Written by Jen Offord


A history of violence

Women weren’t allowed to box in the Olympic Games until 2012, which is, quite frankly, bullshit. Our sports correspondent Jen Offord gives us a run down on why a legacy of kick-ass women is so important.

Edith Garrud, expert 'suffrajitsu', demonstrates some moves on a helpful policeman.

Edith Garrud, expert ‘suffrajitsu’, demonstrates some moves on a helpful policeman.

Anyone who’s been paying attention will recall a piece I wrote, a few weeks back, in which I was pissing and moaning about the lack of equality between men and women in Olympic sports. I stand by both my piss and moans, but I do at least find it heartening that there are plenty of other opportunities outside Greco-Roman Wrestling for women to beat each other up in the world of sport: as is now well-documented in my previous Standard Issue scribblings about trying different sports, I’m a big fan of contact sports and hard women, generally.

I think a woman in command of a punchbag is cool, because I watched Buffy a lot when I was a teenager and it seems to have had a profound effect on me, given the extent to which I reference it. But this was in the 90s, a golden age of Girl Power, the Ladette and to a much lesser extent, that song by Meredith Brooks from the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack. I have worried, recently, about the dearth of positive representations of kick-ass women in popular media, and how a generation of younger women will be moulded by influences that seek to pacify them.

“The British Boxing Board of Control had initially refused Jane Couch a licence on the grounds that PMS might make her too unstable to box.”

Fortunately, there seems to have been something of a resurgence of hard women just lately, with the USA’s MMA star Ronda Rousey spearheading the popular campaign, and us Brits are also, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite good at these sports. Just last month, London 2012’s girl wonder, Jade Jones, won gold in the second leg of the World Taekwondo Grand Prix Series. No, I’m not entirely sure what that is, either, but I do know that taekwondo is ace and you get to kick things, which I like very much.

In the red corner, we have Nicola Adams, the first ever female flyweight boxing Olympic gold-medallist, because, lest we forget, women were not allowed to box in the Olympic Games until 2012. In fact, women weren’t even allowed to box professionally in the UK until as late as 1998, when Jane Couch had the British Boxing Board of Control’s refusal to grant her a professional licence overturned by the Equal Opportunities Commission. It was a victory that the British Medical Association lambasted as “demented” – the British Boxing Board of Control had initially refused the licence on the grounds that PMS might make her too unstable to box.

Nicola Adams (left) fights Ren Cancan in 2012.

Nicola Adams (left) fights Ren Cancan in 2012.

Since 2012, Adams’ career has continued to flourish; she won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games last year, and more recently gold in the European Games in June this year.

Who could forget London 2012’s judo star Gemma Gibbons and her tearful tribute to her mum as she reached the finals of the 78kg final, the event in which she ultimately took silver. She went on to win silver in the same category at the Commonwealth Games, beaten to the gold by GB teammate Natalie Powell, competing for Wales. Though neither of them, nor Scot Sally Conway competing in the 70kg category, fared particularly well in the World Championships in August.

garrud8Gibbons’ medal at the 2012 Olympics might have been the first in 12 years for Great Britain, but the history of female judokas in the UK goes back much further. In fact, one of the first female martial arts instructors in the Western world was none other than the lesser known suffragette, Edith Garrud.

Standing at a diminutive 4’11” in height, Garrud, who is said to have routinely worn three inches of cardboard about her ribs and carried a rolling pin under her dress to protect herself from the Feds, actually trained the suffragettes in jiu jitsu, the forefather of judo, in response to increasingly violent treatment by the police.

Graduates of Garrud’s school of hard knocks became Emmeline Pankhurst’s personal bodyguards – the ‘jiujitsuffragettes’, ‘Amazons’ or the ‘suffrajitsu’ – at rallies and to protect suffragettes from re-arrest after release from prison following a hunger-strike.

After the Suffrage movement took a backseat following the onset of war in 1914, the suffrajitsu were disbanded, as armed men relented their attempts to kick seven shades of shit out of Pankhurst and her crew. However, Edith and her husband William, a boxing and wrestling instructor, continued to train others in the art of jiu jitsu until closing their school in 1925.

It worries me that a woman in her early 20s who I spoke to, last week, did not know who Emmeline Pankhurst was, and that she probably isn’t familiar with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s finest work, but I feel somewhat reassured that she will know who Nicola Adams is.


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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen