University expert predicts positive changes from women’s boxing inclusion at London 2012
4 August 2012
British boxer and Edge Hill University graduate Natasha Jonas will be part of history on Sunday as women’s boxing will feature for the first time ever at the Olympic Games and a leading academic predicts the inclusion will create positive changes in wider society.
When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added women’s boxing to the list in 2009 Professor Kath Woodward, a Podium Games Expert and Head of Sociology at the Open University, was there to cheer on the success.
With the sport about to be showcased, she considers the impact the sport’s inclusion will have, saying: “I think it is going to have a cultural effect. Women’s participation in boxing is new, since 2009 when the IOC accepted women’s boxing there has been a noticeable increase with women taking up boxing in gyms.
“My argument is that sport constructs both negative and positive social opportunities and inequalities. I think having women’s boxing will change our perceptions of gender, in a positive way.”
Natasha Jonas has won five ABA titles and a gold medal in the European Championships, and when she made it to the semi-finals of the Women’s World Amateur Boxing Championships in May it meant she had become the first ever female British boxer to qualify for an Olympic Games.
Aged 28, Natasha has been passionate about the inclusion of women’s boxing at London 2012 despite, like other women in sport, having to tackle with stereotypes and misunderstanding because of her sport.
She told Stylist as part of their Fair Game campaign: “People always tell me I look nothing like a boxer. It’s bad that they assume you’ll look a certain way, but at the same time, given the stereotypical image people have, I’m glad they don’t think I look like that!”
Working on cultural change and diversity in the ESRC Centre for Research into Socio-cultural Change (CRESC) and exploring the transformation of identities in sport, Professor Woodward has been able to follow the change of trends of gender in sport.
She observes that: “Sport flows into the profiling of gender. Women in sports like boxing and weightlifting muddies the water.”
Over in the world of weightlifting, teen star and Greenwich College Champion Zoe Smith has faced similar pressures because of her sport. This was seen most recently with abusive comments on Twitter after a BBC3 programme about the Team GB weightlifters was aired – entitled ‘Girl Power: Going For Gold’. One tweeter wrote of Miss Smith and her fellow weightlifters: ‘You wouldn’t marry any of them they’re probably lesbians anyway.’
Professor Woodward commented on the feelings behind these attitudes, saying: “Young women have to deal with people assuming you have to be butch or manly, or even male, to do these types of sports. It’s understandable that if you’re an athlete you won’t be curvaceous, you will likely have a flat chest, be slim and have muscles, because that is what you need to be an elite athlete.”
Woodward went on to praise both Natasha Jonas and Zoe Smith, saying: “I think these two young women have found a positive way of articulating themselves. They present themselves in very positive and feminine ways, but don’t seem like they feel they have to meet anything.
“Hopefully having these young women featured will increase interest in the sport, and more importantly change social attitudes.”
Zoe Smith said before the Games that she hopes to demonstrate to a generation of young women that muscularity in women is perfectly fine, saying: “We’re normal girls – just stronger than other people.”
Zoe definitely drew eyes to her when she competed on Monday at the Excel centre, breaking a British record with a 121kg clean and jerk lift. While in the women’s boxing Natasha Jonas is set to compete on Sunday in the session beginning at 2.30pm in Women’s lightweight 60kg vs Adriana Araujo of Brazil, as one of only 36 women boxers at the Games.
Women's boxing isn't the only reason why London 2012 is being hailed as the most inclusive Olympic Games ever - it is also the first Games where every single competing nation has female athletes.
By Ruth Faulkner
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