I know this question is the most politically incorrect one could raise in these exultant, post-Olympic days and that I’ll be met with shouts of derision or sheer disbelief, but I’ll ask it anyway: should women engage in the sport of boxing? When I saw the photographs of Olympians Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams fighting in the ring I felt aghast – and I still feel that way. It might seem a victory in the on-going feminist struggle for women’s complete equality with men, but it strikes me as a hollow victory; a blow against the nature of womankind; indeed, a step backwards for civilisation.
I had better state here that I have absolutely nothing against the two young women who won their boxing gold medals. I understand that Katie Taylor, aged 26, who won Ireland’s first gold medal as a lightweight, and who already has won four world and five European titles, is an evangelical Christian who regularly attends a Pentecostal church and who prays before her fights. In almost any other sport she would make an excellent role model. She is now wondering whether to turn professional. Nicola Adams, aged 29 and from Leeds, a flyweight, who has struggled for years to get sponsorship, sounds equally talented, dedicated, modest and charming. She has commented that “It’s great to think girls might take up the sport because of me. It’s a great sport and it’s an honour that people are looking up to me in that way.”
Scouring the newspapers for a smidgeon of support for my own position, I have not been able to find one dissenting voice in the accolades Katie and Nicola have been receiving. Jonathan McEvoy in The Mail On-Line enthuses, “You have to remind yourself the two slight figures in the ring, hidden behind their head guards, are not blokes.” He reflects, “At the acute risk of being called a chauvinist, I had…some misgivings. I am not sure my concerns amounted to a reasoned objection. If women want to box, who are we men, or indeed their fellow women, to say they shouldn’t? Nor is it a logical misgiving when you consider that women take part in rugby, taekwondo and wrestling. They can all be more injurious than amateur boxing with its protective gear…” Watching Nicola Adams in the ring he is quite won over: she “even had this sceptic’s support, 100%.”
Amir Khan, the 2004 Olympic boxing silver medallist, is on record as having once said, “Deep down I think women shouldn’t fight. When you get hit it hurts. It can be very painful”. It appears he has now changed his mind. He wants to promote Nicola Adams, declaring “I’m happy to take Nicola under my wing. I will make her a world champion.” Sir Clive Woodward of the British Olympic Association is also a champion of women’s boxing, stating exultantly that “We have arrived at true equality.”
I am sorry to sound a curmudgeon in all this. I am just wondering if everyone is too punch-drunk at the sight of our gleaming gold medal table to ask if it is appropriate for women to punch each other hard on the head and face in several bouts, with a view to knocking each other down (or out?) Women are not the same as men so why do we have this need to prove ourselves “equal” to them in every way? The sexes are different in personality and character as well as in physique; they are complementary, not interchangeable. Men are physically stronger, more aggressive; they are the sex who traditionally went into battle to protect the hearth and home. Women were supposedly the gentler sex in the best sense so it was thought, with gifts of compassion, caring, sympathy and intuition; the sex that civilised men by creating a home for them and their children (or in these days, creating a kinder, more humane atmosphere in the office). Why is it “chauvinistic” to say this, or to feel you have to apologise for acknowledging, as Jonathan McEvoy has admitted, that you have “misgivings”? Why are Amir Khan’s instincts “deep down” now seen as wrong?
The age of women’s rights began with a noble cause: the right to vote. But this endless battle for literal “equality” has ended by making fools of us all. Personally, I think we are all pretending we enjoy watching women, looking at a distance “like blokes” in their protective head guards, attacking other women in a deliberately aggressive, close contact sport that has been traditionally and rightly a male preserve. Either people are afraid to say the sight makes them uneasy or everyone has become more decadent in their tastes. For the record, and as McEvoy raised it, I also don’t like the thought of women doing taekwondo, wrestling or rugby, other masculine-type contact sports. It’s not that they are “unladylike”, a word with class connotations of “gentility”. It’s that they are unwomanly in its deepest sense. They are training women to be aggressive – and men are already aggressive enough.
I am not trying to stereotype women as shrinking violets. Catholics have the person of Our Lady as a model and guide. She was amazingly strong, steadfast and courageous – but also intrinsically feminine, not a pagan warrior queen. If we want women to behave like the fabled Amazons we are embracing neo-paganism. Judaeo-Christianity once gave us a more truly civilised sense of the particular genius of women – and it did not include participating in essentially male sports. Perhaps in countries where a Catholic culture is still alive or in a faith where women can identify with strong role models like Edith Stein or Blessed Gianna Molla, there is less of a craving to imitate men?
I think I’ll need protective head gear for saying all this.