In response to my blog from Thursday on the New York Times piece covering the extreme risks many girls face in playing high-contact sports, I drew some strong responses, and wanted to comment on them in today’s post.
Let me first encourage you to check out the article by Michael Sokolove that appeared in this past weekend’s NYT magazine. In addition, surf the comments related to the article. There are now 285 (as of this posting), so this piece, “The Uneven Playing Field”, has clearly touched on a hot-button cultural issue of critical importance. The paper is to be commended for publishing a piece this controversial precisely because its central assertion works so strenuously and compellingly against gender-neutral myths.
I won’t rehash much from Thursday’s blog, but I will give you one snapshot quotation that sums up the general drift of Sokolove’s writing:
“If girls and young women ruptured their A.C.L.’s at just twice the rate of boys and young men, it would be notable. Three times the rate would be astounding. But some researchers believe that in sports that both sexes play, and with similar rules — soccer, basketball, volleyball — female athletes rupture their A.C.L.’s at rates as high as five times that of males.”
This is clearly a situation of grave importance to those who have athletically minded daughters and, beyond this, to those who are raising daughters in an age of supposed physical parity between the sexes. When Gatorade, for example, tells viewers that Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm are athletically and physically of equal gifting, strength, and agility, it is no surprise that the culture at large would begin to accept this notion and put it into practice in the form of their own familial decisions. This mindset has led many parents in our era to plunge their daughters headlong into high-contact sports, oblivious to the dangers (the word is carefully chosen) their daughters face from this decision.
This is not to say, though, that girls are weak, or that every girl will get injured. Sometimes people read the former statement into the biblical principle that women are to be treated as the weaker vessel. Nowhere did I say that women are weak. I noted instead that compared to men, women are weaker in a physical sense. There are of course exceptions to this principle; one can find weak men and very strong women. But these exceptions do not overturn the principle that men are generally stronger than women. I should say that in my life, I have been surrounded by women of considerable agency and ability. My mother was and is a dynamo, always working, always redeeming the time, even when relaxing. She couldn’t even watch a television show without knitting! My own wife is in the same mold. She is a very capable woman, and I married her in part because I saw biblical industry and agency in her. She never ceases to amaze me in what she accomplishes around our home. Though she is a good deal less strong than me, I would not characterize her as weak, and I am continually stunned by what she accomplishes. I should not be read to be saying, then, that women are weak. That is an uncharitable and inaccurate reading, one that I cannot affirm based on the Word and my own life experience.
Neither will every girl who competes in a high-contact sport get injured. There are probably many girls who compete in a contact sport who, for a variety of reasons, evade injury. As the NYT article shows, there are also exercises that women can perform that lower the risk of serious injury. With this caution noted, though, we return to the above research finding. Some who study women’s athletics very closely think that women tear their ACL’s at five times the rate that men do. This statistic–and others–must be reckoned with. The personal angle of the magazine piece add a dreadful personal dimension to this statistic. Girls–and they are girls–playing with two blown knees, all for the “love of the game”. This is a horrific reality.
Our sports-obsessed, gender-neutral society exhorts many girls to do nothing less than to sacrifice their bodies for games. No one will remember these contests in the years to come. The women who go on to the activities and responsibilities of adulthood will find that their athletic experience, however large it loomed in their teenage minds, suddenly has precious little importance compared to the duties of the family, the home, and for those who feel compelled to enter it, the workforce. Think of the reality of childbearing and raising. These are tremendously engrossing callings, challenging for the most physically strong and capable woman. They will be many times more challenging, however, with a blown knee and the other results of a career–that’s what it is, a career–in youth sports. In women’s sports, and in some that boys play, namely, football, the parents of our country are allowing or even leading their children to a path of physical disability and even destruction. This is not simply sad–it is sick.
As Christians, we need to seriously question the sports culture. We need to make sure that if our boys play sports that we watch their hearts and their bodies very carefully to make sure that they are not idolizing athletics and, in doing so, causing great harm to their bodies. There is nothing smart or biblical or romantic in a boy suffering considerable physical damage in youth sports, no matter what the sports legends or the television shows or the Nike commercials tell us. We need to make sure that if our girls play sports that they avoid the dangerous idea that they need to do what boys do. In some cases, they cannot, and to try to do so will be to bring lasting harm to themselves. We should steer them away from sports that threaten to compromise their bodies and their femininity. Unlike modern culture, the Bible celebrates a dignified, distinct womanhood that is quite different from many masculine qualities. In our homes and our churches, we must work to celebrate this femininity, to embrace it, and to train our daughters that it is absolutely beautiful and biblically right for a woman to be just that: a woman, distinct from a man.
To summarize, then, we must stop buying into the myths that the feminist-influenced society feeds us as Christians. Women and men are different. They have been given different gifts and bodies. A woman’s body is not less muscled and differently shaped from a man’s by accident; God did not make men and women with the exact same physical capabilities but with different shapes, as if He simply got aesthetically creative with the bodies of Adam and Eve. He made men to be strong because he wanted them to be those who led, protected, and provided for women and children. He made women to be able to nurture children not simply in a figurative sense through their instincts, but in a literal sense, through hips that can stand childbirth and breasts that can feed children. To speak frankly, though a husband justly delights in it, this part of a woman’s body was not made for fashion, for the fetishes of unmarried men or the interest of boys, but for function, despite what our sex-obsessed, female-fixated culture says by way of advertising and entertainment. If a man’s body is attuned to the tasks of provision and protection, a woman’s is geared for physical nurturing. We do not have to derive our understanding of gender roles by some mystical divination of the Creator’s will, but through the plain testimony of Scripture and, indeed, the anatomical realities in which we find ourselves.
This sounds to postmodern ears like caveman talk. The funny part is, it’s actually older than that. The roles of men and women proceed from the mind of God, who made men and women to carry out fundamentally different roles through fundamentally different physical realities. This is not to say that there is never overlap between the duties of the sexes; there often is. Yet as men live at home with their parents, and treat women well only for the purpose of seducing them, and leave them to fight their wars, and do substantive work, and assume positions of leadership due to a shortage of available (and capable) men, a suspicion might just creep its way into their minds. As fathers watch their daughters brutalize their bodies in order that these dads might live out their athletic dreams through them, a thought may come quietly to mind. As another girl falls in agony on the soccer field, or the basketball court, as a researcher crunches statistic after frightening statistic, a realization dawns. Perhaps the gender-neutral experiment is flawed. Perhaps our whole program is awry. Maybe, just maybe, in seeking our daughter’s “liberation”, we are watching nothing less than their downfall, right before our eyes, with our permission, under our watch.