Women’s Boxing: An Investigation into Perceptions of the Female Fighter

  • Christine Aiken

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Active participation in sport can improve multiple aspects of the lives of girls and women, including mental, physical, and social health (Brown & Blanton, 2002; Lagerros, Hsieh, & Hsieh, 2004). Although sport participation has proven to be beneficial for women, there is a gap between the amount of athletic opportunities available to male and female athletes (Sabo & Veliz, 2012). One reason for this is the fact that Western society has historically prohibited and discouraged women from occupying spaces designated as masculine, and this includes the world of sport (Malcolm, 2003).While women have entered this previously male-exclusive space, sport is an institution that naturalises gender more so than any other (Anderson, 2008a). One effect of sport’s naturalisation of gender is the idea that certain sports are designated specifically for men, or specifically for women (Koivula, 2001). The media’s coverage of sport also contributes to this notion through their at times gender biased reporting (Cooky, Messner, & Musto, 2015; McKay, 1991). Sports featuring contact, aggression, strength, and stamina are often recognised as masculine (Hardin & Greer, 2009). When women participate in these sports, it often exposes sexism and gender discrimination (Lindner, 2012). This is true for women in boxing, which is the focus of this thesis.Women’s boxing has grown significantly in recent years (Jennings, 2014), but research has shown that female boxers are subjected to trivialising and marginalising stereotypes and experience gender discrimination within the sport (Halbert, 1997). Research in the area of sport participation has found that negative feelings and experiences can damage the psychological connection a participant has with his or heriiichosen sport (Beaton, 2010). The purpose of this study was to identify common perceptions of female boxers and how these perceptions are promulgated, and then understand how these perceptions affect the connection female boxers have with the sport.This study relied on a socio-feminist perceptive of masculinity, which maintains that masculinity is produced through an intersection of institutional power, organisational culture, and individual agency (Anderson, 2005). Data were collected through an 18 month period of participant observation in a boxing gym in Queensland and 30 semi-structured, in-depth interviews. This was supplemented by data collected from media sources covering boxing events at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Data analysis used a priori codes to identify themes. The Psychological Continuum Model (PCM) (Funk & James, 2001) was used as a tool to better understand the relationship between female boxers and the sport.The major findings of this study identified four common perceptions of female boxers: 1) female boxers as invisible; 2) female boxers as illegitimate athletes; 3) female boxers as unfeminine; and, 4) female boxers as sexualised characters. These perceptions were found to have both positive and negative effects on the psychological connections between female boxers and the sport. For some participants, the perceptions motivated them to demonstrate commitment to the sport while others were swayed towards ambivalence and possible disengagement. Lastly, this study found that hegemony at the institutional, organisational, and individual levels contribute to the promulgation of perceptions of female boxers and maintains their marginalisation and trivialisation within the sport. Implications for the sport’s future development of a culture more receptive to inclusivity and growth are identified.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDanny O'Brien (Supervisor), Christian Moro (Supervisor) & Lisa Gowthorp (Supervisor)

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