determining which athletes make it to trials: The USA National Boxing Championships, The Women’s National Golden Gloves, The National Police Athletic League Championships, and The Pan American Games.  Finalists from each competition will compete at the 2012 US Olympic Trials - a double-elimination tournament featuring eight boxers in each of the three Olympic weight categories.

The impact could make waves like the US Women’s Soccer Team did with their historic Olympic win in 1996 and their World Cup win in 1999.  Girls who played soccer during this era were gifted a cast of role models and a glimpse of where the sport could ultimately take them.  And now a new generation of girls who want to box is emerging, with female Olympic athletes to admire.

Credit Image: © Imago/ZUMAPRESS.com


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