Here’s to the ladies who punch …
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!
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.
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: