Posts Tagged ‘feminism

11
Feb
18

Truth and lies

Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990. He went on to be inaugurated President of South Africa on May 10, 1994.

At the end of the apartheid era in South Africa in 1994, one of the most brilliant decisions made early on was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was based on an act passed in 1995 (Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act) on the belief that “a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.” It was an opportunity for victims and perpetrators to tell their stories and seek assistance in some cases and amnesty in others–and for the men and women of South Africa to rebuild their nation freed of the burdens of the apartheid era.

I know that I am simplifying a complex process that continues to the this day–but the lessons learned are instructive and cautionary as we continue to grapple with truth and lies in our body politic and in our personal lives.

No, it is never okay to abuse someone–whether physically, mentally, sexually, or emotionally. Just as it is never okay to perpetrate abuses against classes of persons whether they be ethnic, religious, sexual or otherwise. More to the point in what feels like a veritable war on sanity and justice–perhaps we all owe it to ourselves to confront our own truths and lies and an adage I take to heart, which is that cheating at solitaire serves no purpose, except perhaps to “kick the can” down the road as sooner or later truth wins out.

In the case of Rob Porter the current poster child for cheating at solitaire–here we have by all reports a brilliant person, who just happens to be an abusive sod. His behavior was abhorrent in not one, but two marriages, all known and discussed, ad infinitum it would seem, to include discussions with clergy and others as it was all playing out, not once, but twice. Fast forward lots of years and here he is begging his wives to downplay his abusive behavior so that he can get his FBI clearance–with nary a thought to what would happen to them if they perjured themselves. Not to mention the current President of the United States whose twitter rants read like alternative fiction when it comes to taking responsibility for ones actions.

I’ve lived long enough to observe and experience the ebb and flow of progressive politics, gender wars, civil rights fights and the inevitable backlash. I’ve also seen the lip service paid to affording people “equal” rights–while hearing damnable prejudice, sexism and everything else one can think of flung about quite openly.

In a recent conversation at Gleason’s Gym, someone was speaking of his Jewish grandmother who’d left Poland in the early 1900s. He had asked her one day if she’d ever go back and she said, “Never. I have no good memories there. My brother and my cousin were both killed for nothing. Why would I go back?”

We mulled that over for a minute or two, and then he said, “Can you imagine that? That’s why America was like gold to her and her generation.”

After a moment I said, “For her perhaps, but that was life for Black folks: people killed for nothing. Was it gold for them?”

And that, I believe is the crux of things for us. We refuse to see our own truths for what they are: we ignore the truths of our lives as victims and as perpetrators, and in so doing we perpetuate these actions as normative. Think of the parent who insists they are setting their kid straight when language spews out that belittles and diminishes their child, or think of the actions of a President who calls out an entire ethnic group as rapists and criminals.

It really is up to us to say enough as enough, and if not in the formal setting of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission–at the very least in the conduct of our daily lives and in how we hold our elected leaders accountable.

25
Jun
14

Here’s to the ladies who punch …

Here’s to the ladies who punch …

A History Of Women's Boxing

Today’s my big day.

The culmination of over two years of work on my new book, A History Of Women’s Boxing.

I get to strut my stuff in the ring at Gleason’s Gym and speak to an audience of assembled friends about the courage, bravery and pure gumption that women have shown for the past three hundred years each time they’ve donned the gloves. Oh yes, and smile a lot, sign books and jump around with glee!

It’ll be a moment to savor — though I admit to a plethora of doubts:  Did I get everything right? Did I forget someone? Did I make the point about pushing social and legal boundaries enough? Will the reader understand just how brave it was for a young and plucky Barbara Buttrick to insist that she had the right to box in 1949?

The historian’s lament plagues me a bit too. There’s never enough time or materials or opportunities to interview — except perhaps if the historian is Robert Caro, be still my historian’s heart.

The writing process is also a marathon battle — reminiscent of the endless rounds of the bare knuckle boxing era.  If we consider that there are “championship rounds in boxing” — of which Layla McCarter knows a thing or two having insisted on the right to fight 12 three-minute rounds more than once —  plowing through a writing project that is voluminous in the best sense nonetheless gets very, very tough as it heads towards the final chapters.  In my case I overwrote by about two hundred pages, which necessitated a mad scramble to cut, cut, cut. Talk about taking shots — those words were my children, and in my “humble” opinion, the points made were as important as any in the final cut of book, but like any gut shot, one sucks it up and moves on because that’s what happens.

If the writing was at times an arduous task, the overriding sensation, however, was one of deep, deep respect for the women who ply their trade as boxers — such that the project became a true labor of love.  Just the act of climbing through the ropes is, in my estimation, a resounding statement of defiance against the strictures that continue to be imposed on women as they go about their work-a-day worlds — nevermind what that meant in the 1970s when women took to the courts to gain the right box.

It still boggles the mind that women’s amateur fighting was virtually illegal in the United States until 1993 when a young 16-year-old girl named Dallas Malloy sued for the right to compete, not to mention Dee Hamaguchi who opened up the right for women to fight in New York’s Golden Gloves in 1995.

I mean what was that? Amateur boxing was illegal which meant women had no safe means of learning to compete other than to turn pro? Hmmm.

I’ll add that the quickest way to become a feminist is to take on a history of women’s anything project.  Talk about a wake up call! Wow!

Gussie Freeman

As I wrote the book, I admit to having favorites, women like Belle Martell who not only was the first licensed referee in the state of California, but who was also a promoter for amateur fights, took the tickets and then jumped in the ring in a ball gown to announce the bouts–the first women to do so. Belle also tried really hard to promote women in the ring in the early 1950s with the idea that they’d save a sport that was dying on the vine due to television. Gussie Freeman was another one. Talk about a character, she boxed briefly in the 1890s, but made such an impression people still remembered her 50 years later.

Dixie Dugan

When I was a kid, our history textbooks consisted of stories of kings and queens, generals and presidents, with very little about the men and women whose lives collectively swayed the shape of society as the centuries passed.

As a microcosm of society, the history of boxing provides an interesting perspective on social interactions between people, the power of popular culture and issues of race, class and the exploitation of labor. Throwing women into that mix provides a more nuanced understanding of those same issues. For one, women’s spectatorship became an important ingredient in developing boxing as a sport from the 1790s on!

The image of a woman in boxing gloves also became a potent symbol of the changing place of women in western society at points in history, most notably in the period between 1880s and the end of World War II when the place of women was upended in a clear line.

That we still question the place of women in the ring today is just as telling. Yes, there were and are those who object to boxing period no matter who contests the fight, but the notion that female boxing is an anathema still seems to finds its place in the conversation about the sport, which goes to the heart of the argument about the “place” of women in society. Ugh …  still?

Regardless, women push through it all anyway and climb through the ropes knowing their muscles have been honed into perfect boxing shape to leave it all in the ring having given their very best.

All I can say is that I am very, very proud to have contributed in some way to sing their praises.  And yep, here’s to the ladies who punch!

Links to purchase the book:

Barnes and Noble.com 

Amazon.com

08
Mar
12

Engaging in the ring on International Women’s Day!

Engaging in the ring on International Women’s Day!

I grew up in the sixties and well remember my father informing me at the age of 13 that since I was now “liberated” I could pay for my own lunch.

Bra Burning, Atlantic City 1968, Credit: Media Myth Alert

That was in the late 1960s and while I admit to some confusion when I watched images of college women burning their bras or heard about consciousness raising sessions where women would meet to talk about how to become “unoppressed,” I suppose I could say that I reaped some immediate benefits — well sort of …

When I was 17, I was literally chased around the desk by a lecherous office manager and subsequently fired for not being “friendly.” A woman at the unemployment office took pity on me and figured out how to “stick-it” to the company by giving me the unheard of sum of $75.00 per week for my troubles.

That was how my consciousness was raised: don’t get mad get even.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Lover Come Back, Credit: Leo Fuchs

With the blissful joys of late 1950s and early 1960s sex romps filling my head — those Doris Day and Rock Hudson gems which were “teaching” me how to get a man, you know, lie, cheat and don’t put out on the first, second, third or even fourth date, well a few kisses maybe but that was it — didn’t exactly prepare me for reaching my “womanhood” in the disco world of the early 1970s in NYC!

Not to mention, of course, that Rock Hudson was famously gay and Doris Day the victim of spousal abuse and a renowned animal rights activist beginning in the 1980s.

The point is we all change. Whether through “consciousness raising” or time, but when it comes to women, some things don’t seem to change.

We in the United States may assume ourselves to be “enlightened” when in comes to women’s rights — you know, we can drive, support our families, even box, and heck, there are more women graduating from architecture school than men these days so that’s equality, right?

Scratch that surface though and we find the political rhetoric of this year’s Republican campaign season attacking women’s health and birth control! Birth control?!?!? I mean really, what is up with that?!?!?

(Dare I mention that most women on birth control are married and that a good percentage take the pill for non-birth control reasons — despite what certain radio talk show hosts have stated!)

Women are also still assaulted in record numbers by spouses and boyfriends, trafficked for sex right here in the old US of A, and while women have made inroads in the Armed Forces, the “dark side” is the spate of sexual crimes against women — right smack dab in the middle of the theater of war where they proudly serve.

To my way of thinking, we are all in the ring all the time, duking it out for things like adequate child care for our children because let’s face it “choice” is not an option for most women — it’s work or starve — which brings up issues like maternity rights (nothing like leaving your 11 week old baby to go back to work, I know, I had to do it) and that old chestnut equity in pay (still!).

Ask ANY female boxer in the United States if she can earn a living as a fighter and she’ll give you a litany of jobs she has to have to “support” her professional boxing career. Oh, and then ask her about how much respect she receives for plying her trade … think Christy Martin who boxed in pink for years to seem more feminine and therefore a lot less threatening.

I could go on and on — but will end my rant by standing and raising my body into a huge cheer for Christy Martin and Mia St. John who will enter the ring of combat on June 19th for the WBC Super Welterweight World Championship.

To my mind this is the best antidote to feeling the blues about how much further women have to go: two f’n warriors giving it their all in a ring they claim as their own.

And at the end of the day, that’s all it’s about: what Virginia Wolfe famously coined, a place of one’s own to just be without all of the ugly crap that gets heaped on in piles pushing you down.

In the parlance of my childhood “rock on sisters!” — and have a great day!

24
Oct
10

Boxer’s heart

Boxer’s heart

My paternal grandmother was one for the books.  A great raconteur, she came from a time and place where women were at the back of the pack no matter how hard they tried.  Still she dreamed and dreamed big, if not for herself than for her children, grandchildren and their children.

She was a widow who supported her two kids by working the graveyard shift as a night auditor in one of the big Manhattan hotels starting in the late 1940’s.    Her idea was to be home to get her children off to school in the morning and to be home when they came home from school in the afternoon, “like a normal family,” she’d say.  In many ways Grandma was luckier than most women in her situation because her Aunt also lived with them and willingly took on the burden of watching the kids at night.

One story Grandma always told was how her boss came to say that only the men were going to get raises that year because they had to support their families.  “What was I doing there, taking in the waters?” she’d say of the injustice.  “I’d a mind to quit, but what was I going to do then?”

She did eventually quit that job and worked her way up through the chain at a lot of different high-end hotels.  Still, she worked that graveyard shift for more than twenty years, only switching to days towards the end of her life when she was quite ill.  By then it was the early 1970’s and with feminism on her mind she’d say, “it’s a good time to be alive.”

I bring this all up because while she never set foot in a gym, she had a boxer’s heart.  She worked hard; fought for her family, and always jumped back up no matter how many times life knocked her down.  And while she may not have built the bridges she always dreamed of, I cannot think of a better legacy than ceding us her great spirit, her humor and her willingness to literally walk the extra mile if it meant bettering her family.




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© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Malissa Smith and Girlboxing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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