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Woman in Boxing in “One Million Dollar Baby” Film Essay


The topic of women in sport has always been contradictory. However, the debates become tougher when it comes to female participation in combat sports like boxing. After centuries of discrimination, women got their right for equality in various spheres including professional sport. They may be successful and promising, but the audience’s attitude is ambiguous. The representation of women in sport is broader than it was some decades ago. It includes both sporting events’ coverages and fiction movies. One of the outstanding representatives of the movie industry that displays the personality of a woman in sport is Clint Eastwood’s film One Million Dollar Baby. This Oscar-winning movie is more than a story of a young female fighter. It touches the issue of women’s values together with the attitudes to ladies who choose to challenge non-feminine sports.

The Shift of Values

Maggie, the main character in One Million Dollar Baby, is a 31-year-old waitress. Her family consists of a mother and a sister who live in a trailer. Since she has nothing to lose in life, she decides it was her last chance to remember her old ambition and do boxing. It is considered that a woman in her early thirties should have values other than a boxing career. It is quite acceptable to get married, have children, work, and have hobbies. Combat sports do not suit the female image. The essence of boxing, which has always been a masculine sport, is to show domination (Tjønndal, 2016). Consequently, it used to be considered not appropriate for women, for they historically were in the dominant position.

Maggie probably did not have a proper set of family values. She lost her father as a child and had to work since she was thirteen to make her living. Despite some warm childhood memories, her life is a challenge. She is one of those called white trash. Hence, her desire to change her life is understandable. The shift of values due to her life experience resulted in her wish to prove that she is worthy. She gained popularity and success she had never experienced. Together with it, she returned her self-respect and confidence which became a key to high achievements.

Another aspect of Maggie and Frankie’s relations is their need for each other. Maggie lost her father, and Frankie missed her daughter, so they were important to each other not only in the professional sphere. They became friends, and it was Frankie whom she shared her last wish, to end her life. This situation concerns another value, a value of human life together with moral concern. For Maggie, life is worth living when it is meaningful. Being disabled after the champion fight, she asked Frankie to kill her. After hesitation, he did what she wanted to end her tortures.

Women in Non-Feminine Sports: Gender Attitude

The matter of equality is discussed not only related to sport. “Gender equality is the term used in the international public policy to refer to equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for women and men at all levels across a wide range of arenas” (Adriaanse & Claringbould, 2014, p.4). Still, when a woman takes up any professional sport as a career, she should be prepared for inequality. When it comes to male-dominated sports, discrimination may be stronger. The media representation of men is usually broader. Although the coverage of female sports increased recently, it is still concentrated not on achievements but on female appearance and sexuality. The same situation is observed in sports movies. Attention is often focused on the female body (Hargreaves & Anderson, 2014). Even in female sports films, there is a tendency to give positive characteristics of female-appropriate sports (like figure-skating or gymnastics) and disapprove of those that demand power (Hargreaves & Anderson, 2014).

There used to be a set of gender stereotypes and roles traditionally accepted by society. Men are strong, powerful, and independent while women are supposed to be submissive, attractive, and quiet. At present, gender stereotypes have changed, partially due to the feminist confrontation. This change is also evident in the attitude towards female participation in sport. However, the treatment of women in traditionally masculine sports like boxing is still under the influence of stereotypes. Messner (as cited in Matthews & Channon, 2016, p.25) mentions that violent sports are aimed at establishing the male domination. It was only in 2012 that female boxing was included in the Olympic Games (Tjønndal, 2016). Still, even feminists are not active supporters of women in boxing because of its violent nature.

In One Million Dollar Baby, Frankie is also affected by the stereotypes. He refuses to train Maggie only because she is a woman. Later, when he finally agreed, Maggie proved to be a hard-working and talented athlete. She was a quick learner and soon approached the champion fight. She had many fans who supported her, thus proving that a woman can be successful in a sport that is not considered feminine. The duel revealed a negative aspect of female participation in a violent sport. Maggie’s rival, the present champion, has lost the traditional women’s features. She is mean and cruel, and her fatal shot resulted in spinal neck trauma which paralyzed Maggie. It was the end of Maggie’s career, bright but not lasting.


One Million Dollar Baby is different from the other films of the kind. Combat movies are usually aggressive, but this one is full of soothing grief. Together with the issue of a woman in a violent sport, it embraces the themes of regret and loss of something important. It discloses the change in values and the image of tender women in a typically male sport. Although her way to the top was not easy and her success was short, she proved that a strong desire in achieving the aim is more important than prejudices. Maggie had a dream, and she followed it despite the attitude of male colleagues. Her story is dramatic, but it is the example of a person who achieved her goal.


Adriaanse, J.A., & Claringbould, I. (2014). Gender equality in sport leadership: From the Brighton Declaration to the Sydney Scoreboard. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 1-20. Web.

Hargreaves, J., & Anderson, E. (2014). Routledge handbook of sport, gender and sexuality. New York, NY: Routledge.

Matthews, C.R., & Channon, A. (Eds.). (2016). Global perspectives on women in combat sports: Women warriors around the world. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tjønndal, A. (2016). The inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympic Games: A qualitative content analysis of gender and power in boxing. Qualitative Sociology Review, XII(3), 84-99.

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IvyPanda. "Woman in Boxing in "One Million Dollar Baby" Film." September 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/woman-in-boxing-in-one-million-dollar-baby-film/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Woman in Boxing in "One Million Dollar Baby" Film." September 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/woman-in-boxing-in-one-million-dollar-baby-film/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Woman in Boxing in "One Million Dollar Baby" Film'. 12 September.

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