Cultural critic Cohen enters the world of boxing to probe the nature of female aggressiveness.
For nearly a year the author (The Stuff of Dreams, 2001, etc.) followed the lives of four street-tough boxers—sisters Jacinta, Josefina, and Candida, aged 15, 12, and 10, respectively, and Jacinta’s best friend Nikki, also 15—and their coach Raphi at the Somerville Boxing Club in a suburb of Boston. Cohen found herself both repulsed and entranced by their world, but the jealousy she felt as she watched the girls train soon spurred her to ask Raphi to teach her to box too. Her text blends her own and the girls’ experiences in the gym and in the boxing ring, the literature on female aggression, and her challenges to the accepted theories of academicians on the subject. What happened in the ring, she says, was “tightly and plainly bound to griefs unhealed, riddles unsolved, hurts inflicted beyond those walls,” but whether boxing aggravated those hurts or enabled the boxer to transcend them or simply to reenact them in a safe setting “remained a mystery.” Cohen’s account of the girl boxers peters out when they stop coming to the gym, and her story of their trainer also ends when Raphi becomes pregnant and stops coaching. The author went to a new coach, however, and continued her own training, discovering strength and power that she hadn’t known she had in her rather frail body. Challenging the notion that aggressiveness and femininity are incompatible, Cohen finds parallels between sparring and coupling (both acts characterized by urgent paired movements and bodily contact) and concludes that without aggression we cannot meet, grow, or love.
Women’s-studies courses may welcome the author’s views on aggression, but her blow-by-blow accounts of numerous ring encounters make for a tedious read.