Right Hook Philosophy: Charlotte Josephine on Bitch Boxer

Written for Spoonfed. Originally published on 22nd February 2013.

“All these sayings that the trainers are shouting at you, it’s like listening to poetry. No, honestly!” Actor and writer Charlotte Josephine talks to Naima Khan about what it takes to juggle two burgeoning careers.

In the bar at Soho Theatre, actor, writer and boxer-in-training, Charlotte Josephine, is telling me about the fights she’s had to decline. Since learning to box for her role as Chloe in the one woman show Bitch Boxer, her performance research seems to have spawned a whole other career. “I’ve had to turn down four fights recently,” she says, “I was going to go to Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden and London but they all clash with theatre work. It’s weird because I’ve wanted to be an actor forever and boxing was just a way of starting my career off. Now I’m trying to juggle both.”

Ideas about juggling and the pressures that come with multi-tasking run through our conversation. As does the question about why it’s taken so long for a great show about a female boxer to come along, and later, what you can learn about yourself when you take on a sport like boxing. What emerges is the way celebrating anecdotes of female success can mask the slow changing ideas and attitudes on the ground despite legislature changes at the top.

After positive reviews in Edinburgh in July last year, I ask Charlotte what’s changed for her since then and appropriately, she notes the impact of the Olympics. “Before Edinburgh” she says, “the idea that I was training seemed like a massive deal to people, they were surprised I was getting hit in the face and stuff like that. Now I get less stupid comments about that. People’s perceptions of female boxing seems to have changed since Nicola [Adams] won the gold medal. I had interviews before Edinburgh and I’ve had interviews since then and now people mention her name. They know what she’s done and they consider it a great thing. It’s been interesting to see how people react to me in light of all that.”

“It is weird though,” she continues, “The gender thing was a bigger deal to some people than I had realised, like Julius Caesar at the Donmar” – Charlotte’s last performance as part of an all-female cast and crew for Phyllida Lloyd’s Julius Caesar at Donmar Warehouse was on 9th February. As expected, the show received mixed reviews from newspaper critics – “I just hadn’t realised how big of a deal the gender thing was to some people. When I read in 2012 that women are boxing in the Olympics for the first time I thought, ‘oh, they don’t do that already?’ I hadn’t considered that they might not.”

Her presumption of the sports inclusion at Olympic level should be expected in 2013. It seems surprising that with celebrated names like Laila Ali, Lucia Rijker, Christy Martin and Ann Wolfe, (who have all had mainstream press attention for decades now), wider discussion of women in the sport is still catching up. One of the possible reasons behind this gap reveals itself when Charlotte tells me what her training has taught her about herself.

“Firstly, I’ve learnt a lot about my physical strength.” she says. “Girls at primary school on the playground don’t really fight and they definitely aren’t allowed to fight in the same way that boys are. I think lads learn from a young age how strong they are and I don’t think many girls get to be women and know their own physical strength.” She highlights that despite the anecdotes of female sporting success, something else is needed for that understanding, appreciation and respect for physical strength to filter down to classroom level for both genders.

“I’ve also learnt a lot about discipline” she continues, “which has had an effect on loads of different areas of my life. To be a boxer you need to run every morning, you need to be eating correctly, you need to be skipping, you need to be going to bed early. The physical training I’ve been doing feels so intense and to get through that mentally, to constantly be thinking ‘I can do this. I can do this. I can do this’ ties into so many areas of life.”

She enjoys the overlap between the physical training that boxing requires and the philosophical nature of it all. It’s no Tai Chi in its spirituality but, as with many sports, Charlotte explains, it comes with tools for life. “When I first joined the boxing club and heard all these sayings the trainers are shouting at you, it was like listening to poetry. No, honestly! Poetry. They were just trying to teach me how to skip but actually giving me all these metaphors for life. They say ‘train hard, fight easy’. So basically be prepared. You should have trained so hard that by the time you get to the fight, it should be easy.”

If we’re to apply the same principle to our discussions on gender, we have to question how we celebrate the successes of inspiring sport women like Nicola Adams. Are we using her gold to train hard or fight easy?

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