Without Apology by Leah Hager Cohen
Girls, Women, and the Desire to Fight

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“Any girl who boxes challenges, wittingly or not, the idea of what it means to be a girl in our culture. Through the prism of what she does with her fists, she sheds a fiercely contrarian light on our most fundamental notions about femininity and power and appetite and shame and desire.” Thus writes Leah Hager Cohen in Without Apology, her singular exploration of the world of female aggression.

In the fall of 2001, Cohen met up with four girls, ages ten to fifteen, and their female coach at the Somerville Boxing Club. Over the course of a year, she grew close to them all–spending time at the old-style boxing club where they trained several times a week and at their homes, schools, and neighborhood hangouts. She learned about their families, the housing projects where they lived, their explosive friendships and steadfast loyalties, and especially about the damage that had turned each of them into a fighter.

Fascinated by the freedom the girls had in the ring, Cohen began training and sparring with them and their coach–only to find herself astounded by the strength and authority of her body, and by the way boxing opened up and brought clarity to her old issues about eating, anger, sexuality, and survival.

Spirited and provocative, Without Apology is Cohen’s account of what she discovered in the gym: about herself, about girls who box, and ultimately about the buried connections between femininity and aggression.

“Aggression and desire are inseparable,” writes Cohen. “For they are forbidden to girls in equal measure, and they are also in equal measure requisite for life.” Without Apology is sure to influence the ways in which all women–mothers and daughters, athletes and artists, teachers and learners of every description–see themselves in the world.

About Leah Hager Cohen

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Leah Hager Cohen, a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, established herself as a serious writer in 1994 with her nonfiction book, Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World. Chosen by the American Library Association as one of the best books of 1994, Inside a Deaf World details what it was like growing up as a hearing child around deaf children. Cohen's first fiction novel, Heat Lightning, is a coming-of-age story told from the point of view of two sisters, ages eleven and twelve, who have to deal with the death of their parents.
Published February 8, 2005 by Random House. 208 pages
Genres: . Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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What happened in the ring, she says, was “tightly and plainly bound to griefs unhealed, riddles unsolved, hurts inflicted beyond those walls,” but whether boxing aggravated those hurts or enabled the boxer to transcend them or simply to reenact them in a safe setting “remained a mystery.” Cohen’s...

Dec 15 2004 | Read Full Review of Without Apology: Girls, Women...

The New York Times

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But what ''Without Apology'' does most powerfully, if less intently, is show the ways in which the possibilities offered by the sport require, and expand, the variegations of female bonds: among the girls, between the girls and the women (daughter to mother, boxer to trainer, boxer to boxer), and...

May 29 2005 | Read Full Review of Without Apology: Girls, Women...

Publishers Weekly

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Learning to box alongside four inner-city teenage girls, Cohen delivers a sensitive, nimbly written account that is part memoir, part sports story and part critical inquiry into the nature of aggression.

Dec 20 2004 | Read Full Review of Without Apology: Girls, Women...

USA Today

Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby provokes numerous questions about why women choose to box.

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