Representation of the female masculinity in the boxing movie

3455 words (14 pages) Essay in Film Studies

5/12/16 Film Studies Reference this

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Representation of the female masculinity in the boxing movie “Girlfight”

Lately there are more and more action movies in which the leading character is female one. Men are more likely to be seen as leading characters in the action films, but there is a tendency toward seeing more female characters as the protagonists of this type of movies. Also the female boxing movies are discussed within the context of the action genre and the main characters of those movies are seen as female action stars. There are two different types of action heroines. One of them is the so called “action babe”. Those characters are physically active but also highly sexualized females. We come across this type of heroines in the movie “Charlie’s Angel”, where the action heroines are fighting while wearing high heels and formal clothes. They are achieving their goals not only by using their fighting skills but also by using their sexually attractive appearance. The other type of action stars are those female characters who are acquiring the necessary physical strength and skill in order to gain independence from abusive male characters (“Enough” starring Jennifer Lopes as Slim Hiller – an abused young woman). Gender influences people’s participation in different sports. For example sports such as football and boxing are considered to be male whereas gymnastics and figure skating are female dominated sports. In 2000 “The Independent Film Channel Production” released the boxing film “Girlfight” (starring Michelle Rodriguez). Boxing films are generally assumed to be about a male boxer but this movie is about a girl who is trying to pave her way in the boxing career. Rodriguez’s first role as Diana Guzman in “Girlfight” and the subsequent staring roles as Lenny in “The Fast and The Furious”, Rain Ocampo in “Resident Evil”, Chris Sanchez in “S.W.A.T.”, and Ana Lucia Cortez in “Lost” help us associate her with notions such as female masculinity and tomboyish appearance. Rodriguez’s heroines are portrayed as a “natural fighter who demonstrates no traditionally feminine qualities” (Beltrán, M.).

The movie “Girlfight” represent how one person coped with the gender stereotypes and overcame the gender barriers in order to become a boxfighter. The movie starts with a shot of unfocused crowd walking around a school corridor. Through the gaps between the crossing people only a person’s torso leaning against a locker can be seen. The person is wearing baggy trousers and army jacket; hands are trusted into the pockets in confident and masculine pose. The viewer is unable to recognize whom this body belongs to, whether it is boy’s or girl’s one. No gender differences are brought into relief until when the camera shows the upper body and the face of a girl staring the floor. Her hair is braided into cornrows along her scalp. Her mouth is firmly closed, showing us anger and disinterest. This impression is strengthened by her gaze. Then the camera shows us Diana entering the female bathroom and the sign “GIRLS” on the door is clearly visible in the centre of the frame. Despite the Diana’s outfit and her tomboyish manners the “girl” sign puts her on the female side of the gender binary male/female opposition. The scene in the bathroom shows us two girls (Veronica and Merisol) fighting over a boy. Both of the girls are wearing heavy make-up and girls clothes. The purpose of the bathroom scene is to show us the contrast between Diana’s female masculinity and the excessive femininity, exotic and impulsive heterosexuality that exhales form the other “chica”. Diana’s lack of concern about her appearance and the aggressive behavior drifts her away from the standard “lady-like” persona. She is not interested in being like the other girls at school who are in the period learning how to flirt and use their feminine features to become popular and desirable. The wrangle between Diana and Veronica in the bathroom turned into a fight started by Diana. She solves her problems by using her fists into whatever and whoever stands against her. If we pay attention to Diana’s fighting manners we can notice that she is fighting like a boy. Most of the girls are fighting by using pinching; biting and tearing hair while Diana is hitting the other girl with her fists tighten.

The next scene is taking place in a boxing gym. Shots of different boxers working out and sparring in the gym alternate with close-ups of Diana’s face, which shows us that Diana is entering a male-dominated space. Diana is in the gym because she had to pay for her brother’s boxing lessons. She found Tiny (her brother) on the ring fighting with Ray (another training boxer). Ray punched Tiny in the face after the round was over which wasn’t right, so Diana punched him back to defend her brother. It is believed that brothers/boys are those who have to defend their sisters/girls, also Tiny is the one that is practicing boxing. He had to be the one that is protecting Diana not the other way round. Taking a stand against the boxer shows us that Diana is not afraid to fight not only dolled up girls but also physically trained boys.

Then the camera takes us in front of the gym where we can hear the conversation between Ray and Adrian (another boxer). “…. You get slapped by a girl – that’s weak Ray” are the words that Adrian tells him. If a boy had punched him it wouldn’t be a topic for conversation but when the matter in hand is a girl punching him it’s considered as a weakness. Here we have the gender stereotype that boys are physically stronger that girls and girls are not supposed to fight against them. Girls are supposed to be cute, sweet and to act like ladies. In that scene we have another girl who is walking by the boys. She is wearing tight clothes and make-up and the two boys give her the eye and she smiled at them in return. She is flirting with them whereas Diana is fighting physically at least with one of them. Here again the director shows us the visual contrast between Diana and the ordinary girls. Ray’s cue to Diana – “… Guess you never learned how to be a lady…” and the other female character helps us to distant Diana from the female stereotype and to stress on her female masculinity.

Then we have the scene in Guzman’s kitchen when Tiny shared with his family that he received the scholarship application for an Art school. Both his father and Diana think that it is a waste of time to learn to draw. The future artist career that the father foresees for his son is not going further than him painting houses. In his mind it is better for the boy to stick with the boxing which will be more helpful in his future life. Boys are supposed to be able to fight not to paint. Later on in the movie Diana tells his father that Tiny doesn’t want to box, but he insists on the fact that all the boys wants to box. According to his father, Tiny needs to learn boxing so he can defend himself. Tiny breaks the stereotypes, because he prefers the more female activities instead of the male one such as boxing. According to his father going to drawing classes is girls’ job.

There is very interesting conversation when Diana went to sign for boxing practices:

Diana: I wanna be a boxer ……. No, for real I wanna fight.

Hector: Oh, you can train but you can’t fight.

Diana: Why not?

Hector: You just can’t. Girls don’t have the same power as boys.

Girls are stereotyped into quieter, subordinate femininity. Girls are judged against masculinity, whereas boys’ achievements are judges with regard to their masculinity. It is believed that boys have more natural abilities – most of the boys are more aggressive and it’s shown in their physical abilities whereas girls are more shy and timid. It is believed that it’s natural for boys to be fighting around and to like it. In the beginning of the movie we saw Diana fighting with Veronica, later on we saw her standing without fear in front of Ray. Later on in the movie Diana proves that girls can be as strong as boys, because the physical abilities of boys and girls can be matched with determination and hard work.

Hector’s only condition to start training Diana is to be paid for her practices. He did not believe that she will find the money, and he was sure that she will not show up again. After all, he decides to train her even though he believes it is not right girls to be boxing. He agrees because he thought that she will not able to endure the tough exercises and the whole training process and quit. The first training sequence in the gym starts with Diana’s distorted face image in a mirror. Then we see her baggy and worn-out clothes which show us her physique and her body shape. Her split image in the mirror and her outlook underlines her androgyny and Diana’s struggle for a unified gender identity.

During one of the following training sequences Hector and Diana had argument about the persistence in training. Hector tells her that fighting skills come natural neither to boys nor to girls and they have to practice in order to improve them. For first time boys and girls are taken not separately but within one and the same concept – both boys and girls have to practice if they want to become physically durable.

Her first boxing match is with a boy called Ray. His coach advices him “try to be a gentleman”. This shows that nobody takes the fact that she could be a good fighter no matter that she is a girl seriously. During her first fight Diana proves that she is physically stronger and more powerful than Ray regardless of the fact that the outcome of the fight is not shown.

There is an interesting conversation between Diana and Merisol in the school corridor. Diana is trying to tell Merisol what she is busy with. Merisol insists that there is a boy that occupies Diana’s free time. Merisol is surprised when Diana tells her that it is not a boy that occupies her free time but a male sport such as boxing. Later on Diana tells her that there is also a boy entangled in the boxing story and Merisol replies “I knew it”. Merisol thinks that the name Adrian is “a girly name”, but Diana assures her that he is “100% man, if you know what I mean”. For a first time in the movie Diana shows that she is actually interested in boys and not only interested in acting like a boy. We understand that she likes Adrian and his company. This is strengthened by the scene when they go for a dinner together. Their orders in the restaurant are very interesting and grab attention. She is ordering herself deluxe bacon cheese burger with extra bacon whereas he is ordering soup, garden salad and Italian dressing. Their eating habits are very different. He is on a weight diet while she is not worried about gaining or loosing weight. Women are more likely to keep to a diet than men but in this movie the situation is reversed. Keeping a diet doesn’t make Adrian to look more feminine. It is breaking the stereotype that women are those who worry about their weight. On the question why she chose to box, she answered that she didn’t make the cheerleading team, which is in fact a lie. The contrast between boxing and cheerleading contains the idea that she is not accepted in such a girl society as the cheerleading team so then she tries to find her place in the boys society – boxing.

When Adrian walks Diana home they kiss. He tells her that she tastes sweet to which she answers “I’ve always thought of myself as salty”. Here we have the binary opposition of sweet and salty. If the girls are the one that are sweet then the boys should be the salty one. Adrian perceives her as a girl (sweet) whereas she thought of herself as more boyish (salty).

In the next scene her physical powers is in comparison to her girl classmates’ one. There is a long-shot of her and her girl classmates standing in front of a fence. All of the girls are looking bored with their arms crossed on the chest whereas her body is intense, tight and ready to compete. The weakness of the other girls during the President Physical Fitness Exam makes the contrast between them and Diana more vivid and shows her physical superiority.

After one of her training matches Adrian walk her home again and her father sees them talk. When she enters her home her father sees her black eye and the first thing that comes to his mind is that Adrian is beating her. When a girl is having a black eye it is more likely to be beaten up that to be participating in a fight in which she can defend herself. So her father presumption is that she has been maltreated not that she is participating in an equal fight. After an argument with her father she goes to Adrian’s place to spend the night. His room is painted in blue whereas hers’ is in girly pink. Parents are those who decorate children’s rooms, so they make the distinction between boys and girls by identifying them with different colors – boys are those who are identified with blue and girls are the one identified with pink.

The next meeting between Adrian and Diana is on Hector’s birthday when Adrian shows up with a girlfriend. This action on his part shows us that he is confused by the fact that he is strongly attracted to a woman who exhibits distinctly masculine attributes. His unwillingness to express his feeling about Diana publicly recalls the idea that the anxiety around a male’s attraction to a masculine female is rooted in the association between masculinity and maleness, which evokes notion such as homosexual desire.

The first training match between Diana and Adrian is saturated with tension not only because they are romantically involved but also because of the fact that the competition for physical dominance threatens the core of heterosexuality. The fight is lacking of action because Adrian refuses to hit Diana, which frustrated her and make her angry. The sequence ends with a shot of both boxers holding each other – outside the boxing ring this can be treated as an embrace. This is the moment in which Diana whispered in Adrian’s ear “I love you, I really do”. As the bell rings indicating the end of the sparring match, Diana punches Adrian’s head. That final punch shows us Diana’s confidence and her willingness to fight against whoever her opponent is.

Up until now in the movie we had seen Diana training only in the public space of the boxing gym surrounded by boys. There is a scene in which Diana’s training is situated in the female sphere and intimate space of her bedroom. While boxing in front of the mirror in her bedroom we hear Hector’s voice-over reading a letter saying that male and female amateurs within the same weight class are allowed to compete with each other in the ring, so from now on they are equal. In real life the so called gender-blind boxing fights are not allowed. Her first public match was supposed to be with a well known female boxer but the fight is called off. Diana’s first public sparing match is against Rays – one of the male boxers in the gym. When the audience understands that the match will be between man and woman there is a palpable tension surrounding this “battle of the sexes”. This tension is caused by the perceived treat to the dominate gender order which is based on the idea that men are stronger and physically superior than women. During the whole match between Ray and Diana his unwillingness to fight “a girl” and the fear that he can be defeated by a “girl” is underlined.

Through this boxing sequence Diana is pronouncing her persistence in pursuing her boxing carrier despite the fact that most of people around her think that it is “inappropriate” for her gender. Diana’s father shows up at the boxing match and this is the moment in which he understands that she has been boxing in her free time. This results in a huge fight with her father because he is absolutely opposed to hers pursuit of boxing, while early in the movie it was clearly shown that he pressures his overly effeminate son into taking boxing lessons. The other reason for the father-daughter argument is that Diana blames her mother’s suicide on his alcoholism and abusive behavior. The image of her father lying on the kitchen floor is his last appearance in the movie. This image can be seen as a violent reaction against the patriarchal nature of traditional gender stereotype that men are those who rule over women.

First girl fight that Diana participates in is with famous and well trained female fighter Stiles. During the match there is a scene in which Adrian admires her moves and punches. The final fight is the most dramatic and intense overlap between her boxing and private worlds. Diana fights for the New York Amateur Championship (title). This is her reward for the hard work and difficulties that she undergoes. The fact that Adrian will be her opponent puts additional meaning in the context of their romantic relationship. This physical confrontation between a man and woman who are engaged in a romantic relationship draws our attention to the normative notion of gender. The conversation between them before the fight shows us that Adriane feels protective of her not because she is a female boxer, but because he is in love with her. They both have feelings for each other, but Adrian takes this boxing match too personal whereas Diana is thinking of it as another boxing experience. Right before the fight starts a woman says to her husband that the match card says “Diana Guzman”. The husband tell her that it is probably a misprinting. He couldn’t even imagine that a girl could be fighting for the Championship (title).

Adriane fights with her like she is any other boxer so does she. Both of them give everything they have and the better one win the match. The image of the boxers circling and holding onto each other in intimate embrace implies connection between boxing and dancing. This scene looks more like a love scene than a fight sequence.

The gender-blind boxing match between Adrian and Diana strengthens their relationship but also clears up their boxing attitudes. In that final sequence the depiction of the boxers is removed from the articulation of a specific identity – from the representation of the materiality of the sexed and gendered body.

During the whole movie Diana is trying to change the gender norms and understanding of masculinity and femininity and after all she successfully does so. Her violent actions, her physical appearance speak for themselves – those are the things that get her into gender trouble. But she stands clearly against the idea that human being are divided into two clear-cut groups – women and men. By the end of the movie she had already found, formed and chosen her own individual identity.

What caught my attention in “Girlfight” review called “No Winners Here: The Flawed Feminism of Girlfight” by Anju Reejhsinghani is that the reviewer thinks that Kusama, the director, used the intergender tournament to dramatize the love story between Adrian and Diana. I think that one of the usages of those gender-blind fights is indeed to dramatize the love story but it also carries the idea that everybody should defend their individual identity. By those crossed-gender fights the director shows that equality between male and female is possible.

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