Research team


Marjolein Van Bavel is an expert in histories of gender and corporality, with a specific emphasis on women who transgress social and bodily norms. Marjolein considers women’s transgressions as potential motors for emancipation or historical change. This interest has translated itself in research on (1) Mexican women who have participated in the sporting spectacles of boxing and lucha libre (wrestling) in Mexico since the 1930s, (2) in Dutch and British women who posed for the men’s magazine Playboy since the 1950s, and (3) in Dutch women bodybuilders since the 1980s. Marjolein is also an expert in the method of oral history.

To fight at the margins: the history of women in boxing and lucha libre in Mexico (1930-2000). 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2023


This research project examines the participation of women in boxing and the wrestling sport of lucha libre in Mexico between 1930 and 2000. It responds to the relative lack of academic attention for the complex mechanisms and effects of gender transgressions by women (i.e. women taking up roles that have culturally been coded as masculine), which have served as motors for historical change and emancipation. My innovative approach confronts the findings from a more conventional historical research practice based on newspaper and archival sources with the qualitative analysis of narratives obtained from oral history interviews, which allows me to investigate both the socio-cultural constructions that impacted women's involvement in boxing and wrestling in Mexico, and the ways in which individual women experienced and navigated such discourses. Central attention is paid to the relations of power in the field of boxing and lucha libre in Mexico, and how these are tied up with gender, ethnicity, social class and commercialisation. This enables me to move beyond the dichotomy within current academic debates about women in combat sports in the Anglo-American and European context, that either constructs this participation as a form of liberation or, due to its perceived sexualisation, as a continued form of exploitation. This project provides new insights about discourses of self-sexualisation, employs an intersectional approach, and decentralises western perspectives in history.


Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project