I'm a lover, not a fighter. . .

…that’s what my boxing teacher often says, even though she’s a three-time Golden Glove title winner. I can identify with that phrase. I don’t enjoy watching people hit each other, and have never been attracted to fighting sports. I’m a fairly quiet person who avoids conflict like the plague. (Embarrassing admission: Once when I was in a young women’s presidency some of the girls started shouting at each other and I ran and left the building–although I think I would handle that differently now). So it was rather out of character for me when I took up boxing about a year ago. I showed up to the class at my gym out of curiosity, and was immediately hooked. For several months while I was learning the footwork and the mechanics of the punches, I swore I would never want to hit a real person. Yet I persisted at learning all the techniques– conditioning my body, punching a bag, doing drills. After a while I began to love the feeling of hitting the bag, although it took longer to admit to myself that I actually enjoyed this aggressive action. A couple of months ago I finally stepped into the ring. Not an actual fight, mind you, just sparring practice. At first I felt guilty every time I landed a punch. That was quickly alleviated after I had taken a few punches myself and realized it really doesn’t hurt that much, and by the touching of gloves, a mandatory gesture of good will at the beginning and end of each round. I’ve been thinking about what it is that keeps me going back, and what learning a fighting sport changes about by view of myself. I’ve been socialized to be nice, sweet and gentle. Power and aggression are often seen as intimidating in a woman, or at the very least unladylike. Through learning the art of boxing I’ve been exploring aspects of myself that are wilder, more aggressive, more powerful. I’ve been nurturing that strong woman within me. I feel physically powerful and more confident. I don’t need to disown or repress my fighting spirit.

I’m a lover AND a fighter.

What makes you feel strong? (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise)

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  1. ginger says:

    Unmedicated childbirth! I am holding my newborn on my lap… so I won’t go into too much detail, but she was my 3rd such birth… It made me feel like I can do anything!

  2. Exponent II says:

    I took a self defense class once. A real intense one with some burly men decked out in all sorts of pads. During some of the training, these men would come up and scream in your face, “I’m going to f–k you, bi–h!” etc.

    It was terrifying. But there was something really empowering also about screaming back in his face “no!” and then stabbing his eyes, blowing out his knee caps, and then doing “the axe” onto his head.

    Amy, I think it’s really interesting that you’ve taken up boxing. That’s actually one of the few sports I can’t stand to watch on TV. It just seems so brutal. And I was a big huge sobbing mess after I saw Million Dollar Baby. But I do think it’s neat that you feel so strong, powerful and wild in the ring.

    Caroline (sorry, I’m logged in as Exponent II right now.)

  3. trimama says:

    Medicated Child Birth :), swimming in the ocean, staying up with a newborn, keeping up with a toddler

  4. Deborah says:

    I must say I was surprised when you told me you were in a boxing class. If I ever take that belly-dancing class I’ve dreamed of, I’ll credit you with inspiration.

    Strong: Today I coolly confronted a boy about cheating, and I knew just how to talk to him about it with both sharpness and compassion. That felt good.

    Strong: Walking by myself in NYC (is that weird?)

    Strong: Chopping down my own Christmas tree.

  5. AmyB says:

    ginger and trimama, thanks for the comments about motherhood. I’m sure that must take a tremendous amount of strength.

    Caroline, I don’t really enjoy watching boxing on tv either. Even now that I understand it better, I can only watch for a few minutes. I am beginning to love being in the ring myself, though.

    Deborah, I’d love to take belly dancing with you! Everytime I’ve watched belly dancing, I’ve been struck by how comfortable the women seem to be with thier bodies. I could use a dose of that. And no, it’s not wierd to feel strong when you walk alone in NYC. It takes guts to take on such a big, bustling city by oneself.

  6. Lucy says:

    This may sound strange, but using power tools makes me feel strong. I love climbing up my 50 yr old walnut tree and pruning her limbs with a chainsaw. I think I especially love the responses my husband and I get from the neighbors–“Do you know what your wife was doing today?!”

  7. Anonymous says:

    I find it mildly disturbing that besides childbirth, every other thing you connect to strength is something normally done by a male.

  8. Caroline says:

    What’s disturbing about that? Amy wasn’t giving an exhaustive list of things that make her feel strong. Boxing was just one of them, and it happens to cross stereotypical gender boundaries.

  9. Deborah says:

    Anon: What an interesting place the world would be if self-defense, teaching effectively, walking in cities, using tools, belly-dancing, climbing trees, swimming in the ocean, and chasing toddlers were seen as the purview of only the males among us. Careful reading before sweeping statements is appreciated.

  10. Caroline says:

    Deborah, you probably read anonymous better than I did. I couldn’t figure out whether s/he was talking just to Amy or to the rest of us who have also commented.

    But if it was the rest of us, you’re right. Strange to think of confronting cheaters, taking care of toddlers, swimming in the ocean, etc. as the solitary domain of males.

  11. Anonymous says:

    What I meant was not at all what you have assumed.

    This may be a bit hard to explain.

    This is just a simplified example using some of the things mentioned:

    If I asked a man if using a power tool or chopping down a sapling would make him feel strong, he would most likely just stare at me, then say no. Yet those things are listed as what makes some of us feel strong.

    I didnt mean that those things should be the solitary domain of males, I meant that it was sad to me that the things (besides child brith) that make us feel strong are when we “cross over” into that domain, and do the unexpected.

    My strength comes from being a woman. Not from being a woman that does what is normally and socially expected of men.

  12. Deborah says:

    Anon: Ah — a little more detail can make for a more interesting discussion!

    The question, if I’m reading you right, is: “When a woman draws strength from a traditionally male activity, does the feeling of strength come from the activity itself . . . or from the forbidden nature of the activity — e.g. that it crosses traditional gender mores?” From my opinion, yes and yes depending on the woman and the situation. I had a wonderful roommate who could fix *anything.* Her toolbox was the overt envy of many a tool-loving man who visited the house. She felt strong with a power drill not because it was manly but because it was deeply satisfying for her. She was *good* at this work. I think power often comes from finding our strengths and magnifying them.

    But does some of my love of chopping the tree stem from its perceived manliness? Maybe. I only did it once — a cherished memory. It was my first Christmas apart from my parents, and there was something invigorating in going it alone, in taking charge of my own Christmas cheer. A job traditionally held by my father became my own. But I didn’t feel more like a man — if anything, I felt more like an adult who was actively building a life for herself.

    “If I asked a man if using a power tool or chopping down a sapling would make him feel strong, he would most likely just stare at me, then say no.”

    I’m not so sure. I’ve seen many a man come alive when called upon to use power tools. My husband, alas, is not one of them. Not at all. And yet he has become a new man since getting our grill. Tonight it was pouring rain. The thunder was crackling. I was securing outdoor items against the gale-force winds. And there he was — my man who hates getting wet — grilling with a huge grill on his face. He felt powerful. And my dad reveled in redrilling the hole (always at a slant the first time it seemed) on the Christmas tree. He grumbled, but with clear satisfaction as he found just the right drill bit. Power in feeling needed. Power in doing.

    “My strength comes from being a woman. Not from being a woman that does what is normally and socially expected of men.”

    Can’t one both “be” a woman and love to fixing the broken pipe? Is our womanhood dimished when we find joy or strength in activities that cross societies expectations?

    Thanks for clarifying. These are good questions.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I see the problem not as feeling proud about one’s daring, independence and competence while crossing traditional gender lines, but that we choose to call it strength- a traditionally masculine quality- rather than pleasure or wholesome pride. It seems to me that this indicates a subtle belief that daring, independence, and competence are masculine.
    I hope that made sense.

  14. Deborah says:

    Starfoxy: I follow you to an extent — I suppose many men wouldn’t think to use the word “power” to reflect a deep enjoyment for a traditionally female activities. To what extent does “strong” still have masculine connotations? I guess it’s the difference between the thing itself (a feeling) and the symbol for it (a word). My fix-it physicist female friend and my stay-at-home-dad pal may have similar rushes of empowered pleasure while engaged in their work, but may use different words to describe it . . .?

    Still, I think “strong” is an increasingly gender-neutral word . . .

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