Stacey Copeland: Strong Manchester Woman

Nicola Waterworth // March 9 2018

As part of our #findingempowerment project Nicola spoke to professional boxer, former footballer  and all round #strongMCRwoman Stacey Copeland about acceptance in sport, notions of femininity and keeping on the fight for equality in boxing for women.

Photo credit: Nigel Maitland

I need to start with a confession, mainly to Stacey. I don’t think I’m a fan of boxing. I say “think” because I’ll admit to never having seen a fight live but having watched a tiny bit on television I feel fundamentally uncomfortable watching people hit each other. I feel confident to say this because I am still 100% a fan of Stacey; I respect and support her hard work to gain equality in her sport and challenge any limitations placed on women she comes across in her sport and her work in the community with young people; and I feel privileged to have met her, certain that we have #moreincommon. I also know that the important thing is that it’s boxing I am questioning, not women boxing; there is nothing in my view that is about women “shouldn’t” be fighting because they are women and this as we learn is an incredibly important part of Stacey’s mission and her views on ideas of acceptable femininity and masculinity.

Stacey grew up in a boxing family, her Dad boxing for England (Stacey and her dad Eddie were the first, and still only father-daughter pair to both hold national titles) and she started training early at her granddad’s gym when she was six or seven. It seems the news when she was nine that in fact boxing competitively was illegal for women and girls and that therefore she wouldn’t be able pursue her sport further than in the gym was possibly something of a shock. But having an almost equal love of football, and that sport being in a slightly more advanced state of accepting women Stacey took the career choice of football, admittedly having to pursue this abroad due to the continued lack of any paid option in Britain at the time.

Then she came back and took up the opportunity to pick up her gloves, firstly as an amateur and then after a possibly near career ending injury and surgery turned professional. In the last month she has been somewhat in the media spotlight as the debate about the use of ring side girls in boxing erupted in the wake of Formula One’s decision to call #timesup on the pit lane girls.

Photo credit: Nigel Maitland

How did you find yourself speaking out in the ring side girls debate?

“I got involved originally via twitter because someone commented that I already have children who are in boxing at my fights, rather than ringside girls. Then the BBC got in touch. It felt at the time like a big decision to speak out about it, but really important because women who were in boxing as boxers or even other sports women were not having a voice in the discussion until that point. It felt like it was “feminists” pitched against “sport”, and that’s not the reality of the debate. And there were loads of positive comments and contacts (like with Find It Film!) that came out of speaking about it that I’m really glad about.

It matters to me because of what it says about how I as a woman boxer am judged, and every other girl and woman who comes after me is judged. I do everything that the male boxers do, but I feel I have to prove myself double to be accepted in the sport. Ring side girls are an accepted part of the sport, and they are there purely for what they look like. Women boxers on the other hand are still striving to be accepted, in our own sport.”

Acceptance as an equal is an important idea for you, do you feel accepted now?

“It’s better. But not accepted by everyone. There are some managers for example who won’t manage women because they, “don’t agree with women fighting”. It’s something Piers Morgan said on television that he “doesn’t like to watch women hitting each other”; I don’t have a problem with people who don’t agree with boxing full stop, but you can’t say you don’t like women boxing, or say and do other things that continue to marginalise women in the sport.

We still have a massive glass ceiling in the amateur sport with only three weight categories at the Olympics compared to the ten that men have, how can we feel accepted with that kind of blatant inequality. I think that will change, I mean “science” once told us that we’d die if we ran marathons and that’s clearly not the case, but when? 

I felt like when I was growing up I had to challenge other people’s idea of femininity, and felt like a weirdo because I didn’t fit into what a girl should be, all my idols were male. I didn’t want to be a boy, I wanted to be a great boxer or a great footballer and that is strongly associated with gender. Freedom [and acceptance] will come when we’re not thinking about it, we get rid of both words and a boy who loves dancing is okay, just as okay as me wanting to box. We’re still fighting for that.”


How do you feel boxing can be empowering for women and girls?

“For me, when I think about getting in the ring I’m not thinking about, “hitting other women”. How I feel about boxing is that there’s no greater test of everything; it’s physically very demanding, and there’s the lifestyle – the training, constantly making weight and the psychological part is massive. My next fight may be months away, but I know I’ll be fighting. In ‘real life’ fighting is instantaneous, and there’s your flight/fight brain and chemicals – but I know now, I have nerves, imposter syndrome, without the fight itself. You find out about yourself, I think it’s similar to adventurers – there’s just you and you’ve got to get through it, you need to know when to learn and when to win, the most important thing is to win on the night.

Afterwards I feel powerful, proud of myself and capable. I think that’s important for women particularly, to be allowed that and to take it into other parts of your life. And I get that not everyone wants to get hit, but don’t be put off! Boxing offers fitness, punching pads and punching bags let you release energy and feel powerful, it’s enjoyable, you learn, it’s defensive and it’s an incredible social element, great collective togetherness!”


Stacey fought her 4th professional fight on 2nd March.

You can follow Stacey’s boxing, her work as a community ambassador and TedX speaker @scopelandboxer 

You could even give it a try and join her Boxing Fitness Class!