Not that there is obvious misogyny in Both Members, yet its absence is equally telling. If you look at the audience in that painting or in Bellows’s other boxing works, like Stag at Sharkey’s (1909) and Club Night (1907), you’ll find a congregation of raucous, cheering, hollering, intoxicated men, but—as the title Stag at Sharkey’s indicates—no women. It would have been unseemly for women to congregate in a working-class bar, especially during a mixed-race sporting event. (There were, however, a few women who boxed as entertainment back then.) Could it be that exclusively male gatherings open another safe space—in this case, for misogynistic posturing? We see this possibility tacitly acknowledged by the toxic male occupying the White House when he dismisses his own misogynistic rants as mere “locker-room talk.”
Today, of course, women often attend boxing matches. What Bellows’s work suggests is that female participation (or lack thereof) might well determine the relative level of toxicity of the event. This may be why such sports like football—which has virtually no female participation—and competitive boxing (as opposed to boxing classes for fitness)—which has very limited female participation—seem to have such notable domestic violence problems associated with them (Mayweather has five convictions for domestic battery and assault). Contrast these with the few newer sports where women excel—both financially and physically—alongside men, such as competitive fitness (Crossfit), triathlon, and some action sports like mountain biking, all of which contribute greatly to female empowerment and equality.
These more equitable sports make it difficult to argue that competition alone contributes to expressions of toxic masculinity. Many people compete, men and women, though only a small percentage act out in offensive ways. In fact, competition ought to instill qualities that are the opposite of toxic: respect, camaraderie, and the ethical behavior towards an opponent that we term “sportsmanship.” Most importantly, competition teaches you to be disciplined in the face of fear, and as my repeated use of the word “safe” here is meant to intimate, toxic masculinity is driven largely by fear and a craven sense of weakness.