U.S. women boxers vie to be among first to compete in Olympics
Female boxers have been toughing it out in the ring since the 1700s, but this year will mark the first time in history women will be allowed to fight at the Olympic level. This month, 24 women from across the country will vie for a slot in the first female US boxing team. Only three will advance to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Sue Jaye Johnson, a documentary photojournalist, has been following 24 Olympic hopefuls as they gear up for February’s U.S. qualifying events.
A few of these women will be among the first to compete in Olympic boxing — a sport just opened to women this year. Johnson finds it shocking how long the professional boxing world has ignored female fighters.
“Boxing is the last men’s-only sport in the Olympics games … It has been a long time coming,” Johnson said.
Bertha Arasil, one of the women vying for a spot on the Olympic team, agreed.
“This is history right here. We really have to show out as women, we have to prove to everyone that we can do it,” she said. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
For this year’s athletes and their supporters, the event is about more than just the individual. The athletes in the ring will be fighting against intense stigmas concerning female strength and women’s roles.
It has taken decades of activism and lawsuits for women to break into the boxing world. According to the WNYC multimedia series Women Box: Fighting to Make History, up until 1992, venues were legally allowed to deny entrance to contestants based on their gender, and it was not until 1993 that USA Boxing lifted its ban on female boxers. Negative perceptions about female fighters still abound.
“I’ve asked the women and a lot of the responses they get from some men are, ‘why do you want to break that pretty face of yours?’ ” Johnson said.
Arasil said her family supports her in her endeavors, but she still faces doubt from many people she meets who think the lightweight fighter would be better suited for a career in modeling. Arasil is not deterred by such responses. She is inspired by the strength of the women who compete at her gym and she even finds the sport to be therapeutic.
“It’s relaxing. Some people think you have to get angry to throw punches, but it’s not like that,” she said.
In an interview with Women Box, Christy Halbert, a former pro boxer and one of the strongest advocates for female boxing today, views boxing as a powerful tool for women to assert their strength.
“Sometimes I think the women that come into boxing gyms are looking for a way to express their power and boxing may be the only way they can do that,” Halbert said. “That's not just a woman thing. Boys and men go through that as well. It's easy to feel disenfranchised in our culture. Boxing, very quickly, can make a person feel powerful again.”
A slideshow of images from Women Box: Fighting to Make History can be found on WNYC's website.
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