A new saying could start circulating among Middle Eastern boxing rings: Float like a
butterfly burqa, sting like a bee.
OK, Muslim women aren’t exactly boxing in burqas, but they are knocking each other out in the ring while wearing hijabs. The Age reports that women’s boxing has emerged in certain Middle Eastern countries — like Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia. Keep in mind, though, that women’s boxing in the Middle East hasn’t arisen because of changing attitudes toward women but because of changing sporting standards — a country cannot enter male boxers into Olympic competitions unless it has a women’s team in the same sport.
It’s plain to see that cultural attitudes haven’t shifted along with Olympic standards. The four female Jordanian boxers profiled by the Age are not of the Muslim mainstream; three are Muslims of African descent, and one is a Christian. They’re also members of the police force to begin with, so it’s not as though boxing has become the workout of choice for Middle Eastern housewives. These scrappy sisters also face ringside disapproval: The Age quotes Ayman Awat, a male Jordanian boxer, who says, “I don’t agree with this at all. It’s a physical thing. They shouldn’t fight, they should stay at home. A woman should be a lady.”
The cultural significance of this emerging sport shouldn’t be overstated, but it does seem worth celebrating when hearing these women talk about their supportive fiancés and fathers — one woman impressed her pop by punching him in the shoulder to demonstrate her strength.