Friday, June 17, 2011

Women's Boxing Should be Banned

The movie Million Dollar Baby [Warner Brothers, 2004] introduced American popular audiences to the phenomenon of women's prize-fighting (boxing), glamorizing the sport and lending legitimacy to what has long been regarded as a travesty.

Boxing, it may be said, has tended historically to be dominated by a shadowed underground of dirty money and unscrupulous exploitation, preying on the lowest levels of society, appealing to the basest instincts, and perpetuating destructive myths regarding manly strength and fortitude.

As a child growing up in the 1950's, I can remember clearly the regular telecasts of professional men's prize-fighting--the Saturday Night Fights, as they were then called, with familiar announcers, referees, and even sponsors (Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Gillette razor blades)--which were very popular among the older men of my father's generation. Though few of them would have imagined themselves actually engaged in any kind of fisticuffs, the acting out of aggression and "strategy" among contestants nevertheless found a responsive predisposition in men of that era.

In the decades since, boxing has undergone a series of boom-and-bust swings, while the actual ground where it flourishes has largely disappeared. There are few "clubs" or "gyms" where boxing is practiced, or taught. This may well be an economic phenomenon, a reflection of the post-War prosperity, where a steadily-paying job was as attractive as the promise of glamorous escape from the ghetto through the ascendancy of prize-fighting. Ultimately, of course, a sport like prize-fighting, like any other, feeds off of money, and the amount of interest which can be generated in the media. Throughout the 1960's, '70's, '80's, boxing was largely off screen, occasionally available (in its larger bouts) through closed circuit venues. It was apparent, certainly, by 1990, that the sport was going to wither away completely, if it didn't somehow rejuvenate its image, and build new audiences.

Boxing, as a legitimate sport, has always been a little edgy. It has been generally acknowledged that boxing--that is, what is commonly referred to by ring-fighting, where the contestants wear large padded gloves, and certain rules apply, intended to prevent gratuitous injury, such as head-butting, low punches, "kidney" punches, and the use of breaks during standing-counts and partial knock-downs, etc.--is a very dangerous sport, in which serious injury is almost a given. In the last 25 years, it has been established that most "career" boxers will eventually suffer various forms of dementia or other neurological syndrome, some as early as middle-age, other kinds of "minor" permanent damage notwithstanding (such as permanent facial scarring, broken bones in the hands, face, ribs, and damaged eyesight). In a sport in which the object is to disable one's opponent by disrupting his vision, mental concentration and coordination, and ultimately to cause him to become unconscious through severe blows to the skull, it would come as no surprise that professional medical organizations have historically had official positions against its (regulated prize-fighting) legalization.

When Million Dollar Baby was first premiered, I think few people who saw the movie realized that women's prize-fighting actually existed. I certainly didn't. The notion that women would voluntarily enter into organized fisticuffs would have struck me as a peculiarly bizarre and improbable potential. Women's bodies are designed differently than men's. Aside from the usual vulnerabilities of the head and vital trunk organs, men's genitalia--especially the testicals--are extremely fragile. One of the clichés of self-defense is kicking a man in the crotch, known to temporarily incapacitate him, though more severe trauma there can render a man permanently impotent. But with women, there are the additional issues of breasts, the reproductive organs in the lower abdomen, and the generally softer tissue throughout the body. Since blows exchanged between contestants are specifically designed to inflict injury, any "regulation" designed to "protect" boxers from each others' deliberate or accidental punches to vulnerable body parts would seem ironically ineffectual.

In life and death combat, there can be no rules. If you are trying to survive in a circumstance of war, or in a criminal invasion or confrontation, a man (or woman) may be justified in using any advantage at one's disposal, up to and including using any available weapon at hand. There is a millenniums-long tradition of fighting techniques for hand to hand combat, which soldiers, policemen, and partisans/guerrillas are taught as a matter of course. These techniques may be "practiced" or "staged" as training devices, but they're obviously not intended to be pursued for their own sake, as a popular "sport."

So now that Million Dollar Baby has raised the flag of legitimacy about women's boxing, I went looking around for information about it. Not being a follower of men's boxing, I would certainly never have encountered this information about women's boxing as a fan. Women's boxing first appeared in the Olympic Games in 1902, but it was banned for most of the 20th Century in most nations of the world. In the late 1980's, it began to be revived in Europe and America, and it's been announced that it will be included in the 2012 Olympics in London. Today, women's boxing matches are held in over 100 countries worldwide. I am frankly shocked at this sudden explosion of interest in something I would have thought most people would find simply unacceptable. And I don't think I'm alone.

In our time, the media continues to exert an enormous influence in how people think and act. If something like boxing continually shows up as a viable form of entertainment, there will be people who respond to it, just as there are people who respond to the nonsense of "professional wrestling" or to health gurus or to get-rich-quick-in-real-estate schemes or personal training or "green" automobiles. But that doesn't suggest that there may not be real social problems in promoting it, or that ultimately it's nothing but a crime-ridden arena in which real people are given permanent injury in the mistaken belief that they can achieve prosperity or fame though a violent display.

Our society is presently going through a period of self-examination regarding the meaning of various kinds of sanctioned violence. In the military, we now allow women to fight "alongside men" in battle, and in other areas as well, we're increasingly taking women "off the pedestal" and placing them in harm's way, in order to eliminate the "discrimination" that once prevented them from entering positions of power and participating equally across the spectrum of roles and duties once exclusively the province of men. But in our zeal to be consistent or uniform, we may be going too far. Is allowing women to "box" with each other really a sensible acknowledgement of the equality of the sexes? Is denying the physical structure of women's bodies an intelligent expression of our desire to be fair, democratic and disinterested?

Women are free to compete in almost all sports--at least to a limited degree--in our culture. They still don't play football, or professional hardball, or do much jockeying. But otherwise, they don't seem to be restricted from playing almost any kind of sport, competitively, they may wish. This is a good thing.

But encouraging people to take up an activity--designed to inflict mutual harm--which undoubtedly will cause them permanent physical injury--is really stupid.

I've never been a very great fan of Clint Eastwood. As an actor, he's always seemed one-dimensional to me, from his early days as a TV actor, to his days of "spaghetti Westerns" and the "Dirty Harry" roles, to his later days as a successful director and producer. The only film he's been involved (as director and producer) in that I thought admirable was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil [1997], a film I've reviewed on this blogsite. Goodness knows how he brought that off--I would have thought him incapable of that much subtlety and charm. As a private person, his reputation is certainly less than outstanding. High-handed and even brutal with women, condescending megalomaniac in his business dealings, cocky and contemptuous to those he disagrees with. Not someone you'd want to meet in a metaphorical "dark alley" of the entertainment world. Million Dollar Baby won Oscars for Morgan Freeman (supporting actor), Hillary Swank (in the title role), Eastwood (director), and best picture. Why? Because it portrayed the riveting ambition and tragic accidental fatal injury of an intensely motivated young woman, in very dramatic terms, managing (along the way) to glorify and amplify the reputation of a phony "sport" which is a perversion of the concept of sexual equality.

The old Hays Code was a notoriously hypocritical system designed to preserve standards of behavior and decency in cinema. It was particularly concerned with sexually suggestive scenes and dialogue, and it successfully prevented (tacitly, if not through direct censure) thousands of scenes and lines of dialogue over the years it existed (1930-1968). I'm generally in favor of less censorship, not more. And yet my feeling when I saw this movie, was that I was viewing something which could do a great deal of very real harm. Portraying violence among women as it was depicted in the movie, as if this were a valid expression of sexual equality and determined individual achievement--only incidentally qualified by the death of the central character--moved me to believe that as a piece of "entertainment" the film was as corrupt in its ultimate meaning and use, as any part of the world it showed. Certainly gangster movies, sex comedies, and "ethnic" entertainments perpetuate cruel violence, crude (and deviant) sex and racial stereotyping. And there are good reasons not to elevate them as vehicles for exploitation along those lines.

Rewarding Eastwood for this picture with best producer and director Oscars definitely sent the wrong message to women, especially poor women low down on the economic scale. The glamor of professional boxing as a route to celebrity and financial gain was clearly foregrounded. That was a bad thing. Would I advocate censorship in cases like this? Given my stance on free speech issues, obviously my official position would be no. But there should be a common understanding, that attempts to exploit women in this way should prevent otherwise officially recognized "legitimate" figures like Eastwood from using a fake excuse--such as the desire to present a "real raw life" naturalistic story--or as a vehicle for the showcasing of a "woman's right to choose" a life of violence and pain--to market crap like this as a first-run feature.

We can be moved by terrible scenes in movies. Pain and violence and ugliness for its own sake can be moving--especially when it's of real events. Newsreels and video reports are crucial mediums for the transmission of information about the world. But fictionalized, romanticized versions of the dirty, corrupt world of "professional womens' boxing" are unwelcome additions to the library of sludge. Mickey Rourke's portrayal of a professional wrestler in The Wrestler [2008] was bad enough, though in his case, he'd actually lived the life of a professional boxer, and had the permanent scars to prove his cred. But Eastwood and Swank had no such convenient pretexts to fall back on. They made trash pay, and probably drew hundreds of misguided women into a nasty life-style that they'll regret having fallen for all their lives. What a travesty.


Kirby Olson said...

I liked your stand but equality demands that even the dumb stuff that men do women can now do, I guess. I've known about women's boxing for at least twenty years, but I admit I can't watch it. I do watch men's boxing. I love the Ali-Frzier fights and probably know all the great boxers of our time and have seen them box more than once. I think it's gruesome, but I like it.

A sport that's not on TV enough is rhythmic gymnastics. It would be nice to have a good movie about something like that which improves the aesthetic thinking as well as the aerobic conditioning instead of just cracking heads open and breaking down body tissue to prepare folks for the morgue for our entertainment.

I don't really support boxing but I can't resist it: it's kind of like a huge chunk of chocolate. You know it's bad for you but it's so satisfying.

Women's boxing goes against all the codes of protecting women that you and I grew up with. Now women just want to kick each other's butts. It's their right. Or their left. Or some kind of combination.

Curtis Faville said...

Well, violence has been on the entertainment menu since Roman times, and before. The Mayans killed their losers.

But we supposedly live in a different time. I suspect that without the lucrative incentives, few women if any would be involved in this savagery. Have women ever really envied men their violent pastimes? Hard to say. I'm not a woman, and they don't always tell you what they really think. Are women as sexually predatory as men are? Would they ever admit it?

I think we have a responsibility to encourage and discourage in society. For example, we shouldn't be encouraging rampant sexual promiscuity--especially of the "unusual" kind. Telling kids it's okay to have anal intercourse, for instance, if it "feels right"--pardon me?

I mean, we tell kids not to shoot up heroin. Then we turn around and tell them sex is okay, just as long as it feels good.

Even pain can be made to "feel good" if you put the right spin on it.

When I was young, I also would be "into" watching boxing, but I understood it was a part of my nature that I shouldn't let take over, sort of like not wanting to masturbate all the time--and I think there's a kind of similarity there. Bad habits can become habit-forming--but to what end?

It's one thing to say it's not illegal for women to box. It's quite another to give Eastwood two Oscars for exploiting it.

Curtis Faville said...

I remember when Thomas Harris was criticized for exploiting violence towards women when he published his Hannibal books. One reviewer thought the books should be banned (really!).

I don't know where we draw the line, but I don't think we should be encouraging young women to become battlers. Conflict isn't a life-style. Or shouldn't be.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Yo Sir F--maybe a spaghetti western/Eastwood festival on the Compass Rose! the Good the bad n the ugly probably the best--but lesser known--Hang 'em high, for a few dollars more also quite good. The camerawork, locations (many shot in Spain IIRC), and music especially (the inimitable Maestro Morricone) make for a cinematic feast, tho' granted the plots/acting are somewhat...primitive. Leone--and Eastwood/Blondie--created, IMHE, a unique sort of iconic Ahht, quite different in tone and style than the usual ho-wood drama or "western" for that matter.

Kirby Olson said...

Steer riding is the deadliest sport -- blunt trauma to the chest from trampling bulls killed 16 men last year according to an ESPN documentary this morning. Hoof kicks to the head have also created problems. Not sure if women are in that sport yet. The documentary didn't say. I assume women are now everywhere, and especially in the most macho arenas, trying to prove their mettle. Women firefighters, women GIs, women hitmen, women boxers: Hollywood is all over this material.

Curtis Faville said...

In our attempts to facilitate equality of the sexes, we ask men to be women, and women to be men. There are discriminations which we ought to fine-tune. Asking women to contradict the structure of their bodies is as stupid as asking men to pretend to be mothers and erotic objects for penetration. Duhhh.

That side of our nature that we share with our sexual counterparts should be explored and harvested, but to ask people to "be" their opposite is just dumb.

The potential good to come from breaking down UNNECESSARY sexual stereotypes will derive from our doing the things which are not tied to our physical and hormonal selves. Women can be most of the things men could be, but Amazon Warriors is certainly not one of them. Men can be understanding and nurturing, without being catty and "weak."

Steer riding is also murder on the prostate gland. Enough men will get prostate cancer just in the natural course of things; but banging this gland to a pulp in your late teens or early twenties--well, you get the picture. Actually, riding an animal is not a healthy thing to do. Riding animals is a very unnatural thing.

J said...

Horse and rider, Sir F. Klassic beauty--like CW in TGTBATU. Equus, tho, not vaca. Or maybe a pterodactyl buster. Come on, lil dawgie.

As an artist, however, can't Eastwood can do what the F. he wants Sir F?? He need not be troubled by puritans or sophomoric "ethicists." I mean, what's some gals duking it out compared to say a ...Schwarzenegger or Willis exterminator fantasy.

Curtis Faville said...


I can only confess to a personal indisposition here.

The movie turned my stomach. Whenever I see women's breasts being beaten, I get nauseous. How about you? Do you find this entertaining? Yes? How about kick boxing? Do crotch blows turn you on?

At some point, people need to get a life. Get an interest. Dog- and cock-fighting. Wow. Cool.

I think the Nazis were turned on by cutting off people's testicles. Pedophiles like torturing children for sexual stimulation. Does that offend your sense of "community standards" or is it "just a blue world, Rip"?

We all draw the line, somewhere, J. Where's yours?

J said...

Women's boxing is hardly... blood sport, CF. No one's forcing them to do it. Really, it should be topless IMHE. :]

I'm against nazis and pedos, CF. But we're talking about..creative expression--weren't you the one recently insisting on freedom at all costs for writers/filmmakers, etc, and I was saying at times something like...a state would prevent certain films (books,arts etc.) Should the latest blockbuster space-opera deathstar flick be allowed? , or bubblegum hiphop BS? Maybe not).

So would you ban Pasolini? Im actually against hard core porn, CF--known a few ..ladies involved in it--nasty bidness. Their lives are effectively over at like 35..(tho the pimp-producers are living in chateaus in the ho-wood hills).

Curtis Faville said...


One of the risks you take by employing the haughtily dismissive (and occasionally gruff) style, is that people will take you either for a rube, or a ruffian. Misunderstandings proliferate. You may seem to be defending violence and crudité when what you're really trying to promote is creative freedom.

No one said filmmakers shouldn't be allowed. What I did say was that taste should prevent them from exploiting women in cinema using fake "equality of the sexes" rubbish as an excuse. Do you think Eastwood could answer the charge, in real-speak? He'd most certainly smirk and chuckle about artistic freedom. That would be an evasive maneuver.

The movie tried to make a young intelligent woman's quest to make it in the phony professional boxing world into a rags-to-riches-to-tragedy story. But the business is ugly, and corrupt. And the movie is a part of that ugliness, and ultimately that corruption. IMHO. It didn't have any redeeming virtues.

In the Hannibal movies, there's an attempt to link Hannibal's sophistication and sense of personal fulfillment with bestiality and cannibalism. We're tantalized and lured into this maelstrom of madness and ferocity, which doesn't (on its face) have any redemption possible. Even the deformed little freak Mason Verger is weirdly fascinating. But there's none of that in Eastwood's work. Everything is wooden and straight and dry. The girl is just a good, clean kid, who doesn't fuck her manager, or take drugs, or get confused by her own waywardness. It's all cardboard.

J said...

Nope. Read for content,not what you take to be tone--people? You mean your... posters? Those aren't people, CF. Kirby's like a large squirrel or something, and jh a disembodied Spirit, Ed and the rest like some Bellevue patients hacking the nurses gear or somethin'. One day you're all about freedom, artistic license, even obscenity. The next you're demanding censorship. Which is it?

I favor some controls on entertainment, via some intelligent ethical....Ministry of Information or something. You have said you don't.

Curtis Faville said...

We're all shadows, here, J.

That's the opportunity, but also the limitation, of this medium.

If you read the post, you'd note that I'm still against censorship. I just wish people could police themselves, and refrain from exploiting situations for immediate gain. Eastwood, for instance--how many hundreds of millions is he worth, already? Does he really NEED to make exploitation flicks?

Don't believe in ministries of censorship. They're my nightmare.

I've been censored once on this blog, by one of those "reputation" police, when I attacked a sitting judge. I didn't like it. Clearly he didn't either.

J said...

Well, you hint at something like...celebrity/entertainment exploitation of the masses, CF. Should entertainers (filmmakers, celebrities, actors, etc) be able to shove their latest product down the public's throat, at all times, and make millions from it??

I say...NO. Barring muslim or Chinese sort of solutions (where western entertainment is usually banned), what else would help eliminate celebrity..hegemony, except some sort of statist board?? Well, maybe a Unabomber taking out some ho-wood execs and producers, thespians--but that's a bit harsh. Jeni Aniston's mailbox...heh heh. Tho..maybe maybe she sends a servant or sex slave out to fetch it...

All part of...zionist-finance capitalism, actually CF. Eastwoods included.

Anonymous said...

Clearly none of you know the first thing about the sport of women's boxing or the practitioners. Suffice to say, it is a highly disciplined sport that requires years of dedicated practice to participate at the elite level.

The motivation for participating in the sport is varied from young women who see it as a way of making it in life (not unlike generations of young me) to women who have come to the sport later in life as a form of exercise or physical expression -- not unlike martial artists who take up the discipline as adults.

Just now the elite young amateurs in the sport are participating in USA Boxing's national championship -- which will not only crown the national champions for 2011, but will set the participants for next year's Olympic trials.

Boxing as a sport is certainly not everyone's "cup of tea," but to reduce the sport of women's boxing to the vitriol and sexualized language in these comments says more about yourselves than the sport itself.

Curtis Faville said...


One of the classic tiresome errors readers make is associating commentators with the author of the initial post. You'd best begin by not lumping "enemies" or "opponents" into a single camp in order to address them as a single phenomenon.

My post was intended to repudiate what I regard as a corrupt exploitation of women by the movie industry, as represented by Clint Eastwood, who gave gratuitously convenient support to a sport that has only negative outcomes for those who participate directly in it.

There's nothing heroic about poor men and women being drawn into a corrupt "sport" and "triumphing" over obstacles, if the pay-off is serious long-term physical disability and hopeless poverty. Professional prize-fighting is fraught with corruption at all levels. It's as pathetic as "professional boxing"--another "sport" that Hollywood exploited in the Mickey Rourke flick.

Anytime we celebrate and glorify a dead-end entertainment like women's boxing, we're no better than the folks who bet on cock-fighting and dog-fighting.

If you're participating in this activity, you're not helping yourself, or your sex. There's no "sexualized" language in my essay. There IS concern for women's health, which is sacrificed at the alter of misguided competitive "sport."

The "technics" of any sport--no matter how debilitating it may be for its participants--are always regarded as difficult, complex and important. The same kind of knowledge is useful for soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. But we'd never advocate that people try to literally kill each other. Unfortunately, doing significant harm to one's opponent is what boxing--all boxing--is ultimately about. If you haven't discovered this, then you a lot to learn about boxing.

Not to speak of life....