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Lingerie boxing: Should it even be called a sport?

Jess Davis will take to the ring in her lingerie on March 3 as of a professional boxing extravaganza on the Gold Coast. (Pic: David Clark)
Jess Davis will take to the ring in her lingerie on March 3 as of a professional boxing extravaganza on the Gold Coast. (Pic: David Clark)

Just when women's sport is gaining traction in terms of commercial and cultural credibility, attracting supportive, large audiences and sponsors, "Lingerie Boxing" enters the ring.

According to promoter, Jamie Myers, three exhibition matches are being held as part of the "Big Bangers Boxing Event" in March on the Gold Coast. These will feature scantily clad female novices (who are nonetheless training hard), before the "real" boxers - the men - start their bouts.

As per usual, this type of delegitimising of women in sport is defended, not only by Myers who, of course, has a business stake in the venture and wants it to succeed so he profits, but also by prospective audiences and participants.

One "boxer", Jessie Davis, declared people wear less clothes on the beach, so it's no different. I think when she receives a few blows to the face or body, she might beg to differ.

Another participant, Chenae Finn, said "it's good to see girls in something that has predominately been more of a male environment and we get to have fun and still feel feminine at the same time".

Yeah, because there's nothing that screams "feminine" like running around in a confined space in teeny weeny satin bras and knickers, wearing pink boxing gloves, dodging and punching an opponent, while being shouted and perved at by men.

Myers even called the event "classy".

What, like the comments on Myer's Facebook page such as: "the boxing won't be much chop but who cares ha." Or this really tasteful response: "I'll come and wank, I mean watch."

As Professor David Rowe from the University of Western Sydney noted, an event like "lingerie boxing" will "remain a sideshow. I can't imagine any serious female boxer would go near such a tawdry spectacle".

Why is such a shallow display being touted and, from the feedback, potentially keenly patronised? That is, apart from sex and money.

Would you go to watch lingerie boxing?

This poll ended on 23 March 2017.

Current Results

Yes, it's harmless fun

68%

No. It exploits women

15%

Depends on how good the boxing is

15%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Professor Kathleen Rowe Karlyn, from the University of Oregon, argues that when gender hierarchies - that place men at the top - are threatened, a way to restore them is to point out the excessiveness of women's bodies, why they don't deserve serious attention.

They're written and spoken about as "too fat, too mouthy, too old, too dirty, too pregnant, too sexual (or not sexual enough) for the norms of conventional gender representation".

Reminding audiences that women are primarily sexual objects to gaze upon and critique, not serious sporting contenders, their threat is diminished.

In an article entitled Suffragettes in Satin Shorts?, Professor Jim McKay and Yvonne Lafferty argue though women have been boxing competitively since the 18th century, "they generally have been treated with a mixture of amusement, bemusement, and hostility". They add, "the trespassing of females (into a quintessentially masculine space) is tolerated only as long as it remains incidental".

Nothing could be more incidental or titillating than women fighting in lingerie.

Of course, there will always be women complicit in their own degradation for whatever rewards, however fleeting, that might accrue, but that doesn't make it right or mean as individuals or a community we have to be silent about it.

Across a whole range of sports such as AFL, basketball, Rugby Sevens, soccer, cricket and netball, professional, athletic women and their teams are gaining prime-time coverage, becoming household names as well as role models, attracting enthusiastic fans and sponsors.

Is lingerie boxing an attempt to put women back in their place?

McKay and Dr Helen Johnson suggest that a common strategy for restoring gender norms in sport is "via pornographic eroticism" - where a person's sexuality and "sexiness" is made the primary focus. 

 

They cite coverage of female tennis players, from Anna Kournikova, Maria Sharapova ("Shriekapova" or the "Belle of the Decibel"), to the Williams sisters as examples.

Sociologist Dan Hilliard explains the differing treatment of male and female athletes as occurring because "sport and masculinity are so deeply intertwined, the idea that sport and femininity can have any kind of equivalence is… subversive

Thus the female sporting body has been regularly represented as weak, inferior, decorative, sexy, passive, and 'unnatural'".

The rise of women's sport indicates that, on the contrary, females can be athletic, powerful, graceful and, more importantly, professionally viable and commercially successful and without being overtly sexy or stripping down to their lacy bits.

If these women want to flaunt themselves in their lingerie and swing a few punches, let them. But don't pretend it's "empowering" or "classy." It's neither.

Nor is it sport. Academic Toby Miller once said, events like this are to sport what Baywatch is to Surf Lifesaving.

The gloves are off. This is nothing more than "incidental", "a sideshow"; a cat fight dressed up as serious competition, reducing the women involved to parody, trivialising women and women in sport (professionals and amateurs) in the process.

Dr Karen Brooks is an associate professor at the UQ Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies

Topics:  boxing editors picks lingerie opinion

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