As a result of what was hardly a historic human-rights suit, three adult females were issued boxing licenses here last week by the state athletic commision. Thus feminism and the box office are served, and fools of either sex can pay to watch women smash each other's faces as men have for decades in the "manly art of self defense."
A few years back, I saw a news photo from Seattle of a woman boxer, her nose dripping blood, emerging from the ring. I was startled, but I was appalled soon thereafter when I saw another news photo, this one of an 11-year-old girl, her mouth in a belligerent set, described as the champion of some local amateur boxing division in Idaho. She had beaten up all the small boys her weight.
Actually, the emergence of women's professional boxing is now new. As Nat Loubet, editor of Ring Magazine, has chronicled, the first known boxing match featuring women took place in England in 1722.
The current rage dates to 1975 when Nevada, the only state where prostitution is legal, granted a boxing license to one Caroline Svendsen.
Since then, women pugs have used all manner of anti-discrimination laws to get boxing licenses all across the republic. But in New York, where boxing is taken seriously, the athletic commission resisted, and it took a state supreme court ruling to win the right for women to get licenses.
In some freshwater towns, women's bouts are main events. Male boxers go along because they know the gate - and their share - is bigger when the curious and kinky-minded throng to see young women punch each other in the prize ring.
Most women I talk to here about women's boxing insist that women have an equal right to a boxing license, but quickly add that boxing is an awful sport, and they wouldn't want to see a woman's face messed up. Feminism is strong in New York City, a trend leader in the nation. The superpatriotic, "hard hat" movement hegan here. Gay rights, liberalization of abortion and now the mania for the death penalty - all got strong impetus in New York.
The glamour figure of women's boxing is Cathy "Cat" Davis, 26, listed by the Women's Boxing Federation as the lightweight champion. The "Cat" has green eyes, long blonde hair and a record of 16 victories, including 13 knockouts. She was originally trained by Willie Pep, a famous champ of yesterday.
After fighting as a licensed boxer all over the country, she applied for a New York license in 1976 and became indignant when Commissioner James Farley ripped up her application. "Cat" claims she spent $8,000 in legal fees to get her license. Now she has a $5,000 guarantee to fight in White Plains in December.
In boxing, blows to the face can fracture noses and jawbones; break open the tight skin around the eyes, thus causing blood to gush copiously; cause flesh to swell large and darken into "black eyes"; split lips and, occasionally, break off or dislodge teeth. Blows to the chin and head can cause unconsciousness, brain damage, paresis, paralysis and, occasionally, death. Male boxers have suffered these injuries for many generations.
The California State Athletic Commision, according Ring Magazine, specified additional medical precautions for women boxers. Among them is a written statement by the boxer before the fight that, to the best of her knowledge, she isn't pregnant or menstruating. A pelvic examination is required. To protect their breasts, women boxers wear a cup device (aluminium or plastic).
Thus far, no state has licensed a boxing match between a man and a woman. In fact, the president of Madison Square Garden, Sonny Werblin, makes it clear that he doesn't want female boxers performing in that famous emporium at all.
Still feminists, including those with an aversion to boxing, can argue that a woman has the right to make a living boxing just as a man does.
I think the sight of a woman getting beat up is awful. I also know that that spectacle, now that New York has sanctioned it, will enjoy a certain prosperity.
Floyd Patterson, the former heavyweight champion, as a commission member here, opposed the licensing of women boxers. "I think it's terrible," he said. "I always respected women and supported women's lib. But in the ring, no. I can't stand to see a woman bleeding in the mouth or sustaining a deep gash over the eye."
Thoughtful Floyd will surely be scorned as a chauvinist.