Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Now that it's over: the women 1

Now that it's over it will soon seem - it is already beginning to seem  - as though it never happened. The well-known faces will remain with us because they were already well known: Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah,  Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins, Tom Daley, and several others. In some cases it just depends on the face.

One face that will remain with me is that of Nicola Adams, the boxer. It remains with me partly for what it is, a pretty face full of life and wide-eyed courage. It is not that I am a particular fan of boxing, though I recognise that, like all sport, it has a beauty of its own - a rather savage beauty because we know it hurts and is intended to hurt.

I have seen women's professional wrestling and know to what degree it is theatre. The first time I saw it live it was clear that the two wrestlers were partly playing for sexual innuendo, but they were athletic, strong, skilful, lithe, independent and brave. Nevertheless, though women's wrestling has a long history, it was something of a raree show near the end of the bill among all the male contests.

The wrestler Jackie 'Mr TV' Pallo's autobiography, You Grunt and I'll Groan, (I have a copy at home, reader) served as an exposé of something that did not in fact need much exposing. Grunting and groaning are vital to a spectacle where pain may be real but injury is not intended.

It is intended in boxing: not permanent injury, but immediate incapacitating injury.

Boxing has tended to be between men. One injunction every boy learns from infancy is not to hit a girl, hence the outrage at domestic violence. Even seeing a girl get hit by an inanimate object is hard. Girls suffering any injury is hard and is taboo territory, hence the thrill for some people.

But girls do fight and increasingly so.  Not hitting exactly. Not punching. Traditionally, girls' weapons have been psychological, a game of mental knives intended to whittle down and humiliate. Physical cat fights - hair pulling and scratching - are attributed to momentary fury, often to be broken up by a man: no one is getting properly hurt.

Boxing is disciplined. It is steady training, the development of technique and a psychological campaign leading to a purposeful show of deliberate violence offered, when possible, with grace, intelligence and courage. It is not a passing fury. In its very deliberateness boxing between women goes against the accepted grain of masculine / feminine behaviour.

But here was young Nicola, buoyed up and bright-eyed, clearly skilful, throwing punches right, left and centre: something of a joy. Why a joy? I myself find it odd to be saying this, but I felt happy for her. Her boxing seemed a moment of - well - liberation, I suppose.

Other emblems of rising female violence have been with us for some time. The screen image of the woman who can not only look after herself but can kick a big man to a bloody pulp is long familiar. Think back to the Spice Girls pantomime of kicks and blows. It is as if girls had entered the mythic kingdom of power by violence and intended staying

Not just violence. I don't think purely in terms of boy racers now: I am almost as likely to be cut up on the roundabout by a smartly young woman thinking: fuck you, get out of my way.

But Nicola was different. She was not a girl racer but a dancer whose moves were punches and ringcraft. She was a sweet girl. An emblem.

More on girl power next time - particularly the GB women's football team.

1 comment:

Tim Love said...

A note about Italy: When she was at school in Italy, my wife discovered that she was the 3rd fastest girl sprinter in the country for her age. Her father didn't think girls should do sports - end of story. That was before Berlusconi's rise to power. Sportswomen get more attention over there nowadays. When Fiona May (UK long jumper) moved to Italy she featured in TV ads etc., and still does media work. The women on the TV football shows aren't all glammed up (except when they're fronting the show). I think women's volleyball and fencing get worthy coverage over there, Olympic year or not (Italy's clean sweep of women's fencing wasn't much mentioned over here though). Swimmer Federica Pellegrini's dismissive views on abstinence are still attracting attention (she didn't win any medals this time), but seems to like attention, so the media isn't entirely to blame.