The BBC is going to be airing women's boxing for the first time in all its bloody glory. And we say: go for it.
"As boxing remains primitive, brutal, bloody, and dangerous, it seems ever more anachronistic, if not in fact obscene, in a society with pretensions of humanitarianism." That's Joyce Carol Oates in her famous essay "The Cruelest Sport." Oates doesn't get into women's boxing much — her interest is in the sport as large-scale race parable, as rubric of masculinity and proxy for violent impulses. But that quote still applies: on some levels, boxing is hard to justify — certainly hard to justify enjoying.
But in England, the right to fight was hard-won. A decade ago, fighter Jane Couch filed a sexual discrimination suit against the British Boxing Board of Control for the right to fight in the UK, and won: in 1998 Couch won the first professional women's boxing match in English history. Starting next month, the rest of the country will have a chance to watch female fighters in bouts from the GB Amateur Boxing Championships in Liverpool.
Whether people will want to is an open question. There's still a squeamishness about women fighters — as vividly portrayed in portions of Million Dollar Baby — that leads people to recoil from its violence or else reduce it to something sexual. Having it on TV will make it harder to do both. Whether spectators will accept these athletes — several of them Olympic-bound — as just fighters, or whether it will force people to examine their response to boxing altogether, is the really interesting question. But they've won the right to be seen, and if people are choosing to turn their TVs off when they do, they're going to have to ask themselves why: gratuitous violence, or women engaged in violence? Time-honored rite of masculinity or senseless brutality? The irony, as Oates points out, is that boxing is not the most
dangerous sport (football actually tops it) — it just, symbolically if not actually, takes the gloves off.
BBC To Screen Women's Boxing [Yorkshire Evening Post]