Fighting for the Right to Fight article series

August 24th, 2009  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  11 Comments

Now that women’s boxing has been added to the roster for the 2012 Olympics, and now that a highly publicized women’s MMA bout has occurred, the question of women fighting will move increasingly into the public eye. Researcher David Mayeda has penned an unusually thoughtful and informative treatment of the subject in this article series, which is well worth reading for anyone interested in women’s MMA/fighting as well as women’s participation in male-dominated sports generally. MMA/fighting is a bit unusual in that it has a long-established tradition of things like ring girls and ritualistic displays of machismo, but nevertheless it does reflect familiar challenges.

Responses

  1. Laura says:

    August 24th, 2009at 2:31 pm(#)

    Very interesting as here in Ireland we’ve had a lot of debate over homegrown success Katie Taylor, who many of the male boxers still dismiss as inherently inferior (which I think may be due to an overall misogyny in sport as much as a specific mysogyny against women in boxing). Check out – http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/forumdisplay.php?f=568 – This board has some particularly interesting (and sometimes quite dismaying) debates. Nice to see a debate which doesn’t include comments like “Deep down I think women shouldn’t fight. That’s my opinion. When you get hit it’s very painful. Women can get knocked out.” You don’t say. (I always thought men felt pain too, but maybe as a mere girl, I was wrong).

  2. Burt says:

    August 25th, 2009at 8:01 am(#)

    Laura says:

    “Very interesting as here in Ireland we’ve had a lot of debate over homegrown success Katie Taylor, who many of the male boxers still dismiss as inherently inferior.”

    Couldn’t agree more – let’s eliminate these silly gender barriers. From now on, there will be no more separate male/female divisions in boxing. Katie and all other female boxers will have to fight men if they want to become champions. Since men and women are inherently the same physically, there should be no problem at all.

  3. Christine says:

    August 25th, 2009at 12:54 pm(#)

    Another person who has had to fight for her right to fight, I’d say. Of course, nowadays Judo is very acceptable for women (at least where I live), but in 1959? Way to go Rena!

  4. Mistress Krista says:

    August 26th, 2009at 5:02 am(#)

    “Since men and women are inherently the same physically, there should be no problem at all.”

    I don’t think anyone’s making that argument here.

  5. Burt says:

    August 26th, 2009at 9:09 am(#)

    “I don’t think anyone’s making that argument here.”

    I disagree. You may not be, but many people are. There is much consternation over the fact that women’s boxing, and most women’s sports in general, get less attention and less adulation than men’s sports. There is also much consternation over the fact that female boxers, and most other female athletes, are not compensated nearly as well as male athletes. The cause of this disparity is usually blamed on mysogyny, discrimination, ect. This completely misses or ignores the real reason; people generally would rather pay money and devote attention to the best performers, which in most sports are almost always men. This indicates that many people are under the delusion that men and women are inherently equal physically.

    If we are talking about relative level of performance, then female athletes already get more than their fair share of attention and money. Female athletes are carefully protected through the separation of most sports by gender, and also through the social convention in Western countries of not criticizing the performance of female athletes (or even artificially inflating their abilities). There are hundreds of male amateur boxers who can run rings around Katie Taylor, but they will forever remain anonymous because they are forced to compete at a much higher level (against other men). So forgive them if they don’t have as much “respect” for Katie as you think she warrants.

    Katie will no doubt go on to recieve further adulation and attention. She carries the title of “champion”. I don’t see what her or her supporters could possibly be complaining about.

  6. Trishy says:

    August 26th, 2009at 10:30 pm(#)

    “There are hundreds of male amateur boxers who can run rings around Katie Taylor”

    I actually doubt that. A champion, regardless of gender, has much more than physical strength and stamina. They have the skills and technical expertise to excel at their sport, and they have years of experience. An amateur male boxer may be able to throw a harder punch than a champion female boxer (maybe), but that will hardly compensate for the tremendous difference there must be in actual boxing skills. That’s like arguing that most boys playing high school basketball can play better than a starter in the WNBA. It’s nonsense. (And by the by, I know lots of women martial artists who can beat their male counterparts — I’m not saying they’re equal physically, I’m saying that sometimes strength cannot make up for lack of skill.)

    Women’s sports generally getting less attention than men’s probably has a lot more to do with history than the actual enjoyment level of the game. How long has women’s fighting been around? Football? Basketball? Yeah, no wonder there isn’t a whole lot of devotion there. Now take something like the modern Olympic games, in which women have been competing for over 100 years, and my anecdotal impression is that most people are equally interested in the male and female competitions. At least, I certainly don’t see anyone walking away from the TV during the women’s competitions. It doesn’t matter that their times are a few seconds or fractions of seconds slower than the men’s, they are among the best damn athletes in the world and they are incredible to watch.

    I guess you would also argue that I get paid less as a female scientist compared to my male colleagues because … I’m inherently stupider? I think a level of institutional gender discrimination is taking place in many (most) circles of society. You can probably ask the website author about that though, she got a PhD studying those sorts of issues.

  7. Burt says:

    August 27th, 2009at 10:14 am(#)

    “An amateur male boxer may be able to throw a harder punch than a champion female boxer (maybe), but that will hardly compensate for the tremendous difference there must be in actual boxing skills.”

    Why do you think that there “must” be a “tremendous” difference in boxing skills? Because she looks so good against inferior competition? With the population and training history of female boxers being so low compared to male boxers at this time, for that reason alone (before we even talk about gender differences) it is unlikely that her skill is that high relative to the male amateurs.

    And again, you can’t have it both ways. If Katie walked over to the side of the gym with the good male amateurs, could she hang, or would she be carried out in stretcher? If you still think that Katie and other females are so technically good, then they should be fighting with the male amateurs. There should be no separate championship accolades for women. Anything else is hypocrisy.

    “That’s like arguing that most boys playing high school basketball can play better than a starter in the WNBA. It’s nonsense.”

    Bad analogy, I am comparing amateur boxers to amateur boxers, not average adolescent athletes to professionals. To state it more clearly, I would say is that she would probably fall well below the 50th percentile if pitted against experienced male amateurs.
    And regarding basketball…Given the fact the national level women’s teams in sports such as hockey and soccer regularly lose to high school level boys, it actually isn’t so ridiculous in the case of basketball if we are allowed to use a more select team of boys. A good AAU team could probably handle a WNBA team pretty comfortably. Along with football (and similar sports like rugby), I would rate basketball as one of those sports where the inherent physical gender differences particularly put women at a disadvantage compared to men.

    “And by the by, I know lots of women martial artists who can beat their male counterparts — I’m not saying they’re equal physically, I’m saying that sometimes strength cannot make up for lack of skill.)”

    Anecdotal, impossible to verify. What was the experience level and athletic ability of the males relative to the females? My comments only relate to similar cohorts of athletes (young trained males v. young trained females, elite males v. elite females, etc.) Barring any extreme size difference, of course an untrained or even novice level male would normally get beaten by a trained, athletic female. But pit trained males v. trained females, especially at the advanced levels, and you will see a different story.

    “It doesn’t matter that their times are a few seconds or fractions of seconds slower than the men’s, they are among the best damn athletes in the world and they are incredible to watch”

    While I agree that the female athletes are wonderful, you underestimate the degree of difference. Are you saying that if we matched the top women’s times and performances with those in the male field, that they would be in medal contention? Fractions of a second? Perhaps in the 100 meter dash, although in a race that short that translates to a very significant difference.

    I don’t think that the fastest women in the world would have beaten anyone in the male field at the last Olympics; only a few women have ever cracked the 10.5 sec barrier. If I am not mistaken, women have not yet matched the time of the fastest high school boys. If you looked at Olympic weightlifting, for instance, and took the strongest female lifters from the superheavies, you would probably find that men weighing less than 65 kilos can match those lifts.

    Take a look at just about any Olympic sport, and I think that you will see a similar pattern.

    “I guess you would also argue that I get paid less as a female scientist compared to my male colleagues because … I’m inherently stupider? I think a level of institutional gender discrimination is taking place in many (most) circles of society. You can probably ask the website author about that though, she got a PhD studying those sorts of issues”

    Huge non-sequitur there – you completely misunderstand me. I argue that there are inherent physical gender differences that result in superior male performance in most sports, and certainly at the elite level. I mean this only in a statistical sense – this does not mean that ALL men, or even most men, are better than ALL women in ALL sports. In some sports, such as long distance swimming, the best women are probably better than 99% of the men on the planet.
    Just because I make this claim about physical differences does not mean that I am making a claim about cognitive differences. There are, to my knowledge, no reasons to believe that one gender is inherently “smarter” than the other. Therefore, I would never make the ridiculous claim that you have rashly attributed to me.

    My overall point??? When female sports or athletes seem to be getting less attention, respect, or compensation than male athletes, let’s not all rush to blame misogyny or institutional discrimination. And let’s not forget that society has done much to carve out a sports culture for women, sometimes to the detriment of male athletes. In looking at the big picture, I see much less of this so-called discrimination than many of you do.

  8. Trishy says:

    August 28th, 2009at 6:58 pm(#)

    “In looking at the big picture, I see much less of this so-called discrimination than many of you do.”

    Maybe because you’re a man, and probably have not experienced a fraction of the gender discrimination as most women in the world. A person who is not part of particular group is not qualified to analyze the discrimination experienced by that group. For example, as a white person, I do not pretend to understand the experiences of a black person. It probably does not seem that bad from the outside looking in; discrimination these days tends to be subtle.

    “My overall point … let’s not all rush to blame misogyny or institutional discrimination.”

    My point is that you probably do not realize the extent to which misogyny and institutional discrimination affect a woman’s life, including female athletes who work their asses off to excel at the sport that they love, only to hear comments like the only reason they’re receiving recognition is because of “protection” and “social convention”, not because they have actually earned it. You seem to be dismissing discrimination as a possible explanation for this disparity in sports before you even honestly consider it.

  9. Burt says:

    August 31st, 2009at 12:15 pm(#)

    “A person who is not part of particular group is not qualified to analyze the discrimination experienced by that group.”

    So, there are no objective ways of measuring discrimination? Then how do we distinguish bogus claims of discrimination from real ones? Just take the claimant’s word for it? You present an unfalsifiable argument. Yours is a faith-based argument, not a rational one, and I think it is a disservice to serious scholars of gender issues.

    One could easily say that an outsider, as you call me, may be better qualified to assess the situation, since I do not have a such an emotional investment in the outcome.

    And by the way, you would be perfectly entitled as a white person to investigate and evaluate the degree of racial discrimination. A psychologist doesn’t need to suffer from bipolar disorder or experience hallucinations in order to properly evaluate or treat a patient.

    “You seem to be dismissing discrimination as a possible explanation for this disparity in sports before you even honestly consider it”

    Please read what I wrote – I am not dismissing discrimination as a reason, only the degree to which it explains the difference. For instance, the average pay of a WNBA player is grossly inferior to that of an NBA player. So is attendance, media attention, etc. The best explanation for that difference is that the level of play of the WNBA is grossly inferior to that of the NBA. Gender discrimination may enter into it, but it is a very small part of the explanation of the difference.

    This is why I focus so much on the actual difference in the performance levels of the male and female athletes. This difference is largely objective (which means you can offer contrary data that could undermine my argument), and in a merit-based system the performance gap should vary more or less directly with attention, compensation, and respect. So if you could offer evidence that the performance gap is negligible, and yet we still have a significant gap in respect, compensation, etc. then other explanations (such as discrimination) would become more reasonable. So far, you have not addressed my substantive points in this area.

    And one last point – your comments assume that gender discrimination only goes one way. It doesn’t.

  10. Tyler says:

    September 1st, 2009at 3:51 pm(#)

    “This is why I focus so much on the actual difference in the performance levels of the male and female athletes. This difference is largely objective (which means you can offer contrary data that could undermine my argument)”

    But would you concur that the historical exclusion of women from popular Western sports (boxing, basketball, American football, etc) skews the data?

    It could also be argued popular sports are popular because they are those sports in which men excel – putting aside the argument that men have (again, historically) had better access to training – that the public eye has been directed towards sporting events in which men physiologically have the upper hand.

    And I know it may seem a bit of an obvious point, but let’s also consider the quickness with which female athletes are condemned/judged/alienated – Caster Semenya, anyone? Performance outside of “standard” expectations of women is often questioned.

    Sure, there’s physiological differences between men and women. Sure, there’s a lot of data that suggests men are better suited for athletic performance than women. But there’s a lot of data suggesting a lot of things out there. Need I also remind of a recent Time Magazine article?

    Men are socialized to argue, compete, dominate and destroy. Women are socialized to stand by, coo and faint at these displays.

    Sure, Burt, your point is entirely logical and I understand it. But your argument (as it seems to me) is based on the necessity to maintain the larger structure of competition – or to fully integrate with absolutely no separation. So then what is the choice of the woman? Shy away from competition because she has no place there? Choose beauty pageants, because, of course, Miss America ratings far exceed those of Mr America?

    It’s a discuss of the way things are versus the way things should be – a very common debate in any gender/sexuality/race/religion issue. Sure, I’d like to say that the playing field should be level, and admission to college should be entirely performance-based, and there shouldn’t be any special concessions for some inner-city black kid, but I know that there are a number of issues at play that affect his access to educational tools – issues that I most definitely didn’t have as a suburban white kid.

    “And one last point – your comments assume that gender discrimination only goes one way. It doesn’t.”

    A point I often hear. A lot of people have big mouths and chips on their shoulders. You might have come across a few in your time (on either end of the spectrum). The issue with discrimination isn’t in words or even actions, but in power: in sexual harassment, the oldest argument from men is “shit, I’d love it if a woman told me she wanted to fuck me!” This is especially relevant considering the crux of your argument, Burt: if men are bigger, stronger, faster, there is danger in comments like that. There is still a definite power structure in place in our society, and though comments and actions may be said and done by both sides, it is the power, the abuse, the danger contained within that makes it discrimination. When you say an equal playing field would erase high level female competition (please excuse me, I am summarizing your words), you say it to stress the physiological differences between women and men. And perhaps I’m going out a limb, here, but I assume you’re a man (as am I), and that being, your comments inherently enforce the status quo, despite your desire to present what you see as an entirely logical argument.

  11. Jess says:

    September 3rd, 2009at 6:29 pm(#)

    Burt, I would like to see the data that says women and men shouldn’t participate in the same sports- please direct me to the source if you have some. I concede that there are many studies out there indicating that men have larger bodies and more muscle as a whole, and that strength and endurance are often essential to performing at peak levels in sports (obviously).

    However, being the biggest doesn’t always mean being the best. If that were the case, how did 170 lb Royce Gracie mop the floor with much larger opponents in early UFC tournaments? Granted, he is still larger than the average woman, but I see no evidence that dictates that a woman of similar body size, with the the same level of dedication to her training, would neccisarily be inferior. I can’t universally instantiate this example, but I think it does illustrate that there is something to be said for skill and mindset in sports.

    Why don’t we actually observe men and women competing at various sports in a study before making claims about their relative skills. I’m not saying that men aren’t better geared for certain sports, I just don’t think they are completely superior at every single sport ever.

    On another note, even if every study shows that women cannot hope to compete with the almighty male, why exactly does this mean that they are boring to watch in their own pro sports? Entertainment value is highly subjective, and fandom seems to have more to do with sport culture, marketing and team/athlete loyalty than with the skill level of the players alone.


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