The theme of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge.

For me, this means two things: 1) challenge to push on equality, and 2) personal challenge. One of the missions underpinning IWD is to strive for, and celebrate, equality for women in sport. For many women and girls, opportunities to participate in sport and physical activity can be limited by the negative influences of gender stereotypes, sexist attitudes, and lack of visibility.

Exercise releases feel good endorphins.

Take a “masculine” sport like boxing. Traditionally the realm of men, boxing is often viewed as a bloodthirsty and dangerous sport, fuelled by testosterone – a hormone usually found in greater abundance in males. Thus, when women participate and excel in boxing, they are often judged as being unfeminine, unattractive, hard, and unemotional, amongst other things. These are all weaponised as negative labels which have no relevance to sporting ability, but which undermine their position in the sport and their identities as women.

Such labels are not bestowed upon men, whose identities and achievements in sport are not undermined by such gendered stereotypes. Following the introduction of women’s boxing into the Olympic Games in 2012, women can at least now win an Olympic medal whilst they have their bodies and “unfeminine” choices scrutinised.

While that is an extreme example, it is clear that women experience significant barriers to engaging in sport and physical activity, even at recreational levels. These barriers range from threats to physical safety (e.g. running in the dark), harassment (e.g. cat-calls), as well as personal body image issues that prevent engagement, or simply logistical problems, for example around childcare.

Research shows that fathers tend to maintain their physical activity regimes after the birth of a child and spend more time exercising compared to mothers, who also exercise less than non-mothers. Since many recreational physical activities may involve other people or group activities, this lack of opportunity can have negative consequences for social support.

We all know that exercise is good for our physical health; it builds lean muscle, reduces blood pressure, and strengthens bones. Many of us know too that exercise is equally as important for our mental health, releasing endorphins that make us feel happier. Indeed, for many people, the two are also inextricably linked – exercise can positively influence the physical body and body image, which can positively impact on mental wellbeing.

While we may not all want to get into a ring and fight, boxing as an integral part of fitness has many benefits, especially for women. As well as building core strength, increasing aerobic capacity, and improving hand-eye coordination and balance, it can build physical confidence and improved appreciation of body functionality – what the body can really do. The latter is increasingly regarded as key in fighting poor body image which can result from societal pressures of attractiveness. And of course, hitting a bag is often a cathartic and pleasurable experience itself!

As part of the IWD 2021 activities here at Loughborough University, local boxing studio BOx are offering a free online session for staff, doctoral researchers, students and any other females who care to join, to see for themselves how boxing can be beneficial for their health and wellbeing.

BOx are a boutique boxing studio providing a range of different types of classes, all with boxing as a central part. Most of all, they provide an amazing environment where female empowerment is valued, mental and physical toughness is developed, and social support is in abundance.

The 45-minute online boxing class will take place on Wednesday 10 March at 6pm and will improve your power, timing and fitness. You’ll be shadow boxing to the tempo of the beat, and to celebrate International Women’s Day, the session will feature music from strong female artists too.

Book your place here.

The class is FREE. All you need to do is register an account and join us LIVE.

And a big thank you to Gemma for this insightful blog and the encouragement and support we need sometimes to remember how badass we are and how sometimes we just need to leave our comfort zone and give something new a try.

Dr Gemma Witcomb
Senior Lecturer in Psychology
School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences



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