"So when did you realise you had a natural talent for kicking people in the head?" Hazel Irvine asked Team GB's Taekwondo gold medal winner Jade Jones on yesterday morning's BBC Olympic Breakfast. The men in the studio chortled, but smiles aside, this is plainly what Jones excels at.
Jones is beautiful, agile, springy and professionally vicious. She's hard. This has been a great Olympics for hard, formidable women; for Nicola Adams, for Katie Taylor and for every other woman dispatching their opponents on to the floor of the ExCeL centre.
Some male friends have told me they didn't like women fighting, which I found sweet and naive, rather than oppressive or sexist. Men worry about our breasts and our ovaries. Well, I worry about their balls smashing on the pommel horse, but maybe we all have to relax and remember these are professionals and they've assessed these risks.
Obviously, many men took to the internet to write much bleaker things about our women boxers, footballers and judo stars, but then the irony of men anonymously slagging off woman who could hospitalise them from behind a keyboard several miles away is simply too delicious.
Personally, I grew up amongst hard women – there's certainly more amongst the working classes – and I'm ecstatic to see them honoured with gold, silver and bronze. Because some women are floppy, skinny and doe-eyed like random members of The Saturdays – females whose names £5m of marketing still hasn't sealed in my mind – and their media coverage is abundant. And some women are thick-limbed, stern-faced, no-nonsense, self-contained units who could mash a minicab driver who stuck his hand on their thigh, and I'm chuffed to see the latter get some airspace.
Being a wiry, stealthily tough woman can be enormously handy, and it's amazing we've been conned so long into hiding our hardness under bushels. We tell our young girls to be fragrant, charming and turn a blind eye to the school bully as "She's just jealous, she'll grow bored", while the quietly, discreetly hard girl who kicked in dumdum's head back in spring term tends to be left alone.
When a friend was dragged backwards into a graveyard and assaulted many years ago, it was the fact she was actually a clandestine bruiser which meant she fought tooth and nail to stop the deed going the full course.
I know being cheery, skinny and affable like Alexa Chung would be lovely, but on a 3am nightbus across London I want to be sitting with Team GB's Nicola Adams.
"Women shouldn't be allowed to fight", I've heard men grumble. "It shouldn't be permitted. It makes me uneasy." But, dear menfolk, women ARE fighting and we have done for years in the streets and in the nightclubs and now beautifully, skilfully and in a regimented point-scoring manner in the boxing rings, judo halls and Olympic stadiums.
And – here's the rub: your issues surrounding "permission" are irrelevant. And more so that begrudging respect middle-class men give to boxing, Thai boxing and martial arts for giving discipline and a leg-up to skint, unruly boys, should be afforded to girls too.
I'm sure this column will rankle with some people, but if you want to write dismal, bleak abuse about Nicola Adams or Katie Taylor, please, spare your keyboard, and go and say it directly to their faces. You may get a nice surprise.Reuse content