This is our truth, tell us yours
Jem sent me the link to this article by Sarah Ditum because she thought I’d find the reference to boxing as a ‘notably not-that-woman-friendly business’ funny. She was right, and she didn’t even know about my huge admiration for the brilliant and brave Nicola Adams.
Yes, that Nicola Adams, the one who’s the best in the world, a boxer, brilliant, brave and out as a bisexual woman.
Whatever your doubts about boxing, and as an ex-boxer I have a few, you can’t say it’s been unfriendly to Nicola Adams as a boxer. She is deservedly feted as one of the finest boxers to emerge from these islands in the last twenty years, in a sport where performance is everything, and nothing matters other than your willingness to step into the proving ground. Adams is a funded amateur who makes a better living, as a funded amateur, than many male journeymen pros. So why is Ditum so willing to describe boxing as female unfriendly?
Boxing is dominated by men. So are most sports. Boxing exploits how women look, but so do other sports. So why single boxing out?
I thought about it, and read through the whole Ditum article again. Ditum approvingly cited this article as evidence of the ‘miasma of unpleasantness’ that surrounds discussion of trans issues.
What leapt out at me from that article was not the name-calling and unpleasantness that goes with some debates about what it is to be trans, but the blind, irrational faith in science as a body of fact. Generally, here at the cigar box, if we need someone to wax lyrical about philosophy of science, I send for Jem, but in this case let me have a go.
Giagia, cited approvingly by Ditum, relies on a science textbook definition of what sex is to make her case for a difference between sex and gender, and to tell trans women and men to accept her definitions as having the authority of science. Now, you don’t have to be a dyed in the wool post-modernist to note that the textbook in question is the sixth edition, the previous five having been superceded as science progresses. History is littered with science textbooks that, for big or small reasons, have been left behind as the state of our knowledge advances.
When Giagia says, in a peroration leaden with appropriated authority that looms and lumbers over all who would challenge it,
There is a reality – in this case Biology (Sex) – that exists outside of our experience of the world- Culture (Gender). One is a real, measurable, testable thing. The other is… culture. Like with Science and Religion, there is no conflict between them as long as the proponents of the cultural creation don’t insist that it explains reality.
she’s doing what Ditum does – she’s saying that what she sees, whether it’s the ring girls with the round cards at Las Vegas, or the latest edition of a science text that will be out of date in five or fifty years time, is all she needs to see to dismiss anyone else’s account of the world as irrelevant.
Someone will be along in a little while, I’m sure, to tell me via the comments that Nicola Adams is an outlier, that Ditum and GiaGia are basically right. Let me tell you why it matters to me that we don’t just let it close at that point.
Giagia uses the case of women who have AIS as evidence for her claim that there is something that can be called ‘genetic maleness.’ It’s a search for certainty and authority that insists that every inconvenient fact can be crammed into a normative box – so AIS women become a syndrome, their ‘natural’ state medicalized into a biological footnote, their existence as evidence for the diversity of outcomes possible from our arrangements of chromosomes rejected in favour of binary male and femaleness.
Imagine a child born with a more than averagely life limiting arrangement of their genes. Do you persuade them to tolerate their medication and physiotherapy by telling them they are ill and always will be? Or do you tell them that these pills, this exercise, that hospital visit, is the path to being the best they can be, their way to experience the journey we all take?
It’s a much more utilitarian, much less certain way to deal with the challenges life and genetics throw at us, but it’s also a way of listening rather than preaching, of saying to others ‘this is my story, tell me yours.’
The problems of boxing, its complicity in misogyny, its exclusive structures and its exploitative owners are the problems of a professional sport in a sexist society, not the problems solely of boxing. To see it as notably unfriendly towards women is to see only surface, not substance, and to dismiss the women who do prosper in boxing, as managers, judges, referees and now as fighters, is to assert that in a complex, chaotic world only simple, binary solutions will be allowed.
Thanks, but no thanks.