Women who practice mixed martial arts urged the New York Assembly to legalize its professional competition this year, countering arguments from female critics who say it promotes sexist attitudes and violence at home.
While the state Senate has voted to legalize and regulate the sport like most states and Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’s not opposed, passage is up to the Democrat-controlled Assembly.
Supporters claim 63 sponsors, including 10 Democratic women, among that chamber’s 150 members, and hope its Democratic Conference will let the bill come to a floor vote. Speaker Sheldon Silver said they will consider it before this session ends.
“There are a number of women who support it. There are a number of women who oppose it. I don’t think the women support it — if you took the majority of the women in our conference,” Silver said. “The question is you can turn on your television and see this at home and whether we sponsor this as part of an activity that takes place in New York rather than just on television.”
The National Organization for Women’s state chapter has advocated against it, arguing that children witnessing violent sports get desensitized to violence and women are often made the victims. Practitioners disagree, saying that it’s empowering for them and for other women and girls and very unlikely to make them victims.
Ottavia Bourdain, 35, said she began kickboxing in 2007 after her daughter was born, then was inspired to begin training and competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu after watching a women’s MMA fight a year later. Her daughter prefers the martial arts gym after trying ballet, she said.
“Women fighters are wonderful role models for girls. They are healthy in mind and body. They are strong, able to defend themselves, and this empowering feeling promotes equality between men and women,” Bourdain said.
Bourdain, wife of chef and author Anthony Bourdain, laughed when reminded of his published account of how Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee, once tugged on and teased him after a movie premiere while his martial artist wife stood by. She only considered hitting Lee “for a second,” she said, before adding that her husband’s discomfort was funny and she never would strike unless attacked.
It was a point repeated by other practitioners — their teachers emphasize their fighting skills are limited to competition and, if needed, self-defense.
Attorney Jennifer Bonjean, accompanied by her 11-year-old son and a niece who both train and compete as amateurs, said “it’s irony at its best” that the Assembly reportedly would scuttle the MMA legislation to somehow make up for the sexual harassment scandal of young female staff by resigned Assemblyman Vito Lopez. She said the sport has done more than most women’s groups lately “to challenge attitudes about women as passive and weak,” she said.
Page 2 of 2 - The kids you may sometimes see aggressively trying violent MMA moves out in public, like the flying superman punch and rear naked choke, are imitating what they see on TV, and not those who’ve been taught by coaches, said Bonjean’s niece, 13-year-old Ruby Diarmit. “They teach you to not use it. It’s only for defense,” she said.
Stacy Frederick Spector, an attorney from Glens Falls who along with her husband and two sons practices martial arts, said the fitness, confidence and discipline have spread into her personal and professional life. “It seems very wrong that the sport exists in New York for training and fitness but it’s not available at the next level for competition,” she said.