‘They wanted to see if I could take a punch without crying’: female boxers’ battle stories
The idea still makes people uneasy but two new plays Fighter and The Sweet Science of Bruising explore the courage, pain and history of women boxers
‘I always try to say this without sounding like a nutter,” says Cathy Brown, “But I remember when I first knocked someone out, it felt amazing. I can’t lie. I was like: Oh my God, you’re so powerful!” Cathy “The Bitch” Brown is a pioneer of women’s boxing and one-time world No 3, and she’s telling me what it feels like to be very, very good at punching. “It’s the connection,” she says. “Whether it’s a pad or someone’s face – that sounds really bad – it’s like a release of everything evil [in you]. You know the Exorcist movie, “Demon, begone!” It’s like that, releasing all these demonic internal feelings.”
Even in our times of supposed gender equality, there’s still often a flinch of discomfort when we hear about women beating each other up for sport. The boxing world itself was long resistant to women’s participation. Brown got her professional licence in 1998, only the second woman to do so, and female boxers were only admitted into the Olympics in 2012 (when, of course, Britain’s Nicola Adams took the flyweight gold).
The unease, and sometimes outright opposition, that surrounds female boxing is at the heart of two plays soon to be seen in London: Libby Liburd’s funny, forthright Fighter, and Joy Wilkinson’s investigation into the world of Victorian women’s boxing, The Sweet Science of Bruising.