Friday, July 1, 2011

Women, Agression & Boxing :)

As an actress hoping to perform fights in film/TV/stage, as an actress who boxes recreationally, and as an actress who grew up on fantasy books about female warriors, I feel this is a worthwhile topic to discuss here on this blog! :) Mainly triggered by a most awesome book I just finished written by Rene Denfeld and called Kill The Body The Head Will Fall. Self-described as “A closer look at women, violence, and aggression.” The writer started boxing just as women were finally allowed to compete at the amateur level in the U.S. in 1993. (I find it weird professional was allowed first?) As she boxed, she started to question her assumptions about women and violence, did a bunch of research, and out came this book!

In it Denfeld tackles a variety of topics related to this issue. She starts with examining whether women are actually weaker than men. She wrote that generally women are about 2/3 as strong as men, but that's mostly due to size difference and when comparing men and women of the same height and weight, the differences become substantially less. And with many differences being due to a lifetime of dissimilar activities. She mentioned one U.S. Army study that found with adequate training average women are totally capable of performing all the military tasks required of soldiers. So not only does training (or lack of it) affect women’s strength, but also psychological expectation plays a part as one study showed. The study used just one instance of suggestion, but can you imagine what a lifetime of being told you’re the weaker sex could do to you!?

As well Denfeld looks at aggression differences and of course has no easy conclusion. There are examples of both sexes having aggression, and then discussions ensue about biological vs. socialized differences which are almost impossible to unravel. Needless to say the author wholeheartedly believes women should be able to compete against men, and could one day compete on the professional level. Hmmm... boxing is an interesting sport... it’s one of the only ones where you’re matched by weight with your competitor. Making it possibly the first sport to feasibly introduce professional competition of men vs. women?

And to answer the strength issue, I’m reminded of a piece of information a female boxer at my gym mentioned, that Lucia Rijker (a pro female boxer), hits stronger than a male boxer of her own size! 900 lbs of force vs. 700 lbs.!! Substantially harder! So not wanting to share false information ;) I double-checked it and it was evaluated on a Discovery Channel show! Check it out here. Upon hearing that the first time, I thought about it and realized as women we know we don’t have the upper body strength, so our arms alone will never have much power. In knowing that I think we focus more on technique, and technique in any sport is where you get your power! :) I think the first time I was taught that was in dragonboat racing in high school. Use your back they said! Not your arms! Coz your back is way stronger than your arms. :) I am proud to say I try and make sure I use every ounce of strength I can gather from my pivoted foot, through my legs, through the twist of my hips and core, through my back and chest, and into my punch... WHAM!

Denfeld then looks at stereotypes of women’s anger, maternal instinct, and violence. She looks at stats and studies of women in crime, in military, and sports. I think the most important reason to fight the stereotype of women as non-aggressive, nonviolent people is for the sake of their victims. The author shows tons of stats about substantial number of child abuse, child murder and spousal abuse is done by women. When it’s reported, police doubt it and do nothing about it, leaving victims unaided.

The chapter that struck me the most was the one about fear. It really identified some of mine and how socialized these fears have been. Studies have evaluated what women are most scared of. And usually it was in proportion to the likelihood of it occurring. For example living in North America we’ll be more scared of getting mugged than let’s say getting shot by a sniper. The one that is completely out of proportion is rape. I’d wondered about this myself, I constantly think about how to avoid getting raped and worrying about it as I walk alone at night, yet no one I knew had ever been raped. Not to say it doesn’t happen but what were the actual chances of it happening?! And I think back and ever since I was a teenager I was told to be wary of getting raped, from parents, to articles in community papers or girls teen magazines, to stories in books and movies. It’s really great to make people aware and be careful but I can’t help but feel it was taken too far. I envision fighting a male, never a female coz of that fear. And not winning but hoping to at least to cause some damage. As Denfeld describes in the book, many women “find little comfort in being physically fit or being aware of their surroundings.” She writes that our media shows women when raped, fighting back pathetically, uselessly, and never shows a woman successfully defending herself. She suggests that maybe the reason rape is so scary because we are taught there is nothing we can do about it.

Denfeld also makes the great point that one self-defense course can’t make up for a lifetime of physical self-doubt. How true! She says self-defense requires proactive aggression. That since we can’t imagine or believe that we could fight back, we can’t. “What’s more, everyone else knows it.” she writes. That is the scariest thought to me.

A great example she has of this disproportionate fear is how parents check their kids Halloween candy for razor blades, etc. So parents end up conveying a distrust in the world based more on urban myth than real facts, leaving their kids fearful for no real reason.

And finally she writes how this fear will make women lash out and turn into angry, judgmental, aggressively afraid people. One example being KKK women actively sowing racism and bigotry. This isn’t good for anyone involved.

The stereotypical views of men and women’s aggression has led women to “end up fearing men as we diminish our own ability to defend ourselves from them. Our one-sided assumptions of aggression forget that women can – and need to be able to – fight back.”

This book was amazing to read. I motored through it devouring every page. Denfeld is an amazing writer and her descriptions of her scenes at the gym were beautiful and captivating to read!! The scene she describes on the last page of her book was so perfect and moving I even had tears in my eyes up while reading it! :) sigh. :) I loved this book coz it dealt with boxing which I love, which inevitably leads to discussion of aggression which I enjoy. Friends wondered why I would want to do something as aggressive as boxing, which made me realize many people have outlets for their aggression. For me it used to be spiking a volleyball for most of my life, then realizing I didn’t have to wait to hit things and could hit them all the time in boxing! :) So for me it’s hitting, for others it may be the jostling in a basketball game, or playing a video game. Then there are the less benign methods of letting it out in conversation and behaviour and picking verbal fights, or even trolling on the internet. Aggression is a part of us and can’t be ignored.


Kelly Schultz said...

Sounds like an interesting book, Ida. Perhaps one day you'll be a pro-boxer too! Your comments have reminded me that I want to take a self-defense class - I see them offered at U of T. I think I will sign up this year.

Lady Knight said...

oh!! lemme know if/when you take a self-defense class?! coz i'd be interested in taking it too! :) hopefully open to alumni!

Anonymous said...

Hi :)
Just wanted to point out that the male fighter Rijkers punched harder than is not a pro fighter but an amateur - he is not trained the same way that Rijker is. Still impressive though - I don't know if she hits as hard as a pro male fighter her size :)
Looking forward to reading Denfeld's book.

A (female) fighter

Lady Knight said...

i never got a chance to reply at the time but wanted to say thanks for your post!! good to know the male fighter was amateur vs. Rijker being pro... definitely makes a difference! but yeah still a damn strong hit! Hope you've had a chance to read the book! :)