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Thinking about Power in “Girlfight” April 7, 2007

Posted by rachaelg in bodies, Female Power, feminism, Girlfight, Power.

Throughout Girlfight, Diana’s boxing trainer comments on her power.  He is usually referring to the power of her punch: “You’ve got a lot of power.”  But she needs to work on harnessing that power, perfecting her technique, mastering her footwork, and getting in peak physical condition.  In this sense, her power is the “male” power of physical strength. 

When she competes against men (and specifically against her love interest) it is evident that the message is “women can have male power, too” or at least certain women can.  Despite her coach’s musings on women’s “lower center of gravity” and the possibility of a “different kind of boxer,” when she’s in the ring, she fights like a man.  The title is misleading; “Girlfight” makes one think of slapping and name-calling with some hair-pulling thrown in, when really the film is about a girl fighting like a man.  It’s not a different kind of fighting, just a different kind of person doing the fighting. 

In the ring, both Diana and Adrian put aside their emotions and fight to win.  For Diana, achieving this emotionless fighting has been a journey.  At first she cannot separate the two.  She attacks a schoolmate for betraying a friend and she loses her composure in the ring with Ray.  She even attacks her father in a rage over her mother’s suicide.  Her strength, her masculine power, is shown to be out of control.  This power needs to be controlled by a similarly masculine discipline.  When boxing finally gives her this discipline, she is able to triumph.  Her power is now masculine enough to defeat a capable male opponent. 

Diana is far from a “girly-girl” to begin with and she even reminds her father of that directly.  She never appears to be powerless; from the get-go she’s tough and her training quickly emphasizes her developing muscular physique.  Juxtaposed with her brother Tiny (even his name highlights his “weakness” in traditional masculine expectations) Diana is in charge and self-assured.  With Adrian, she never uses the supposed “feminine” power of sexuality to captivate or trap him.   

As a result of all of this, the movie seems to acknowledge only one kind of power: male.  Though Diana has this power and refines it throughout the film, we see her as an exception among women.  Yes, there are other female boxers in the movie, but Diana is the only one we see who defeats men.  Does her uniqueness mean that only a few special women can beat men (and still have relationships with them/function in society)?  Or is her example supposed to represent the ability of all women to somehow compete with men on an equal level?  It seems to me like her circumstances limit the representativeness of her triumph.  But then again, she had to fight to be accepted in a male dominated field, something I’m sure many women can relate to.  Is that kind of indominable will characteristic of a type of “female” ( or underdog?) power?


1. jenniferlewk - April 8, 2007

While I agree, I chose to look at Diana’s power as the power of authority instead of a gendered power….

One way to view the source of power Diana ultimately obtains in GirlFight is through the Foucaultian lens of Panopticism. A Panopiticon is a circular prison with a tower in the middle. Prisoners residing in the prison know that they are being watched, but they can’t always see the person responsible for their discipline. Nonetheless, the prisoners demonstrate self-induced discipline due to the fear that someone could be monitoring them at all times. This individualized self-discipline is, according to Foucault, “an important mechanism, for it automatizes and disindividualizes power” (Foucault, 23)—the source of power is not one person, but a socialized construct in the mind of Foucault.

Diana’s life reveals many aspects of Panoticism. In school, the hallways are monitored and the speakers are zoomed in on, speakers which soon break up a fight and send her to the principal’s office. She is often seen in a locker room, with bars surrounding her. Her spaces in the film are enclosed—the audience feels her tiny apartment, the small car, and the fences at the school. A more obvious surveillance is with her father: later in the film her father spies on her through her 11th story window at her and her boyfriend kissing. Her boyfriend asks, “Do you think your dad knows?” Her reply: “only if he is watching right now.” Once she says goodbye and heads upstairs, she does not seem surprised that her father has seen her. She avoids confrontation and thus simply denies her ontology and growth. Later in the film her father comes to her boxing match unknowingly, proving that surveillance is inescapable. After she sees him at the match, her confidence fades. She begins to make stupid mistakes and wins only through default. Nonetheless, her win is the impetus for her new confidence with her father: that night, she fights back against her father’s discipline. Instead of giving into authority, Diana yells at him in the apartment and uses a stereotypically male power, physical violence, to stop further surveillance. She forcefully tells him, “You belong to me now.” Through her denial of surveillance, Diana becomes powerful.

Diana is unique in that the majority of her power comes through the manipulation of the Panoticon. Indeed, her very interpellation arises through her management of a structure similar to the Panopticon. The boxing ring is an inclusive structure bound by ropes. Once the fighters enter the ring, they can not escape until a clock tells them that the time is up. The fighters respond to the audience, who watch and judge their every move. They are disciplined by referees who seem to be everywhere around the ring. Even the camera emphasizes her captivity, as it frequently spins around her in the ring. Nonetheless, Diana learns the footwork necessary to triumph—she begins to circle around her opponents to trap them, to have the stamina to outfight them, and the mental state to outwit them. She proves to all of those condemn and criticize her in the audience that she can and will triumph. Her ultimate test is fighting the man she loves. She beats him—Diana a female fighter, learns to triumph not only over one man in the ring, but the socialized construct that women can not and should not be physical fighters. The film ends with the camera zooming in on Diana’s eye, letting the audience know that the prisoner has become the authority figure—she has changed what it means to be a boxer. Through her renouncing of authority, whether it be the boxing world, her boyfriend, her family, or the media, Diana creates a new system of “order,” one in which she is in the tower.

2. andyw - April 8, 2007

“She forcefully tells him, “You belong to me now.” Through her denial of surveillance, Diana becomes powerful.”

“The film ends with the camera zooming in on Diana’s eye, letting the audience know that the prisoner has become the authority figure—she has changed what it means to be a boxer. Through her renouncing of authority, whether it be the boxing world, her boyfriend, her family, or the media, Diana creates a new system of “order,” one in which she is in the tower”

These two lines seem particularly intriguing. Do you see her as having stepped out of the structure of surveillance? If so, what do you mean by placing her in the center of the tower? Wouldn’t she then just have switched sides, but not denied surveillance? And if so, who is she watching? What do you make of the differences between the Panopticon and the boxing ring? For instance, the boxing ring seems much more related to the spectacle than the Panopticon is. Does this play a role in her ability to step into the tower? How does zooming in on her eye make her an authority figure? Is not the audience observing her from that perspective, as opposed to watching out from her? Is she watching us, and are we then the prisoners/students/workers/etc. in the Panopticon? Is the only difference between this new order and the last that women can be boxers? If so, what change is there in the structure of the Panopticon? In other words, how does it really change the order (since the Panopticon is prized specifically for its universalizability, for the ability of anyone to step into the tower or into the surrounding circle)? And, finally, if we take seriously the idea that the people in the tower are not observed, who really is unobserved in the movie and in what way do they watch the other characters?

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