Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Kawerau hits below the belt

Jess Koia gives the Kawerau Boxing Club punchbag a hammering. Photo / Alan Gibson
Jess Koia gives the Kawerau Boxing Club punchbag a hammering. Photo / Alan Gibson

It's been a funny old week for feminism. In Richmond, Virginia, a 17-year-old girl was sent home from her school ball — or "prom" as the Americans insist on calling them — because her appearance and outfit, which everyone agrees met the event's dress code, was bothering some of the middle-aged male chaperones in attendance and likely to cause "impure thoughts".

Well, isn't that wenches for you, always flaunting themselves and carrying on and sending good men bad? And you have to sympathise with the middle-aged men, their hormones raging out of control and unable to guarantee their own good behaviour when faced with the provocation of an attractive young woman in a frock.

Schools in New Zealand aren't entirely free of the view that girls should have to alter their behaviour because males are frail beings who cannot master their baser urges. For some reason — maybe because it's just easier — it's never the males who are sent home or forced to change their behaviour. On the plus side of the great feminist balance sheet, however, we have the trend-setting town of Kawerau, which is embracing "equality" by getting women to hit each other while people watch.

To complete the healthy role reversal, at last Thursday's event, between rounds, entertainment was to be provided by "ring boys" — possibly not the best name for them.

Kawerau is a community that's on the ropes and in need of a boost. What is questionable is whether that can be addressed by holding a "Mana Wahine" fight night with women from all over the Bay of Plenty gloving up and having a go at each other.

"It's a healthy lifestyle message targeting our young girls and it's showcasing the girls as role models," says promoter and trainer Warwick Godfery, whose good intentions are undeniable. And it took place with the blessing of Te Wananga o Aotearoa, Tuwharetoa Ki Kawerau Health, Education and Social Services and Mana Support Service, which should all be ashamed of themselves.

How low do you have to feel that beating someone up or watching two other people beat each other up will make you feel better?

The implicit message is that getting women to do something that men are more traditionally associated with is somehow a feminist move. It's predicated on the assumption that two wrongs make a right. Men do all sorts of dumb things that women tend not to. Trying to solve problems with violence is one of the more conspicuous ones. Making the same mistake is not equality. Boxing is one of those things — like cigarette-smoking, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and competitive cooking shows — that people a generation hence will look back at in wonder. They will wonder how anyone ever thought such things were acceptable in civilised society. A ban on boxing has been called for by the American, British and New Zealand Medical Associations. Proponents like to justify it by pointing to boxing's noble tradition. It's roots can be traced back millennia. Trial by combat plays a large part in some of the world's most important historic events. But so does drawing and quartering, and I don't see much enthusiasm for reviving that - even in the Bay of Plenty.

All boxing is really about is giving up the use of reason and our higher faculties and using violence to prove we're better than the other bloke — or sheila.

- Herald on Sunday

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