Fine art/documentary photographer Delilah Montoya, who often centers her work around women’s issues, explores the concept of the “malcriada” in her new exhibit Women Boxers: The New Warriors. Montoya describes the Spanish word malcriada as a term that means “bad girl” or “ill-mannered servant.” Latin parents commonly use the word when scolding misbehaved female children, but to Montoya, the women of professional female boxing were the archetypal malcriada.

Women Boxers: The New Warrior opens with a reception at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 13th, at the Patricia Correia Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica.

Also opening at the gallery will be On and Off the Wall, an exhibit of sculpture and painting by Judith Baca, activist/artist/ founder of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC).

The exhibits remain on display through Saturday, June 17th.

Montoya’s exhibit shows female fighters from New Mexico and Texas who embrace a brutal, traditionally testosterone-laced sport often to the dismay of family and friends and to the bewilderment of the public.

“A malcriada is a women who will not behave and is determined to do what she wants, regardless of what society rules or even good sense dictates,” says Montoya. “Women boxers certainly fit the definition of malcriada.

“A social understanding has always been that a woman is not to witness, demonstrate or indulge in acts of violence. Many, in fact, are appalled by the violent sport and believe it should be banned.

“But the malcriadas, determined to box, turn their backs on these opinions.”

Montoya, who often takes a documentary approach to her fine-art photography, discovered various reasons that the boxing appealed to the women — fighter Stephanie Jaramillo was inspired by watching Mike Tyson fights since the age of five; Monica Lavato began after the tragic death of her boyfriend and feels that the boxing helps connect her to his macho, fighting nature; and Jodie Esquibel and Holly Holm were both kickboxers who say they lamented the lack of actual fights in the kickboxing sport.

After getting to know her subjects, Montoya believes many of the women get involved with boxing for reasons similar to those that men do.

“They gain a lot of respect in the ring,” Montoya says. “They feel a sense of power.

“Some women, like men, have always desired to fight, and now can act on that. They’ve found a place for that.”

Things weren’t always that way. The sport of female boxing has only been sanctioned by established boxing associations for about ten years, she says. It now can be seen on ESPN and some cable networks.

Weighing the pros and cons, Montoya says she sees the phenomenon as a positive thing.

“Some feminists find it appalling, women hitting other women,” Montoya says. “Some men are appalled to see women in the midst of a ritual of manliness.

“I see it as a step forward in the sense that women can feel comfortable to partake in an activity that previously only men could.”

Aside from the violence, the inherent downside of boxing, Montoya says she disapproves of the fact that female boxers are paid significantly less for fights than their male brethren.

“Holly Holm can draw 3,000 people to her fights; Ann Wolf is the only fighter, male or female, with four title belts, but they still earn drastically less than male fighters of the same level,” says Montoya.

Hence, very few women boxers can afford to work exclusively on their boxing careers, and most need to have other jobs. They work as waitresses, security guards, medical or social workers, office workers or are full-time students, Montoya discovered.

Montoya, who works as a professor of photography and digital imaging at the University of Houston, developed a sense of respect and admiration for the female boxers during her photo project, she says.

“I began to really admire them,” she says. “Many of them could be models, they are beautiful and the way they work out their bodies physically before getting into the ring — whew — that’s no joke.”

There is a chance that female boxing may not be such a novelty, as the sport is being considered for the 2012 Olympics.

“At that point, the women would no longer be malcriada,” says Montoya. But in the meantime, when she asks female boxers if they feel like malcriadas, they often retort “Yeah, that’s it” with a proud grin, Montoya says.

Information, (310) 264-1760.