Is male/female wrestling immodest?

I missed this when it first came out, but it is related to some of my earlier posts (e.g. here and here) about modesty.  From a Reuter’s news report in early October:

Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic bishops have adopted a policy requiring boys on the wrestling teams of Catholic schools or youth organizations to forfeit matches against female opponents.

Preserving safety and modesty are the reasons, said Joe Aponick, communications director for the Diocese of Harrisburg.

The mandatory policy, first reported on Tuesday by WITF, National Public Radio’s Harrisburg station, also bans girls from participating on Catholic school tackle football and rugby teams.

“The diocese therefore believes that it is incompatible with its religious mission and with its efforts to teach Gospel values to condone competitions between young men and women in sports that involve substantial and potentially immodest physical contact,” said Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg in a letter to students.

Kenneth A. Gavin, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said the policy applies to all Catholic school students in Pennsylvania. It would not apply to Catholic university students.

Under the policy, which took effect July 1, a male wrestler would either have to forfeit his match with a girl, or his team would have to persuade the other school to withdraw the girl and replace her with a boy.

The bishops will not require football and rugby teams to forfeit if the opposing team included a girl.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around this one.   At least in wrestling, I do not see safety as an issue:  wrestlers at the high school level are subdivided by weight into very tight categories, so any two wrestlers (male or female) will be closely matched in size.  It might be the case that a man and woman might be of equal size but the man will have a strength advantage due to gender difference.   However, even if this were true (and I do not know one way or another) I suspect that there would be a distribution and not a uniform dichotomy.  Further, any woman who decided to wrestle would probably be an outlier on the women’s side of the distribution, making her closely matched to the men.

Therefore, the real issue must be modesty.  And indeed, the quote from Bishop Gainer emphasizes the risk of “substantial and potentially immodest physical contact”.  I agree that wrestling involves lots of close physical contact, and many standard moves require grabbing your opponent’s groin or chest.   But does that automatically risk making such contact immodest?    To worry about immodesty suggests that such contact might be sexual in nature, but given the circumstances (two athletes trying to pin one another for the victory), this does not seem to be a real concern.  One might as well be worried that two men wrestling and grappling one another’s groins is homoerotic.    Teenage hormones are a real thing, but there is, it seems to me, a fundamental difference between a young man “wrestling” with his girlfriend on the family room couch, and two competitive athletes facing one another in a public competition.

Now, a young man wrestling a young woman might experience other, real psychological discomforts:  he might face crude comments from teammates or fans; the stigma of losing to a woman will probably be worse than losing to another man; he might have reservations because he has been taught to never hit a girl or that he is supposed to be “nice” to girls, and these might affect his composure and ability to wrestle to his full potential.   Similarly, any young woman who wrestles will have to deal with similar problems:  her sexuality and femininity might be questioned and she will have to overcome all the other hurdles a woman faces when she “trespasses” in a male domain.  These are issues that coaches would have to be aware of and handle with discretion and tact.

A brief Google search led to a discussion about this decision on a high school wrestling forum, and many of  these issues had come up and were addressed in various ways.   If what I read there is correct, women have been wrestling with men on the high school level for twenty-five years.  And they have done so competitively:  here, for example, is a brief video interview with Carlene Sluberski, who was a finalist in the 2009 New York state high school wrestling championships.   (According to the interview, it was her father that encouraged her to take up wrestling.)

One solution to this perceived problem would be to create women’s wrestling teams.  And in a couple states they have done this.   And at the college level there exist a number of women’s wrestling programs, with a large concentration in the Midwest.  However, in most places they do not exist, so the only option for a young woman who wants to wrestle will be to wrestle with men.   And, provided the issues I noted above are dealt with by the coaches, I have no real problem with this happening.

What are your thoughts on these matters?  We have discussed gender roles in the past, and I want to make clear up front that while I acknowledge differences between men and women that are more than epiphenomena,  I am cautious about ascribing universal, existential weight to differences that could very well be the result of social constructs that tell us more about longstanding prejudices against women than they do about the actual differences between men and women.   Beyond the question of modesty, one could question whether men and women wrestling one another will lead to problems in their psycho-sexual development or in the broader social understanding of gender roles.  There may be issues here, but at the moment I am not seeing them.

I will admit that I am shooting from the hip, as it were, on this question, since it is not something I have ever considered before reading this news article.  However, I have faced (and dismissed) a similar concern.  My middle son dances classical ballet, which is overwhelmingly female.  Moreover, a large number of classical pas de deux positions involved substantial physical contact between my son and the women in the company.   And while I suspect he derives some pleasure from this, the intensity with which he and the women focus on their art during practice and performances suggests an absence of prurience.    But with this example in mind, let me reframe the question:  if the bishops of Pennsylvania are correct in banning young Catholic men from wrestling with women, should they also ban young men from dance performances involving close contact with young women?  (I say performance deliberately to avoid a discussion of “twerking”, “freaking” and other misadventures when men and women dance together socially.)

 

 

About David Cruz-Uribe
  • Tanco

    What I just. don’t. get. about issues with gender contact or involvement in sports, whether from the SSPX or a legitimate diocese, is the queer erasure inherent in the fears and statements of said organizations. Why aren’t Harrisburg diocesean officials concerned about gay male wrestlers who find intimate contact with male opponents erotic?

    Pope Francis made a valiant, albeit failed, attempt to discuss gender in modern society at the recent Synod. Hardliners blocked his every move to explore the emotional, social, and interpersonal aspects of non-heterosexuality. I sense that many in the Church, and not just the lunatic fringe such as Lefebvrists, still want to believe that the heterosexual perspective is not just normative but absolute. “Male and female he made them” — alright, but the Church nevertheless has to face societal earthquakes with a studied earnestness.

    Something tells me that frank curial, synod, and diocesean level discussion about gender and the gendered aspects of sexuality will bring about more questions about Humanae vitae and Theology of the Body than many Catholics will be equipped to confront. Many know that the Church is on borrowed time when it comes to the hot buttons, but procrastination’s still the word.

  • http://gravatar.com/tausign Tausign

    Well since this is a ‘shoot from the hip’ post let me admit my initial, not well thought out response. I don’t have any particular thought on the wisdom of a imposing a ban…that’s a tactical question to a perceived problem.

    My immediate concern with male/female competition events is in the realm of power and domination dynamics and less about modesty. Our society has been slow to address issues such as violence directed toward women. How does this kind of direct physical competition serve to affect that reality, especially among children and youth. (I say this as someone who is old enough to remember attending elementary schools that had separate boys and girls entrances carved in granite while the practice of play yard segregation was still in practice.)

    Self esteem issues are also important with young people and so I would reserve direct competition to later years. Dance and wrestling are essentially different in that dance is a cooperative endeavor with partners working toward a common goal. Wrestling is nearly the exact opposite where each participant seeks to exploit the others weakness.

    (P.S. David I left a comment on your last post regarding torture which isn’t appearing in the comments. Any possibility that I an floating in the spam bin?)

    • Tanco

      Tausign [December 20, 2014 7:04 pm]: “My immediate concern with male/female competition events is in the realm of power and domination dynamics and less about modesty. Our society has been slow to address issues such as violence directed toward women.

      Tausign’s insight is on target. From frat houses to street harassment, adult women have to navigate a world filled with threats to their physical well-being. From one perspective, co-ed wrestling is inadvisable because the competitive physicality might lead to rape or physical violence later. Are all teenage boys predisposed towards violence towards women later in life? Certainly not. The intersection of an aggressive sport and predispositions towards sexual or physical violence might yield a man who has no moral qualms about brutality.

      I’ve often thought that the misogynistic lyrics of some music, coupled with violent porn, provides one of the greatest motivators for violence towards women today. Co-ed wrestling is an important question, but perhaps it is an outlier question.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        ‘From one perspective, co-ed wrestling is inadvisable because the competitive physicality might lead to rape or physical violence later.’

        I simply do not understand or agree with this perspective. How would this work?

        • Tanco

          David, now that you point my flaws to me, I see how absurd my argument is. Co-ed wrestling likely does not correlate at all with male aggression towards women. If a teenager or young adult has a tendency towards violent misogyny, he will potentially act out these tendencies regardless of participation in co-ed wrestling.

          I agree with the thread that the diocesean concern about co-ed wrestling in the main objectifies both male and female participants into their respective genitalia. In this respect certain clerics are, in my opinion, acting in a disordered manner. Any wrestler, male or female, is a whole person in the image of God. It’s almost as if the language of TOTB flies out the door in manufactured crisis situations.

  • LM

    I don’t think that male/female wrestling is immodest. I have been doing marital arts since I was thirteen (I’m 31 now) and sparring or working self-defense techniques with someone of the opposite sex is a given. This can include anything from punching and blocking drills to executing throws and holds that require total body contact. Believe me, when you’re being tossed or choked in a martial arts setting, sex is not going to be on the radar, because your first priority is getting your opponent out of your personal space or off your body. If you’re thinking about sex when you should be blocking or getting someone’s arm off your neck, the match isn’t going to end in your favor. The strength differential between the sexes doesn’t really come in the martial arts environment because you’re supposed to be exercising control anyway, unless you’re in a full contact tournament or something like that. I think it’s good for female students in particular to practice with men, so that if they should ever find themselves in a self-defense situation, the idea of having to hold their own against a male attacker won’t seem so foreign.

    Fears over the supposedly immodest nature of male/female wrestling seem to stem more from a dislike of the idea of female fighters than concerns about possibly inflaming hormones. Many of the people who object to mixed sex wrestling also object to women wrestling women because it is perceived to be “unfeminine.” The modesty issue seems to me to be a red herring.

    • Frank M.

      I’m 57 now, and my experience with martial arts is as LM describes. I haven’t heard the bishop’s reasoning, but I’m inclined to think modesty is not the true motivation behind the ban on girls wrestling with boys.

      Ten years ago, one of my sons was matched against a girl in a high school wrestling match. He won easily. I asked him if he thought it was awkward, and he said wrestling a girl he didn’t know was no more awkward than wrestling a boy he didn’t know.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Okay, I think this is a useful comment as it arises in concrete experience. “Awkwardness” is a social construct, and I compliment you for raising a son for whom this is not an issue.

  • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

    I don’t like the idea of co-ed football and wrestling, though you bring up good points about wrestling having weight categories, and the idea of close physical contact between men and women in ballet.

    It still seems different for me, but it’s more of a visceral reaction to it than an intellectual reaction.

  • Melody

    Mixed feelings on this one. Part of me would like to support equality, but most of me thinks high school sports occupy way too much band width as it is. I don’t have any daughters, and was relieved when my sons didn’t want to go out for contact sports. Concussions in sports have been in the news a lot lately, most schools are instituting more stringent restrictions. And high time, since a concussion is brain damage. Hard to see how co-ed contact sports aren’t going to be a safety issue. And a boundaries issue.
    To me dance, choreography, and gymnastics are a separate category, and don’t involve the same “brute force” problems. They aren’t situations where one has to best an opponent.
    I have three granddaughters, so I may end up changing my mind. But right now they’re interested in everything but roughing it up on the mat, or the playing field, and that’s just fine.

  • Julia Smucker

    I think the bishops have a point here. Actually, I’m surprised that co-ed wrestling exists. Men and women don’t normally compete against each other athletically, and with good reason, which has to do with the physiological aspects of gender as much as anything. And high school is a particularly awkward age for that. On that level, they may be exacerbating the awkwardness by explicitly sexualizing the situation, but especially as an anomalous situation I could see it being a potential minefield as so much is already sexualized among American adolescents, often in premature and unhealthy ways.

    I think the main difference with dance performance is that it takes advantage of, or sometimes even requires, the differences between male and female physicality, which makes mixed-gender dance companies a far more normative thing. Maybe this has something to do with dance being an art rather than a sport; competition of course exists in the arts, but the dancers in a company are not physically competing against each other but are complementing each other within the ensemble. That said, I grant that classical dance forms such as ballet can include not only substantial physical contact but, on occasion, even an element of sexual suggestiveness (which I suppose may or may not be immodest depending on the kind of story it’s telling). I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Save the Last Dance that makes this point visually, as a nonverbal counterpoint to what the audience is supposedly thinking about hip-hop.

    It just occurred to me that in drawing this distinction I am parting ways with my Mennonite ancestors of previous generations, who would have forbidden dance of any sort. I wasn’t raised with that kind of strictness anyway, but with the possible exception of a few fringe groups they could top any Catholics on modesty.

    • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

      “I think the main difference with dance performance is that it takes advantage of, or sometimes even requires, the differences between male and female physicality, which makes mixed-gender dance companies a far more normative thing. Maybe this has something to do with dance being an art rather than a sport; competition of course exists in the arts, but the dancers in a company are not physically competing against each other but are complementing each other within the ensemble.”

      I think this a good distinction to consider. I don’t think it’s the final answer but I want to continue on this train of thought.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Julia, I think you articulated some of my disagreement with the bishops: they have sexualized a situation that does not and should not be thought of in terms of sexuality. It is a sport competition and should be viewed through that lens. There may be other issues but treating this as, a priori, a sexual encounter is only fueling the problems of sexualization that already exist. I think it is better to teach young men to see young women as worthy competitors, to be treated with the respect and dignity you extend to all opponents.

      Your concern about physiology is germane, but as I pointed out, in high school wrestling the opponents are carefully matched in size. Outside of that, I often wonder if these concerns about size and gender differences are overstated. Mia Hamm might not be able to play against premiere league players, but nevertheless she would wipe the pitch against 90% of all men who play soccer. As I said in the OP, women who elect to wrestle, or play rugby or football against men at the high school level, probably lie at the upper end of the distribution of physical strength, etc. for women and so are reasonably well matched against typical high school athletes.

  • Melody

    A lot of energy and attention is going to be spent on this issue which would be better spent on questions such as: How can schools foster more interest on the part of girls in science careers?, and, How can schools address budget problems without always targeting the fine arts?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “How can schools foster more interest on the part of girls in science careers?”

      Melody, this is actually a different facet of the same problem: women will do well in science when we take their abilities seriously and encourage them to do something they are good at. I think that the same is true of wrestling.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/category/brett-salkeld/ brettsalkeld

    I agree that there are other issues in the background. Power dynamics strikes me as a big one. But, just shooting from the hip here, if the girls are wrestling at a competitive level, I think modesty is really not an issue. Does anyone think this guy was thinking about anything other than getting out alive? Even though she taunted him at the beginning and paddled him at the end (something highly unlikely at an actual competition if coaches are doing their jobs)?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hapj9SIxn8w

    I suspect watching a few videos of inter-gender high school wrestling would quickly disabuse anyone of the notion that there is something immodest going on.

    On the other hand, if the girls are consistently getting beaten, I think we have a much more serious concern. First off, this would exacerbate rather than balance out gendered power dynamics. Second, a guy who can be pretty confident of a victory is much more likely to get “distracted” by the physical contact than someone who needs to work hard to win.

    What do others think when watching this, e.g.?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8nXIHgwGo8

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, it has been many, many years since I wrestled in junior high school, but watching this, my inexpert opinion is that the man in yellow shorts had some advantage in reach and strength but he was not able to exploit this because his opponent was faster and had better technique. She did not get the pin, but I think the match would have been hers on points.
      In other words, he had is hands full just trying to stay in the match, and sexuality and “copping feels” were definitely the furthest things from his mind.

      With regards to the power and dominance issues: this would only be an issue if girls were in fact getting beaten regularly. Now, there may be women who go out for wrestling who are not any good and get beaten all the time. There are also young men (like me) who do the same thing. They generally stop competing (like me) pretty quickly.

  • trellis smith

    Is there any area in life which remains the exclusive province of the sexes? And in the banishment of difference are there aspects of feminism which has gone too far as in the sexual harassment laws and the respect for due process in allegations of rape etc. as we have seen in the UV fiasco?

    • LM

      @trellis smith

      Who gets to decide that wrestling (or anything else for that matter) is just for males? I personally think that everyone should learn the basics of some combat art if only for self-defense purposes.

      • trellis smith

        I think we’ll let you decide LM.

  • Thales

    My shooting from the hip reaction: I vote against male-female wrestling. In my opinion, it’s an activity that doesn’t further a healthy attitude/respect/understanding of male-female differences and male-female complementarity. A boy touching a girl in certain private areas that comes during wrestling is inappropriate (even if there is no sexual arousal that occurs), because a boy should be showing a level of respect to the girl and her body and should not be touching her in those areas. Two boys wrestling is essentially different, because it is not a male-female contact situation. And dancing/ballet is different because there is an understanding of male-female differences and complementarity (yes, there is close contact between males and females, but it seems to me that the touching is different — it’s not groping her private areas, but touching in appropriate areas on her body in order to do the dance.)

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thales, I fail to see the distinction you are drawing. In wrestling, the touching is not groping, but rather is appropriate for the activity: attempting to pin your opponent. The boy is showing her respect by treating her as a worthy opponent, and using the specific moves of the sport to defeat her. That he must touch her in her groin or on her breasts is relevant only to the extent that this is where you must grab your opponent. Similarly, she will have to grab him through the groin. I suspect that for both genders these “private” areas are well protected so that in both cases they are clutching plastic/hard rubber plates.

      Now I think you may be able to make an argument on the basis of male-female differences and complimentarity, but simply reducing wrestling to inappropriate touching and a lack of respect does not make this argument for you.

      • Thales

        David,
        Sorry, “groping” was the wrong word to use. My point is that touching the breasts is necessary in wrestling because that’s what you have to do to pin her, while touching the breasts in dancing is not necessary—instead, the hands are carefully placed on her sides, waist, etc.

    • Thales

      A related thought. Here’s a thought-experiment. What would you feel more comfortable doing? Wrestling a female co-worker or ballroom-dancing with her? Having your wife wrestle with a male co-worker or having her ballroom-dance with him?

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Since I neither wrestle nor do ballroom dance, neither is terribly appealing. Were my wife actually interested in either wrestling or dance, I am really don’t think I would have much of a problem with either. Here, however, I think we need to separate out the awkwardness that comes from envisioning someone from one aspect of life, work, and articificialy transplanting them to another aspect of life, dance or wrestling. So, in your gedanken experiment, I would have to ask: were my wife interested in competitive wrestling, would I be bothered by her wrestling with other male wrestlers? And the answer is no, with the proviso of course that the male wrestlers are equally committed to the activity at hand. I would be equally concerned by either wrestling or ballroom dance if the male partners were using this as a means of either groping my wife or propositioning her. (And, from some experience with ballroom dance years ago, there is plenty of opportunity for quite inappropriate contact.) Though, knowing my wife, she would probably politely turn down a proposition and hand a groper his hand back to him in a plastic bag.

        • Thales

          (And, from some experience with ballroom dance years ago, there is plenty of opportunity for quite inappropriate contact.) But if so, that’s incidental and not intended. In ballroom dancing, the man is supposed to touch the woman appropriately, respecting certain parts of her body. In wrestling, that’s not possible. That’s the difference.

          Sure, both ballroom dancing and wrestling with a co-worker might be awkward. But at least to me, one would be more awkward than the other — namely, the one where I’d have to be touching the breasts of my co-worker.

          Or consider another thought-experiment: does something bother you more, a male wrestling coach teaching your daughter moves and touching her breasts in wrestling moves or a male dance coach teaching her ballroom dancing?

        • Thales

          Hhmm, I’ve been thinking more, and I want to take back my coach-daughter example. I think I’m trying to make a point that is separate from any possibility of concupiscence, or improper sexual contact, improper arousal or desire, etc. Let’s assume that we’re dealing with two saints interacting with each other, so there is no danger of concupiscence. My point is that a male saint would want to treat the body of a female (who is different, yet complementary, in the male-female complementarity sense) with proper respect. So activities that acknowledge that complementarity and that interact with the other’s body appropriately while respecting the difference are okay — in contrast with activities that can’t do that. The male saint could ballroom dance with a female saint, because he could touch the other’s body with appropriate respect (ie, not touching her breasts). But the male saint couldn’t wrestle (because he would have to touch her breasts).

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Thales, okay, I think you have with this example surfaced our point of disagreement. Why is it inappropriate, a priori and independent of context, for a man to touch a woman’s breasts? If there is no concupiscence involved, then why privilege this one part of the body in this way?

        • Thales

          David,
          I have a longer comment below, but we’re not dealing with an a priori situation.
          If there is no concupiscence involved, then why privilege this one part of the body in this way?
          Maybe for the same reason why we wear bathing suits?

    • LM

      @Thales

      On Saturday, I went to my kung fu class where I practiced fighting techniques with a bunch of men (I was the only female), engaging in various exercises that would probably be considered “immodest” by the criteria that you laid out above. I threw and was thrown to the ground by a male who was considerably larger than me (and married), including one throw that required us to have our hips very close together. There were even instances where I had to put his head close to my chest to execute a neck throw. Yet somehow the whole session didn’t degenerate into a giant dry hump session and no one’s concupiscence was riled up to the point of no return. If a man wants to grope a woman’s breasts, a martial arts class isn’t going to be the most ideal setting, if only because the object of his proposed lechery will punch his lights out if he tries anything.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        This is in line with my prior comments, but Thales is arguing that some actions, such as a man touching a woman’s breasts are a priori immodest, whether or not concupiscence is present. I am looking forward to his response to see if he can explain this further.

        • Frank M.

          If it were the case that “a man touching a woman’s breasts [is] a priori immodest, whether or not concupiscence is present” a lot of male physicians and paramedics are in trouble! “A priori” can’t possibly be the correct answer.

          More likely in the Pennsylvania case it would be “a man touching a woman’s breasts in a context unfamiliar to a celibate bishop with no children of his own is immodest.” In my mind, the Pennsylvania policy’s existence supports a case for why we’d be better off with married clergy.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    For what it is worth: I found the following book on google books that advances many of the same arguments against male/female wrestling that have been advanced here. However, I find it less than compelling, since the author’s notions of proper gender roles verges on misogyny:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=XNyjicNk-kMC&pg=PA527&lpg=PA527&dq=breast+protection+women+wrestlers&source=bl&ots=XVZIrQ2tOu&sig=AnA3BsKD94tL8ZsgVvN7ykJ9moY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IkaYVKu9L4_doASr1oLoBg&ved=0CE0Q6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=breast%20protection%20women%20wrestlers&f=false

  • Thales

    David,

    I’m still developing my thoughts on this, so I’ve been going back and forth a little bit. Here’s some more thoughts:

    A man touching a woman’s breasts is not a priori “immodest”. (I’m not sure how to define “immodest”, so I’m going to be using the word “appropriate.”) Touching the “private parts” of the opposite sex (for lack of a better term) can obviously be appropriate in marital situations, medical situations, etc. But it’s inappropriate in other situations. Whether the touching is appropriate or not is one heavily dependent on the circumstances. What is “appropriate”, you ask? Good question. I’m not sure, but I guess I would say that it depends on whether the action is respectful of other person—and whether an action is respectful of the other person is highly dependent on a variety of factors, including familiarity between the persons, level of trust between the persons, the nature of the contact (obviously), the purpose of the contact, and even local custom. So: prolonged full-body hugging a sister, with whom there is a level of familiarity and trust and respect for the other person— probably okay; with a stranger, probably not okay. Different levels of kissing — okay or not okay depending on the circumstances. Arm around a stranger’s waist — okay while dancing; not okay while on the train. Etc., etc.

    Now we come to wrestling. The thing with wrestling is that it requires a level of touching of the “private parts” of the other person much more than dancing, more than most other martial arts (as it appears to me in my limited experience — I’m not an expert on the topic. LH, your example seems distinguishable from wrestling for a few reasons: kung fu doesn’t require the level of direct touching of the private parts. Another factor could be familiarity: it’s one thing to learn close physical techniques with a trusted partner, coach, etc., and another thing to engage in these actions with a stranger). It just seems to me that direct touching of the private parts of an unknown woman, as it happens in wrestling, is a level of contact that goes too far and cannot be respectful of a woman with whom the man does not have a certain level of familiarity. The question that was entering my head was this: would I be comfortable wrestling with my wife? Of course I would, because of our level of familiarity and trust. But I would I be comfortable wrestling with, say, a religious sister I didn’t know? No, I wouldn’t, because I wouldn’t want to place my hands directly in contact with her private parts, and I wouldn’t be able to avoid that wrestling. Would I be comfortable playing basketball with a religious sister or dancing with a religious sister? Yes, because I could do those activities carefully and could avoid purposefully touching her private parts.

    I’ve been trying to make my point free from the issue of concupiscence. But maybe I shouldn’t remove the issue of concupiscence entirely, because the danger of concupiscence is always present for every single human being, and that perhaps give my argument even greater strength: for example, one of the reasons why I might want to avoid wrestling with a religious sister is to avoid any potential for concupiscence in either me or her. But I still think that there is a larger argument that can be made beyond the issue of concupiscence, based on the importance of being respectful to a person and his body. Consider: there is a reason why crucifixes depict Jesus’s middle as covered and images of Mary have her wearing the clothes that she does. I think it’s due to showing appropriate respect for the person and the body (and not so much due to concerns of concupiscence, though maybe that is a part of it too).

    A final point: David, it’s interesting that in your main post, you mention “twerking” and other dancing of such kind. Why did you make a distinction between them and “performance dancing”? Isn’t it because you recognize some kind of difference between the two? We’re dealing with a spectrum of “touching” that is highly dependent on the circumstances. But you recognize, don’t you, that there is a level of touching in such “grinding” dances that are not appropriate between a teenaged boy and a unfamiliar teenaged girl (even if “grinding” might be appropriate between a husband and wife in the privacy of their home) — and that the level of touching between the same boy and girl is different (and possibly appropriate) if they were dancing a waltz?

    • Frank M.

      Thales, regarding the intimacy of touching while dancing a waltz:

      My wife and I enjoy dancing, and we take private lessons from a professional. The teacher’s first comment when we started learning waltz (after dancing mostly Latin styles): “It’s OK guys, you’re married!” Though the Latin styles look outwardly romantic or even cheeky (like cha-cha), waltz demands continual body-to-body contact.

      What this tells me is that the felt intimacy between partners in an activity is an inward experience that isn’t always obvious to those on the outside, especially to those who have never had a similar experience. You can analyze bathing suit customs and spin Gedankenxperiments all you like, but this will not put you in a good position to judge what’s concupiscent or not.

      Whether in dancing or in martial arts, when I am connected with my partner, our connection enables me to feel whether she is comfortable or not. This connection and awareness happen within seconds if I am open to it. IMHO decency should not demand that I never waltz or wrestle with any woman but my wife, but rather that I connect with the partner (and myself!), and end gracefully if either of us is not comfortable. That includes engaging with my wife — The fact that we are married doesn’t automatically make it “OK.”

      The Pennsylvania decree demands a match forfeit, and can well be misinterpreted as judging the female partner unworthy of the match. I don’t find that respectful at all.

      • Thales

        Frank,

        Up until the last paragraph, I agree entirely with your comment. In fact, you’re making the exact point that I’m trying to make: that the appropriateness of close contact between the sexes is highly dependent on the connection between the partners. I was describing it in terms of the level of familiarity between the two people, or the level of trust and respect between the two people. Your comment is exactly what I’ve been trying to say.

        Except for your last paragraph, where you make a point about respect which doesn’t follow. In a wrestling match, a male would be required to wrestle a female who is a stranger and with whom he has no connection. That’s one reason why it’s different from the examples you mention in the first part of your comment. I think it’s understandable that a male would not be comfortable wrestling with a strange woman, placing his hands on the private areas of a woman he does not know, etc. It’s not a matter of judging the female unworthy of the match. It’s actually the opposite: the male does not feel worthy (or comfortable) putting himself so close to a woman with whom he does not have familiarity and trust, and so, as a matter of respect to the woman and her dignity, he declines the match.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Thales, we seem to be at an impasse, with two distinct notions of how to contexualize appropriate. I want to add a couple more thoughts, however.

          “In a wrestling match, a male would be required to wrestle a female who is a stranger and with whom he has no connection. That’s one reason why it’s different from the examples you mention in the first part of your comment. I think it’s understandable that a male would not be comfortable wrestling with a strange woman”

          I suspect one problem here is a distance between your conception of “strange woman” (I.e. a stranger) and mine (and I guess Frank’s). I see the connection as provided by the context: the person across the mat is (in larger leagues, at least) a stranger, but may be known by name, reputation, stats. There is also the deep bond of competition: at least ideally, there is a bond of respect for your opponent. In my mind this is why coaches need to be very strict about making their players behave in a “sportsmanlike fashion”.

          On a different note, I think our conversation illustrates a point we supporters of male/female wrestling need to keep in mind: some young men will be uncomfortable with the thought of wrestling a young woman, and coaches need to be prepared to handle this, particularly when a forfeit in a single match could hurt a team. Just as I think the bishops are completely off base in forbidding male/female wrestling, I think we should not go to the opposite extreme of mandating it, at least until such times as social norms further evolve.

        • Frank M.

          David:

          Merry Christmas!

          I would not want to identify myself as a “supporter of male/female wrestling,” at least in high school. For high schoolers, the best arrangement would be to have a girls’ program equal to the boys’ program. If there isn’t enough interest to support that, allowing the occasional girl to participate in wrestling and respecting her as a legitimate competitor is the most reasonable accommodation. I agree with you that coaches ought to avoid matching girls with boys who aren’t ready to do that.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Merry Christmas to you and yours, Frank!

            Indeed, a “league of their own” might be best, but it may not be possible in many places.

    • LM

      @Thales

      What constitutes “modesty” or “immodest” behavior is largely dependent on the time, setting, and culture. It was once common for many cultures that lived in the Southern hemisphere to go about their daily lives in relatively little clothing (some of these people still do so today). It wasn’t until missionaries showed up and started hectoring them about their “uncivilized” and unclad state that they began to wear clothes from head to toe. In some parts of the West, there are nude beaches and resorts where people of all ages (even children) and genders engage in social nudism. If being exposed to a nude body in and of itself automatically lead to uncontrollable sexual urges, I don’t think that we would see so many instances of people engaging in social nudity without anything untoward happening. Indeed, I would say that it is more respectful to be in a nudist colony where there is no ogling and everyone’s body is accepted, than to be in an environment where everyone is judging each other on their modesty.

      Even the waltz, which you mention as a wholesome male/female activity, was considered to be vulgar when first it began to migrate from the village dances of the German peasantry to the ballrooms of the aristocracy. Once enough time passes, low culture becomes high culture and what was once shocking is considered passe. Similarly, I expect in fifty years that twerking will probably be taught at senior citizen’s homes, much in the same way that the polka (another once risque dance craze that is now considered old-fashioned) is today.

      Going back to specifically to wrestling, I think that in a controlled, competitive environment that there shouldn’t be a problem with male/female competition. The idea of you wrestling with a religious sister seems odd, precisely because it is unlikely that the two of you would be in an environment where such a thing would be likely or even make sense (could a religious sister even take a self-enrichment class of any type without violating her vows? I’m doubtful). The original article indicated that there weren’t even that many female wrestlers in the entire state (somewhere from zero to thirty), which makes this whole issue seem like more of a thought exercise than something that the Catholic schools would realistically encounter.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        My one addendum is that given the existence of skateboarding friars (see my earlier post on this), I would expect that there would be no problem with a religious sister (who is not cloistered) taking a self-enrichment class. I suspect even certain types of martial arts might be acceptable to her as well, though I am only speculating here.

      • Thales

        LM,

        I know that modesty is in part dependent on time, setting, and culture. I said so in my comment, when I acknowledged that “local custom” plays a part. At the same time, I’m of the opinion that there are at least *some* limits to what is acceptable dress/behavior when considering interaction between the sexes. You seem to be saying that there are no limits, and that all is dependent on culture. I’ll have to disagree. Even if we get to a point where culture says that twerking in the nude between teens is appropriate behavior, I’m going to say that’s going too far. There are *some* limits, independent of what our culture says.

        I actually don’t think there would be a problem with a religious sister taking a self-enrichment class (as long as approved by superior, permitted by the order guidelines, etc.). I brought up the religious sister because it’s a possible example. Consider all the sisters in habits who are school teachers — they’re playing basketball and soccer along with the students. Or consider David’s skateboarding friars. My point is that while I wouldn’t have a problem playing basketball with a sister (which I’ve done before), I’d be uncomfortable wrestling with her.

        • LM

          @Thales

          My point was not that there should be no standards of modesty. Rather, I was disputing the view that says that the effects of original sin are such that even the slightest hint of nudity or sensuality must be guarded against, lest we spend all day rolling around in a giant orgy. The underlying assumption appears to be that modesty as defined by early twentieth century conservative Catholicism is the default standard, when it is only one culturally bound definition of modesty.

        • Thales

          LM,

          Then you’re fighting a strawman, (“ie, the view that says that the effects of original sin are such that even the slightest hint of nudity or sensuality must be guarded against, lest we spend all day rolling around in a giant orgy”) not trying to engage my position.

      • Mark VA

        L.M.:

        I agree with you, especially the part about the “…controlled, competitive environment…” !

        Using your suggestion that this competition should be controlled (yet competitive!), and my sheltered traditionalist background, we may just resolve this issue to everyone’s satisfaction. So here is goes:

        (a) We insulate the competitors with specially designed body suits that contain a bubble-wrap liner. The added benefit of such suits would be that a large number of audible “pops” would indicate an increased modesty concern, thus requiring the male to forfeit. Say, twenty pops, and you’re out! :

        http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/f219/

        (b) We ritualize their movements to classical music – your mention of polka is invaluable here. The competitors, wearing the above mentioned modesty suits, will execute a series of “wrestling” pas de deux, and the whole match would be judged on balance, poise, synchronicity and inventiveness of the poses, the number of pops (in an inverse relationship), etc,;

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_18RBnfoE74

        I do have one minor quibble with your post, however: Polka is not considered old fashioned, at least in some circles.

        Chicago, for example, has a thriving punk polka scene:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDkSyzprBZ8

        And the Tex-Mex scene ain’t too shabby, either:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx-c8HO5gGU

        Perhaps you were thinking of this when you called polka old-fashioned:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4327HSXY56k

  • Brian Martin

    Having both danced with females and wrestled females (albeit many years ago in high school) I would say that almost any sort of dancing with a female partner is much more sensuous and erotic in nature than an athletic competition.

  • Mark VA

    This sophisticated subject is light years ahead of those of us who are male, traditionalist, and/or immigrant – we isn’t capable of comprehending, much less absorbing all this into our daily lives. Such complexities, nuances, and sophistications of the fast paced modern ways leave many of us bewildered, afraid, and clinging to the old, rigid, and comfortable ways.

    With this being said, I think charity suggests that you all throw us a “consolation prize” bone. Would you all kindly concede that changing a flat tire should remain within the domain of the male, at least for us, the steerage class hoi polloi?

    Yes, I know the counter arguments: high heels get better traction in the mud, both sexes are equally skilled and OK using lug wrenches, lift jacks, applying foot-pounds of torque, getting soaked in the rain, etc. Yet, for the sake of our fragile and struggling egos, would you please concede this one small thing?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      If you really want to change a tire in the rain, please, be my guest. Your reward in heaven will be one-hundred fold. :-)

      • Mark VA

        I’m not sure I follow… for every tire I change here on Earth, I’ll have to change one hundred tires in heaven?

        If that’s the deal, then I’m changing my mind – let the ladies change all the flats from now on. Wouldn’t wanna diminish their rewards.

    • Julia Smucker

      If it makes you feel any better, Mark, if by some chance we found ourselves traveling together by car, I would gladly concede that you were better suited than me for tire-changing duties.

      • Mark VA

        Thanks, Julia, but now that C-U explained to me the fine print of the deal, I would say it may all depend on the shoes that were available at the moment.

        Thus:

        (a) Do you have any idea what water and mud can do to the Norwegian triple stitch of a made to order Louis Vuitton grained calf skin, carbone shaded, custom molded-bottom, Ducale styled pedo-instrument ($nK entry price)?

        http://us.louisvuitton.com/eng-us/stories/made-to-order#/home

        (b) Unless, of course, in addition to the spare tire, I carried spare Carhartt Wellingtons in the trunk:

        http://www.carhartt.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10101&storeId=10051&productId=298711&langId=-1&categoryId=72268&top_category=10915&quickView=false

        So, as you can see, who changes the flat tire is no longer such a simple question. In our complexified world, there are many existential and economic variables to consider…

        • Julia Smucker

          You know, a Franciscan such as C-U might point out that the above made-to-order Louis Vuitton pedo-instruments are highly immodest in another sense.

        • Mark VA

          You’re right, Julia.

          High end is opposite of what we would consider plain. I think it’s more about a display of wealth and status, than even about the product itself.

          With respect to shoes, Franciscans, I think, would prefer more “convertible” styles, such as these:

          https://www.birkenstockusa.com/products/men/sandals

          BTW – Merry Christmas, to you all!

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Well, for me anyway: I won’t presume to judge Mark! :-)

  • Tanco

    Thales, I respect your perspective on the question but thoroughly disagree with it. A compartmentalization of human beings into genitalia and primary sex characteristics is, in my view, dehumanizing. No, I certainly do not believe that men have a right to fondle women’s breasts when the desire strikes. Put another way, sexual consent is absolute. However, the question of sexual consent is also a question of the conduct of persons — intellect, will, action, and bodies, not just booty.

    I grew up in a very pietistic environment. My mother had a very calvino-jansenist understanding of the human relationship with God — He is sovereign and He wills our fates. She did not discuss sexuality with me, as perhaps my sexuality and sexual conduct were likewise fatalist. That was left to me father, who likewise said nothing. My sexual education was at best stunted because neither wanted to talk about sexuality, and probably only could from the perspective of persons parsed solely by their genitals.

    Thales, please don’t try to parse human sexuality into situations which can be analyzed like an adjuster sizes up the site of a car wreck. Rather, be aware that human sexual complexity even defies the logic of human beings. Sometimes God’s sovereignity is hidden from our view, even when this is inconvenient.

    • Thales

      Tanco,
      I’m not compartmentalizing human beings into genitalia and primary sex characteristics. I’m coming from the perspective that it’s important for men to respect women, and vice versa.

  • Ronald King

    Opponents of fe-male wrestling have dirty minds and need to go to confession

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I don’t think we should go that far; some do, but I am willing to give many of them the benefit of the doubt even as I disagree with them.

      • Ronald King

        Merry Christmas David. I was not clear enough. When modesty was a concern in the comments I immediately thought about projection but I could be wrong and I could be doing that at this moment.

    • Thales

      Ronald,
      With all due respect, that’s a very culturally myopic perspective. Different cultures have different ways of showing respect to those of the same sex and those of the opposite sex. You might not agree with some cultural standards — that’s fine. But it’s culturally short-sighted and frankly rude to think that a well-meaning, Amish man or faithful Muslim or Victorian-era gentleman, who honestly wishes to respect a woman of their culture, has a dirty mind.

      • LM

        @Thales

        The notion of being a gentleman only applies to public behavior regarding “respectable women.” It does not govern what a man does behind closed doors or to women who have been deemed by society to be “bad” or of low morals. In times past, a man could sire a baseball team’s worth of illegitimate children or frequent bordellos and still be considered a “gentleman” so long as he didn’t endanger the virtue of “respectable women.” If a woman was a servant, a slave, poor, or a prostitute, she wasn’t going to be the beneficiary of a gentleman’s chivalry.

        The problem with modesty, particularly in a religious context, is that it is seldom about protecting the “dignity of women” but about controlling their behavior to suit men. For example, in Israel the ultra-Orthodox community is obsessed with female modesty to the point that they will physically assault female secular Israelis and hapless tourists who dare to wander into their enclaves dressed in ways that they deem immodest. Buses that have routes in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods are segregated with men in the front and women in the back, and women who protest are met with violence. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t even have photographs of women (including pre-pubescent girls and infants) in ultra-orthodox publications. In one well publicized incident, an eight-year old girl from a religious zionist background (roughly analogous to Modern Orthodoxy) was spat upon and called a prostitute by ultra-orthodox men who deemed her clothing to be “immodest.”

        http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/1.538978

        http://www.timesofisrael.com/ultra-orthodox-modesty-patrol-clash-with-police/

        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/world/middleeast/israeli-girl-at-center-of-tension-over-religious-extremism.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

        Call me crazy, but if a man’s sexuality is flared up by the sight of an eight-year old girl, the person with the problem is the man, not the child.

        Although women in Islamic countries dress very conservatively by Western standards (and in some cultures are totally segregated from men), they are subjected to an absurd level sexual harrassment and violence. Egypt is commonly believed to be one of the worst offenders in this regard:

        http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-27817119

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/06/18/egypts-sexual-harassment-pandemic-and-the-powerlessness-of-hashtags/

        Similarly, Iranian women and girls accept sexual harassment as a fact of life, despite the state-imposed wearing of the hijab that should theoretically render them “modest”:

        http://www.gozaar.org/english/articles-en/Harassment-and-Abuse-in-Iran.html

        The common denominator in all of these situations is that the onus is on women and girls to dress and behave modestly to protect the virtue of the men around them, and when they fail to do so, they are threatened with violence, as if to say, “If you don’t do what we want, not only you will be to be attacked/raped, but you’ll deserve it.” Modesty standards are not about preserving women’s dignity, except in the sense that a woman’s reputation and modesty makes her valuable property to her male family members or wider community. I have no doubt that the Taliban think they’re looking out for the best interests of Afghan women by keeping them burqa-ed up and confined to the home, but from a human flourishing angle, they’re wasting the potential of half of their followers.

        Now, you might be saying, “Those problems you mentioned are in Judaism and Islam. Catholicism is totally different.” However, given the large number of statements from the Church Fathers that say point-blank that women are inherently evil and only interested in seducing virtuous men suggests otherwise. This fairly recently article from Alice von Hildebrand reinforces the view I mentioned earlier that women have to be the “guardians of purity”:

        http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6017

        Catholic women may not be stoned for wearing shorts or forced to wear head coverings, but those same poisonous attitudes are still out there, especially given the popularity of the “Theology of the Skirt” that in found in many conservative and traditionalist quarters. If women are only seen through the lens of how useful they are to male spirituality (or conversely, male sexuality), they will never be seen as full persons. There has been a lot of writing within the last couple of years about the psychologically damaging effects of the purity movement on women, since it essentially reduces the value of women to whether they have an intact hymen or not:

        http://theotherjournal.com/2014/03/03/naked-and-ashamed-women-and-evangelical-purity-culture/

        http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/09/elizabeth-smart-purity-culture-shames-survivors-sexual-assault

        While such articles tend to focus on evangelicalism, I think that many of these criticisms are applicable to Catholicism as well.

        • Thales

          LM,

          You’re setting up all kinds of bizarre strawmen that have nothing to do with the discussion I’m having here. I’m not talking about men who take advantage of women behind doors. I’m not talking about men who unjustly control women’s behavior or spit on women. I’m not talking about perverted men who are aroused by 8-year old girls. I’m not talking about men who subject women to sexual harassment and violence. Instead, I’m trying to talk about men who truly want to honor and respect women.

          Yes, women can be treated unjustly under the guise of “modesty.” So? That doesn’t mean that all attempts at respectful interactions between men and women should be discarded.

          No, current Catholic teaching doesn’t hold that women are evil. And did you read the von Hildebrand article? I don’t think you fully understood it. And you don’t like encouraging women to the virtue of purity? What’s your alternative? You’re okay with promiscuity? (We’re probably going far afield from the main discussion I’ve been trying to have with David.)

        • Ronald King

          LM, Thank you for your clarity of thought.
          Thales, why would you say that I am being rude for my comment about having a dirty mind and the need to go to confession. Lighten up. I was attempting some humor, but it didn’t work. In that attempt I was also hoping that some reflection would be focused on the motivation to emphasize modesty as a focal point against fe-male wrestling. It seems to me that the prime underlying motivation against this is fear and not love or it could be a combination of both. If fear is not recognized as a factor in the reasoning against this competition then it contaminates the resulting belief system with all sorts of rationalizations and intellectualizations to support a fear based premise to regulate human relations.

        • Thales

          Ronald,
          Because it was an insult to those honestly trying to seek out the best way to honor women and to treat them the way Christ would. You say that you think fear is a factor motivating those who talk about modesty. Maybe for some. For others, it’s love of Christ and love of others.

        • LM

          @ Thales

          “You’re setting up all kinds of bizarre strawmen that have nothing to do with the discussion I’m having here. I’m not talking about men who take advantage of women behind doors. I’m not talking about men who unjustly control women’s behavior or spit on women. I’m not talking about perverted men who are aroused by 8-year old girls. I’m not talking about men who subject women to sexual harassment and violence. Instead, I’m trying to talk about men who truly want to honor and respect women.”

          It’s not a strawman to point all that a lot of violence has been done in the name of preserving modesty, especially when such violence is disturbingly common from a global perspective. This obsession with female modesty is what motivates honor killings, female genital mutilation, child marriage, forced marriage, female seclusion, and other horrors. The societies that implement these cruel measures honestly think that they are doing what’s best for women. However, thinking that you are acting in someone’s best interest doesn’t nessesarily mean that you are. For example, every year millions of girls under the age of 18, many of whom are pre-pubescent, are married to much older men. The rationale behind this is that being married at a young age “preserves the honor” of girls so they won’t be sleeping around with random boys and enables them to be taken care of from a material and financial perspective. However, girls this young are not prepared, physically or emotionally, to be married, and are much more likely to die in childbirth, to get AIDS/HIV, to suffer domestic violence (it goes without saying that married girls are not allowed to continue their schooling, assuming they ever went to begin with). In fact, many of these child brides are so young, that they suffer from severe internal injuries on their “wedding nights” and die as a result. The internal logic that governs cultures that sanction child brides may dictate that they are doing what’s best for their girls, but they’re really consigning them to a lifetime of ignorance, ill-health, and possibly an early grave.

          The reason why I bring these extreme examples up is not just because they are depressingly common, but because earlier you said, “But it’s culturally short-sighted and frankly rude to think that a well-meaning, Amish man or faithful Muslim or Victorian-era gentleman, who honestly wishes to respect a woman of their culture, has a dirty mind.” It’s perfectly relevant to bring up what the consequences were/are for women living in Muslim or Victorian societies (I know next to nothing about the Amish and won’t pretend to have any insight about how women are treated in that culture).

          The fact that modern Western women generally don’t have to deal with the more extreme aspects of the modesty obsession is due to the work of centuries of women who were willing to push back against it, often against the wishes of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. As culturally advanced as classical Athens was, for example, the women of that city lived little better than a woman in contemporary Afghanistan, as they seldom left their houses and had to be covered head to toe when they did. Clearly, we’ve made some progress in the last 2,500 years, but more needs to be done.

          I never said that all “respectful interactions” between men and women should be eliminated, but it’s clear that you and I have different definitions of what that phrase means, and I certainly never said that promiscuity should be the rule (if nothing else, promiscuity is ill-advised from a public health perspective). I think that it is much healthier for the sexes to view each other as friends and colleagues with individual interests and quirks, rather than as mysterious creatures who will destroy their virtue if they so much make eye contact with each other. Modesty rhetoric tends to make even the most innocent interactions between the sexes (including those between brothers and sisters) to be a sexual matter. I think that it is up to the individual to control his or her sexual urges and if you’re having a problem in this regard, don’t place the blame on the behavior or dress of some third party.

          “And you don’t like encouraging women to the virtue of purity?”

          As I mentioned in my previous reply, purity rhetoric tends to reduce the value of women and girls to the status of their virginity, and there have been many women who feel dirty after having sex, even in the context of marriage, because they placed so much of their identity and self-worth in the idea of being a “pure” virgin. Personally, I think the concept of virginity needs to be junked altogether, but that’s another story. Rather than aspire to be “pure,” women – and men – should instead be ethical.

          You assert that male/female wrestling is injurious to the dignity of women, but have yet to offer any actual evidence that this is so, other than your own discomfort with the idea. If wrestling and other fighting arts really were that bad for females, I would think that there would be sociological and psychological papers to back this claim up.

        • Thales

          LM,

          This is a Catholic blog, so I’m going to come out and say it: the ideal behavior for all women (and men) is holiness and sanctity. That means no sexual relations outside of marriage. That’s the ideal for all of us, and it’s the standard that is most fulfilling and least harmful to us. Now, how to instill this ideal is another matter entirely. You might have a point that the way “purity” is taught is counter-productive or harmful. But that’s another discussion for another day.

          You say women have been oppressed because of (flawed) notions of “modesty” and “purity”. Fine. My point is that the concept of virtue (especially in sexual matters) shouldn’t be discarded in response. Large segments of our culture have already discarded these concepts, and this has lead to severe injury to women, just as flawed notions of “modesty” and “purity” have injured women.

  • Thales

    Merry Christmas, David. I’ve been off-line for a few days.

    Perhaps we’re at an impasse, but we can come to an agreement about certain principles, can’t we? Maybe we disagree about the particular application of the principles, but can we agree on the principles themselves?

    -that men and women are different, but with equal dignity
    -that men should be respectful to women and treat them with dignity (and that the failure of this to happen is generally a bigger problem than women failing to treat men with dignity)
    -that whether a man’s action is respectful of a woman is highly dependent on a variety of factors, including familiarity between the persons, level of trust between the persons, the nature of the contact (obviously), the purpose of the contact, and even local custom
    -that an identical instance of male-to-female contact can be respectful in one context, and not respectful in another context
    -that there is a spectrum of male-to-female interactions when it comes to physical contact, from not-so-close to very-close
    -that in our culture today, there are male-to-female interactions at either end of the spectrum of closeness which are inappropriate because they happen to be disrespectful to women: for example, refusing to shake a woman’s hand who you’ve just met on one end; grinding with a woman you’ve just met on the other end (this acknowledges that there are other cultures where the same action might be respectful — for example, I believe it’s disrespectful to shake hands with a woman you’ve just met in certain Muslim cultures — but we can set aside debates about the pros and cons of different cultural norms).

    I think we agree on all the above. We just disagree on where to draw the line, in the American culture of today that me and you basically share, as to whether the close contact found in wrestling is appropriate or not appropriate.

    Finally, I’m glad to see you recognize that some young men will be uncomfortable with the thought of wrestling a young woman. Consider that in our country, we don’t all have one same American culture — we have people from different backgrounds and cultures, and certainly from cultures where male-female wrestling is highly inappropriate. Should we be demanding that they conform to Western American culture. Generally, I think it’s a good thing to try to accommodate other cultures if there is nothing immoral about the accommodation (for example, we certainly don’t have to accommodate truly disrespectful traditions, like honor killings).

    My final thought is that I think that a large number of men/boys who are uncomfortable with wrestling with a woman are coming from a sense of wanting to show gentlemanly respect to the woman, and not from a position of male superiority. You can argue that such men/boys are misguided or products of a misguided upbringing or education or culture (like the examples of Amish men or Muslim men), but that’s a entirely separate issue. The fact remains that such men/boys are well-meaning and are coming from the praise-worthy motivation of wanting to be respectful to women=– and that should be acknowledged (and is all too often forgotten, as seen by the commenters here.)

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thales,

      welcome back! I hope your Christmas has been a blessed one. With regards to your post: on the one hand I would be inclined to agree with your stipulations: they seem, superficially, to be reasonable and based on common sense. But, on the other hand, the the longer I pick at them, the less agreeable I feel. The problem for me is that you have taken a number of reasonable principles that should govern interpersonal relations–e.g. one could as easily write “that there is a spectrum of [person-to-person] interactions when it comes to physical contact, from not-so-close to very-close”—and gendered them. Moreover, you have gendered them in a strongly asymmetric fashion, making all the subjects male and all the subjects female.

      This leads, I think, to our fundamental area of disagreement, and why I think we disagree on the application of these principles to male-female wrestling. I want to start with the fundamental dignity of all persons and sort out all of those issues, and then, cautiously, ask if there are particular applications that need to be gendered. Moreover, I want to make sure that these are reciprocal and symmetric. The reason for this caution is precisely because of the lack of balance historically that has been used as an excuse for all sorts of behavior that both penalizes women and holds them to a higher standard. (See for instance the previous discussions about modesty.) So here we have a question about men and women wrestling together, but it always seems to lose this symmetry: the bishops were terribly worried about men touching women, and never the reverse. There may be circumstances where this kind of asymmetry is warranted, but currently I tend to approach them with a hermeneutic of suspicion.

      • Thales

        David,

        I’m really fascinated that you are seeing a problem with the man-to-woman direction in my comment. I’m curious to explore this.

        You’re exactly right: my principles should govern all interpersonal relations. I agree with you that these principles can and should apply both ways, men-to-women and women-to-men (and also men-to-men and women-to-women). Yes, I agree that it highly important that women respect and honor men (and other women), just as it should be the case vice versa.

        But you’re also right that I phrased my principles in one direction: men treating women with dignity; men interacting with women; etc. And I’m really fascinated by the fact that you appear to object to that.

        The reason why I phrased my principles in one direction is because historically and culturally, in the past and today, the failure of men to treat women with dignity generally is a bigger problem than women failing to treat men with dignity, and the problem of women being abused or mistreated by men is generally a bigger problem than vice versa. You appear to be recognizing that there is this “lack of balance historically.” I agree that there is a lack of balance, but because the lack of balance has generally weighed against women, has hurt women, has failed to properly recognize their dignity, etc., that’s why I wanted to phrase my principles in a way that attempts to restore the balance in some way, by reiterating the dignity of women and the importance of being respectful to them. And I find it fascinating that my attempt to counteract the lack of balance weighing against women is one which you approach with suspicion. Can you explain more?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Thales, sorry for the delay in responding. In rereading my comment I realized I made a typo that may have obscured my meaning, and which is very relevant to my response. I meant to write that when you gendered your responses, you made the *subjects* men and the *objects* women. In other words, men were the actors and women are acted upon.

          This, in a nutshell, is what I am very suspicious of in your formulation. Historically, men have been more violent towards women, have treated them in outrageous fashions, etc. The response has been, however, for *MEN* to decide what are the appropriate ways for men to treat women and to tell other men what to do and to tell *women* what to expect (and to do to earn this respect). No one is asking women what they want or expect, or what they think men should do. The classic example of this, discussed on this blog in the past, is Chesterton’s carefully reasoned explanation of why the virtue of women must be protected from the “onerous responsibility” of voting. He nominally wants to show them respect, but in fact he is cossetting them in a way that is fundamentally opposed to their dignity as human persons.

          In writing this I do not want to draw a complete parallel between what you are saying and these earlier manifestations: the world has changed and you are not a 19th or early 20th century man with all of their social baggage. But I do worry that you are uncritically framing the question in ways that lead to similar problems as occurred in the past.

      • Jordan

        Thales [December 29, 2014 9:13 pm]: I agree that there is a lack of balance, but because the lack of balance has generally weighed against women, has hurt women, has failed to properly recognize their dignity, etc.

        Sorry to step in here David, but again I’ll back up my assertion that Thales is engaging in a sex behavior essentialism which ends up with an objectification of persons by their sex characteristics. After all, what is a male/female binary model without reference to these characteristics?

        The idea the men hurt women more than the opposite case is rooted in the idea that violence is necessarily sex-based and necessarily tied to a sexual act (here, touching the genitalia or primary sex characteristics of another person). David’s [December 29, 2014 5:44 pm] hermeneutic of suspicion is more plausible. As David notes, interpersonal relationships are not sex-binary but “reciprocal and symmetric”. Citations of putative historical precedent and diverse cultural practices (cf. Thales, [December 28, 2014 3:11 pm]) inadequate represent reciprocity and symmetry because mores are mutable even towards reciprocity and symmetry. Once unrelated men and women could not embrace in public; today this is permitted so long as both the man and woman assent to this touching. Here is found reciprocity and symmetry.

        I sense Thales that you are uncomfortable with an interpretation of sex (and ultimately gender) which does not follow from the line of hermeneutical reasoning founded in Humanae vitae and which trace through documents such as Theology of the Body and Mulieris dignitatem. The Church still teaches that a sexual essentiality exists; that men and women are ontologically as well as genetically different. Thales, your writings suggest to me that this hermeneutic is the a priori lens through which all questions of intimate contact rest. Perhaps Catholics are bound to believe this aforementioned interpretation, but a secular/agnostic interpretation cannot be excluded because it is germane for a discussion outside the “fence” of Catholic anthropological and moral theology.

        • Thales

          Jordan,

          Hard to make sense of your comment, but I’ll try.

          Are you saying that I’m objectifying persons by their sex characteristics? Where did I do anything of the sort? Nope, just trying to recognize their dignity.

          The idea the men hurt women more than the opposite case is rooted in the idea that violence is necessarily sex-based

          No, it’s not. It’s based on observation. You don’t think that historically women have been more marginalized or oppressed by men, rather than vice versa? That seems pretty clear to me. Also, that doesn’t mean violence is sex-based (whatever “sex-based” means — I’m unsure what you mean by that.) Violence can have many sources, including feelings of superiority, feelings of insecurity, physical size differences, physiological differences, feelings of being different and rejecting the “other”, etc. — after all, male-on-male violence happens a lot (and probably more than male-on-female violence).

          Sorry, I don’t follow your point about interpersonal relationships being not sex-binary but “reciprocal and symmetric”. These things aren’t mutually exclusive. A “reciprocal and symmetric” relationship can obviously occur in a male-female relationship (as well as a male-male relationship). But a male-female relationship is still a relationship between a male and a female.

          Finally, it sounds like you’re rejecting the notion that “sexual essentiality exists; that men and women are ontologically as well as genetically different”, and that you subscribe to a “secular/agnostic interpretation” of sex and/or gender. If so, can you please share what this “secular/agnostic interpretation” is?

        • Frank M.

          Jordan wrote: “The idea the men hurt women more than the opposite case is rooted in the idea that violence is necessarily sex-based and necessarily tied to a sexual act…”

          The meaning of “more” isn’t clear to me here. Does it mean:

          * “Men are more frequently perpetrators of physical violence” (I agree with this)

          * “Men are more frequently perpetrators of harm” (I don’t agree with this)

          * “When men hurt women, the physical damage is more severe than when women hurt men” (I agree with this)

          I’m also uncomfortable with Thales’ statement, again because the meaning of “bigger problem” isn’t clear to me: “the failure of men to treat women with dignity generally is a bigger problem than women failing to treat men with dignity, and the problem of women being abused or mistreated by men is generally a bigger problem than vice versa.” If Thales is saying that women disrespecting or hurting men is an insignificant problem, I find that a dangerously wrong statement.

          What makes the issue asymmetric is that generally men are more capable of inflicting physical harm and are more frequently socialized to commit rage or physical violence as a show of “manliness,” especially in reaction to a perceived insult or shaming. I don’t see “failing to treat others with dignity” being in any way a gender-specific problem. That disrespect engenders reciprocal disrespect is, if you will, a completely ungendered problem.

          I see no reason to think prohibiting boys from wrestling similar-strength girls can fix the social reinforcement of violent male behavior toward either gender.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Frank writes:

          “What makes the issue asymmetric is that generally men are more capable of inflicting physical harm and are more frequently socialized to commit rage or physical violence as a show of “manliness,” especially in reaction to a perceived insult or shaming….I see no reason to think prohibiting boys from wrestling similar-strength girls can fix the social reinforcement of violent male behavior toward either gender.”

          Yes, exactly.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Tanco writes:

          “The Church still teaches that a sexual essentiality exists; that men and women are ontologically as well as genetically different. Thales, your writings suggest to me that this hermeneutic is the a priori lens through which all questions of intimate contact rest.”

          Well, I guess I have the same problem. To quote Annie Oakley from “Annie Get your Gun”: “My tiny baby brother can neither read nor write. But he can tell the difference: all you have to do is look!” Gender differences are physically real, and if we accept the idea that we are embodied (to do otherwise leads to nasty dualism problems) then these physical differences must be meaningful on an ontological level.

          But, having conceded that, I am very uncertain as to what they mean, since empirically I can see that all sorts of social constructs have been supported by appealing to their supposed ontological status. I find myself much in the same boat as Avery Dulles back in the 1970s, when he was trying to defend papal infallibility. He believed in it, but was very uncertain as to when and how it should be applied. (I think an older Dulles overcame this hesitation.)

        • Tanco

          Frank M [ December 31, 2014 8:27 am]:

          The meaning of “more” isn’t clear to me here. Does it mean:

          * “Men are more frequently perpetrators of physical violence” (I agree with this)

          * “Men are more frequently perpetrators of harm” (I don’t agree with this)

          * “When men hurt women, the physical damage is more severe than when women hurt men” (I agree with this)

          Yes, I fully agree with you Frank. Thanks for correcting me. Your second statement is most important. Just because men are far more likely to commit physical violence against women (sexual assault, domestic abuse for just two examples) , this fact does not mean that women cannot harm men. “Harm” is not just sexual or physical, but a broader concept. Certainly emotional harm exists also.

        • Tanco

          Thales [December 30, 2014 11:28 pm]: (whatever “sex-based” means — I’m unsure what you mean by that.)

          The phrase “sex-based” signifies the biological constitution of a person based on genetic attributes. A man has certain physical attributes based on his genome; the same exists for a woman. When I argue with you, I try to stay within the Catholic magisterial understanding of what male/female is. This understanding is absolutely based on “sex” (genetics) and not “gender” (social construct).

          A “male to female transsexual” (a man who has had sex reassignment surgery) has a gender, a “transsexual woman”. However, she is still a man according to the magisterium even if she lives her life as a woman. The Church views this person as “sex-based” (identified only by genetic attributes). I do not use the word gender for this reason in our discussions, as gender is not a Catholic concept but a secular concept.

  • Thales

    David,

    No problem about your subject-object typo. I understood your point when you made it.

    Interesting: so your hesitation to my objection to men-women wrestling comes from the fact that too often men decide what are the appropriate ways for men to treat women while telling women what to expect (and what to do to earn this respect), and that no one is asking women for their opinion—and that in the past, when men decide what is appropriate behavior, they decide wrongly (the Chesterton example).

    I understand your concern. A couple of thoughts in response:

    1. Do we know that women haven’t given their opinion? Maybe there are women who don’t want their children getting involved in mixed-sex wrestling.

    2. Wrestling seems to me essentially different from the voting example, for the reason I first stated: the close contact between men and women. I’m not against wrestling for women or any other actions that they want to do: they can wrestle it if they want to. It’s the level of close contact with a man who is not at a certain level of familiarity/trust—that’s the issue. There’s also another related point: part of the reason I’m against wrestling is because *I* (or another male in my position) would be uncomfortable with having that close contact with a woman who I don’t know. That’s why I liked the fact that you recognized a couple of posts ago that some young men might be uncomfortable with wrestling a woman. Obviously this uncomfortableness doesn’t exist with any other activity that a woman does where I’m not obliged to invade her personal space. So, yes, I agree with you: objections to a woman doing something because she’s a woman should be viewed with suspicion. But we’re dealing with a different situation here: it’s an objection to a woman doing something because it requires her to have the close contact with a man who is not at a certain level of familiarity/trust.

    3. While I understand your caution about “making decisions about how men should interact with women”, the problem with your position is that too often, it prompts someone with your position to stay silent when the next appropriate gender boundary is broken down. It’s fair to have your caution, but let’s be sure that the caution doesn’t paralyze us when someone wants to break down the next fence that happens to be appropriate. (Speaking of Chesterton, I’m thinking of Chesterton’s fence here. You familiar? From the Chesterton’s fence perspective, you shouldn’t be suspicious of me when I say “wait, don’t break down the fence”—you should be suspicious of the fence-breakers and require them to give you a good reason before breaking down the fence.) Don’t let your concern that misguided people in the past used the physical/ontological differences between boys and girls to support an injustice paralyze you when the pendulum swings the other way and someone tries to minimize the physical/ontological differences between boys and girls in order to further a different type of injustice.

    Consider this illustration: So you have a suspicion when a man objects to a gender boundary being removed. What do you do when next year someone demands that the school bathrooms and locker rooms be mixed sex? Going back to our example above, what do you do when someone proposes allowing grinding at your child’s school dance? I hope your suspicion of an objection to supporting a proper gender boundary doesn’t paralyze when an appropriate objection should be made.

    An interesting similar example that came to mind is mixed sex college dorms (or even mixed-sex college rooms). It’s an example of some women (or men thinking that they’re speaking for women) asserting that another gender boundary should be removed. As you might guess, I object to it: again, it presents an inappropriate level of close contact between the sexes. The interesting thing about it is that I suspect most *women* don’t like mixed-sex dorms (though they may not admit it publicly); but their interests have been bowled over by the culture, by men who think that they’re speaking for women (and shouldn’t you be suspicious of these men who are making decisions for women? :) ), and by a vocal minority of women.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thales,

      I think we are at an impasse: there are some points we can still discuss, but I think we are laying bear our fundamental disagreements. I am going to pull out some of your points and respond to them as best I can. I don’t want to be deliberately oppositional, but I am going to stress the points where we are thinking in very different terms.

      “1. Do we know that women haven’t given their opinion? Maybe there are women who don’t want their children getting involved in mixed-sex wrestling.”

      No clue. The women who post here were ambivalent but not strictly opposed. A short google search did not turn up any women opposed. And the fact that 100’s (possibly thousands) of high school aged women wrestle suggest that they, their parents and their friends all thought it was okay. So this is a large pool of women who have given explicit or tacit consent. I would lay the most stress on the fact that the young women themselves who are competing, their parents (mothers and fathers), and their coaches (some of whom are specifically retained female assistant coaches) all find this acceptable behavior. They all feel (or so I infer) that the young woman is being treated with modesty and respect by her male competitors. This does not make it okay, it is just some oblique evidence of women giving their opinion.

      “Wrestling seems to me essentially different from the voting example, for the reason I first stated: the close contact between men and women. I’m not against wrestling for women or any other actions that they want to do: they can wrestle it if they want to. It’s the level of close contact with a man who is not at a certain level of familiarity/trust—that’s the issue.”

      To recap my previous comments: the structure of the matches and the sport provide an institutional level of familiarity and trust. Another way to think of this: every time two men (strangers) step on to the mat, they extend trust that their opponent will treat them with respect: no biting, gouging or illegal moves. And they also trust that the external institution, instantiated in the referee, will stop this kind of behavior if it starts. Women and men wrestling one another extend the same formal trust to one another. But, leaving this aside, it is clear: you think it is inappropriate for a man to grab a woman in her crotch on the wrestling mat. I do not. I am not sure we can resolve this fundamental point.

      “There’s also another related point: part of the reason I’m against wrestling is because *I* (or another male in my position) would be uncomfortable with having that close contact with a woman who I don’t know.”

      Okay, here we come to the nub of my point that you were framing this with men as subjects and women as objects. A man is uncomfortable, so a woman should be banned from competing. You have never brought up whether it is appropriate for a woman to grab a man in this fashion. Everything has been about the men. Now in fairness, you may (and probably do) believe the opposite is also true: that it is inappropriate for a woman to grab a man in this way. Fair enough. But the fact remains that you chose to frame it in this asymmetric fashion and this is what I found problematic and why I was hesitant to accept the consensus points you stated above.

      So if this kind of contact is simply inappropriate in your view, then there is nothing more to discuss, but by framing it in these personal terms (“I feel uncomfortable”) we are again back to what I referred to as the gendering of this discussion. In the same way, the Pennsylvania bishops, the subject of the original post, gendered and sexualized the discussion by talking about men touching women in an immodest fashion.

      There are (probably? certainly?) women who do not feel comfortable wrestling men. They either join women’s wrestling teams or do not wrestle. There are men who feel this way—I made a point of acknowledging this fact. So if the problem is to be considered this way, then the question becomes how to deal with it. Your solution is to tell the women to not compete, so as to not harm the man who is competing. Another way is to tell the young man he should forfeit. Hard on him and his team, but ultimately respectful of his conscience. And, since the majority of his matches are against men, he is not barred from wrestling. Yet another solution, which I found reading the links I gave above more closely, is that a league that includes a large number of Christian schools across denominations, has a rule that if a male player objects to wrestling a woman, that match is simply called and there is no forfeit.

      Our solutions depend on our fundamental disagreement. You see this kind of coed wrestling as inappropriate, so it makes sense that you accept the solution that simply bans women from wrestling men. I don’t see it as inappropriate, so I prefer a solution that does not penalize the woman for the man’s discomfort, but instead look for a solution that works for both of them.

      “Don’t let your concern that misguided people in the past used the physical/ontological differences between boys and girls to support an injustice paralyze you when the pendulum swings the other way and someone tries to minimize the physical/ontological differences between boys and girls in order to further a different type of injustice.”

      This is a slippery slope argument and I agree in principle that they exist: some slopes send you shooting towards hell in handbasket. But this simply calls for prudence. These kinds of questions need to be judged on a case by case basis: Chesterton’s fence argument to me simply points out the dangers of both reflexive progressivism and reflexive conservatism. And I do not think one can simply dismiss the misogyny and gender oppression of the past as “misguided people.” These were systemic problems instantiated by people of good will. And these kinds of things have existed into our lifetimes. (Do not get me started on “math is hard” Barbie from the 90’s.) So my hermeneutic of suspicion is grounded in an empirical and historical reality. I will admit that it may cross over into the “reflexive progressivism” I mentioned above, but hopefully it will not and I am sure you and my other commentators will call me when it does! :-)

      What I would like to see is the articulation of a theory of gender and sexuality that is grounded in human dignity and is able to effectively oppose the commodification of sexuality and objectification of women without falling back on historical categories that simply express misogyny in kinder and gentler terms. This is possible, and maybe it has already been done. (People keep referring me to the Theology of the Body, and I should give it another go, but that is neither here nor there.)

      • http://gravatar.com/tausign Tausign

        ‘ will admit that it may cross over into the “reflexive progressivism”…

        Is that a disease or a wrestling strategy? Oh well, some issues are clearly more important than others, and I see you are taking this one… ‘to the mat’.

        Happy New Year!

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Owwwwww……I was not expecting such a quick take down.

      • http://gravatar.com/tausign Tausign

        What I would like to see is the articulation of a theory of gender and sexuality that is grounded in human dignity and is able to effectively oppose the commodification of sexuality and objectification of women without falling back on historical categories that simply express misogyny in kinder and gentler terms.

        Speaking of which, did you get my email a few days ago ! sent to many OFS in our region regarding The Humanum Series of films? I really would like your reaction, and perhaps that of the VN community if you would consider reviewing it in a post.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          I got the email but did not check it out. I will try to do so. For folks who want to see it directly, go to

          http://www.humanum.it/en

      • Thales

        David,

        Re: that sports provides an institutional level of familiarity and trust. I agree entirely for all the reasons you list. I wasn’t disputing that. That’s why crotch-grabbing between two opponents who are strangers on a wrestling mat is okay — and why it’s not okay on between two opponents who are strangers on the subway. I recognize all that. Instead, I was using the term “stranger” to try to convey the point that the level of trust/familiarity on the wrestling mat is still more distant than the level of trust/familiarity between brother-sister or husband-wife. I think we both recognize this spectrum of trust/familiarity, right? Strangers-on-the-subway < wrestling-opponents < husband-wife, agreed?

        And yes, we're at an impasse: you're okay with the closeness of wrestling contact between the sexes who know each other only as wrestling opponents, and I'm not. That's fine. We disagree on that. I still thought it was a useful conversation because I was hoping that we could agree on the principles: that what is appropriate and respectful interaction between the sexes depends on the context and the level of trust/familiarity, and that there is a spectrum of interaction between the sexes; and that behavior on the two extremes of the spectrum can be disrespectful or inappropriate. We just disagree on the application of the principle in the middle of the extremes. It's a topic on which reasonable people can disagree.

        Okay, here we come to the nub of my point that you were framing this with men as subjects and women as objects. A man is uncomfortable, so a woman should be banned from competing. You have never brought up whether it is appropriate for a woman to grab a man in this fashion. Everything has been about the men. Now in fairness, you may (and probably do) believe the opposite is also true: that it is inappropriate for a woman to grab a man in this way. Fair enough. But the fact remains that you chose to frame it in this asymmetric fashion and this is what I found problematic and why I was hesitant to accept the consensus points you stated above.

        Just to be clear, I do believe that its inappropriate for a woman to be grabbing a man in this fashion. I’ve just been focusing on it from the male perspective because (1) I’m a man and that’s my perspective; and (2) I think men should be particularly respectful and considerate to women, in a world where (it appears to me) that women are particularly abused and marginalized.

        What I would like to see is the articulation of a theory of gender and sexuality that is grounded in human dignity and is able to effectively oppose the commodification of sexuality and objectification of women without falling back on historical categories that simply express misogyny in kinder and gentler terms.

        Agreed! A thousand times, yes!

        What’s been interesting in this conversation is that I’m seeing where you’re coming from: you’re coming from seeing and being concerned with the “systemic problems” of “misogyny and gender oppression” …. all of which have gravely hurt women. I understand that concern and I recognize that concern. But it’s made me realize where I’m coming from. I’m coming from seeing the other extreme: the coarsening of male-female relationships in today’s culture; the denial of the existence of femininity, of virtue, and even of male-female distinctions; the resulting “hook-up” and rape cultures;… which also have gravely hurt women. What I would like to see is the articulation of a theory of gender and sexuality that is grounded in human dignity and is able to effectively oppose misogyny, gender oppression, and marginalization of women without falling into post-modern tendencies of denial of sexual virtue, femininity, and sanctity.

        Maybe we can agree here: can we agree that we want a culture that sees, respects, and loves women (and all people) the way Christ sees, respects, and loves women (and all people)?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Yes, this has been a very helpful conversation and I think we have sorted out what each of us think quite well. The issues we disagree on are prudential and not fundamental. I think there are still points for us to discuss, though maybe this should wait for another blog post. As a teaser I would throw out two: do not feel as though you have to respond.

          1) I am wary of the term “femininity” precisely because of the extensive historical baggage it carries. For that matter, so does the word masculinity. During my late, unlamented formation as a deacon, there was more than a bit of pressure to attend the annual Diocesan Men’s conference. Reading about the speakers and the way they framed being a “Catholic man” made me want to run screaming in the other direction. As I indicated in a response to someone else, male and female have ontological meaning, but I still am not sure what it is.

          2) I always want to balance the coarsening of male-female relationships today against the ways in which superficial respect for women has been used against them. This is a point that LM has been making quite strongly. In some ways relations between the sexes have gotten much better, while in other ways they have gotten much worse. The Zizekian in me wants to look at this in Marxist terms: what were the forces in industrial capitalism that shaped notion’s of women and how has the change to post-industrial capitalism led to different notions?

        • Mark VA

          Zizeskian Marxist co-ed wrestling – one heck of a Portlandia episode:

          http://www.ifc.com/shows/portlandia

          Happy New Year, everyone!

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            I never thought of it in those terms….

        • Mark VA

          Mere concatenation.

          I think it’s time for the psychologists (or worse) among us to weigh in. We must have provided enough material for a whole weekend symposium …

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCOP7IpqoKM

        • LM

          The problem with religious tradition in the general sense is that it’s not self-correcting. While the modern Catholic church may not teach that women are evil, there has never been any formal retraction of the previous statements by Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, etc. that did say that women are evil. The fact that the Church Fathers said such things gives them legitimacy for a great deal of people, even if this naked misogyny has been de-emphasized in our own time.

          You say that you believe in femininity, but what does that mean? Is it related to the color pink? The idea that pink is for girls and blue for boys is less than a hundred years old (babies and toddlers of both sexes tended to wear white dresses until the 1930s or so), and pink is considered to be a perfectly respectable color for men in India and many East Asian countries to wear. Long hair? Hair styles, like clothing styles, change from culture to culture and even year to year. Plus, African/black hair in its natural state does not grow long (at least not in the same way as other ethnicities), so hair length can’t be a universal requirement of femininity. Does a really feminine woman have absurdly tiny feet, as the Chinese once believed or does she have large breasts, as many modern Americans believe? Or can she wrestle and run foot races, as the women of ancient Sparta once did? Femininity tends to be whatever is considered attractive at a particular point in time, which doesn’t always coincide with what is actually good or helpful for the women who have to live up to these standards.

          I think that we would find some measure of common ground by our mutual dislike of the hook-up culture, violence to women, and our shared belief in the importance of virtue (I’m sure that you and I would probably choose a different set of set of virtues, however). The big point of divergence appears to be your belief in gender essentialism and the consequences that naturally follow from that position. The issue of female wrestlers in Pennsylvania high schools seems to be a non-issue, since the linked article states that the number is below thirty. My guess is that girls who are attracted to the martial arts are probably doing extracurricular classes in karate, judo, and the like, where there is already a framework set in place for them to compete with other females.

          As for women disrespecting men, there is a famous Margaret Atwood quote that says, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” The CDC indicates that 1 in 2 women will experience non-rape sexual violence in their lifetimes (the figure is 1 in 5 for men, which is still unacceptably high). 1 in 3 women who are victims of homicide are killed by a husband, boyfriend, or partner. Domestic violence is particularly high for women aged 18-24. While I would not doubt that there are women who injure or kill their male partners, the victims of domestic violence remain overwhelmingly female.

        • Thales

          LM,
          As I told David, I’m not implying anything by the term “femininity” (and “masculinity”) except an attempt to described the ideal where men and women recognize themselves and each other as male sons of God and female daughters of God, and correspondingly treat themselves and each other with love and respect the same way Christ would.

  • Thales

    Frank,

    I’m interested in hearing why you think I’m dangerously wrong. Of course, any disrespecting or hurting anyone is a significant problem, and I’m opposed to all abuse and disrespect. But I think that men exploiting women, male abuse towards women, and general disrespect for womens’ dignity has generally been worse than the opposite, both in the past and today. You disagree? And because I see the problem to be generally worse than the opposite, I think there is more reason to be concerned with the former and to try to correct it. Where am I going “dangerously wrong”?

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but it seems to me that you’ve got a very limited view if you’re defining the problem of men disrespecting women to simply be an issue of physical violence. The topic of how to treat women with respect is much bigger than “failing to be violent to them.” We don’t simply want boys to not be violent to girls. We want boys to recognize the dignity of girls, to support them, to honor them as persons, and to respect the girls’ decisions as they lead their own lives.

    Again, I agree: “failing to treat others with dignity” is not a gender-specific problem. But, obviously, in our society, men fail to treat women with dignity all the time. Also, I think you’re misunderstanding my point about wrestling: I don’t object to the wrestling because of the “reinforcement of violent male behavior toward women.” I object to it because of the close-contact-with-an-unfamiliar-person reason I’ve tried to explain above (which applies to both sexes.)

  • Frank M.

    Thales:

    First, happy new year!

    You are correct that I do not believe men disrespect women’s dignity more than women disrespect men’s dignity. Expressions of female to male disrespect usually take other forms than overt violence (for example shaming, gossip and belittlement), probably because it hasn’t been safe for women to express their disrespect the way men do. I say it is dangerously wrong to ignore this because unacknowledged (or disallowed) disrespect negatively affects male spiritual formation and behavior, even though many men are numbed to it. The thug telling his therapist “my momma never loved me” is a trope, but does have basis in fact.

    I find it inconsistent that you “want boys to recognize the dignity of girls, to support them, to honor them as persons, and to respect the girls’ decisions as they lead their own lives,” yet you think a boy should be forced to forfeit a wrestling match to a girl who has made her own decision and struggled against social expectations to take her place on the mat across from him.

    I agree with you that matches between boys and girls don’t “reinforce[…] violent male behavior toward women,” and this is not a reason to prevent them. I think we differ on who should take responsibility for action to respect any young person’s discomfort with such contact. If a girl has signed up for the (mostly boys’) wrestling team, she probably isn’t the one whose comfort might be disrespected. If she wants to wrestle so badly she’s willing to engage boys, I think that means she really wants to do it. Some boys will be OK with it (like my son was), others won’t. If the boy has an issue, the parents and coaches should take it up and resolve it with the best accommodation for all concerned. That role doesn’t belong to the church hierarchy. Isn’t that “subsidiarity?”

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Frank, thanks for steering this back to the OP.

  • Thales

    David,

    Re: your concern with “femininity/masculinity”
    I don’t have any quibble with your point. I’m not intending any specific implication by the term. A *huge* part of the difficulty with this entire comment thread is the fact that whenever terms like “modesty,” “purity”, “gentleman,” “femininity/masculinity” are used, these terms are setting off loud warning bells for you and LM as you think of all the past ways these terms have been misused for the injustice to women. I’m using the terms because I don’t know what else to use. I hear your and LM’s concerns that the terms have been misused, leading to injustice for women. I’ve got no affection for the terms. But all I’m trying to do is describe that ideal where men and women recognize themselves and each other as male sons of God and female daughters of God, and correspondingly treat themselves and each other with love and respect the same way Christ would.

    Interesting questions about the forces in industrial and post-industrial capitalism that have shaped different notions. I’m sure there is something there, but I haven’t thought much about it.

    One thought that came to mind that I’ll throw out there, and to which I don’t have an answer. Maybe there isn’t one single best way to talk about healthy and holy male-female relationships or one single best description of male-female ontology, because maybe people respond differently. We all should want to live the life of a saint, but consider the wildly different charisms and characters of the saints. Maybe some respond well to the notion of “purity” (consider St. Therese); maybe that drives other women up the wall who need to think about living a saintly life in male-female relationships in an entirely different way. Maybe the Catholic men’s conference “language” is what is needed for one man to commit himself to a life of virtue; maybe it’s exactly wrong for someone else and a serious occasion for distraction from trying to live a virtuous life. (These same differences probably exist in worship/liturgical music debates and the liturgy and religious rite debates.)

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “One thought that came to mind that I’ll throw out there, and to which I don’t have an answer. Maybe there isn’t one single best way to talk about healthy and holy male-female relationships or one single best description of male-female ontology, because maybe people respond differently.”

      Yes, yes, yes!!

  • Thales

    Frank,

    1. I’ve got no quibble with you if you see that there is a huge problem in our society with women disrespecting men’s dignity. I’m with you 100% in wanting to see women acting in more respectful ways. There is a ton to talk about regarding the causes, effects, and solutions to women disrespecting men’s dignity, but we’ll have to save that for another day. It’s also a discussion that is fraught with peril because it falls squarely into the danger zone described by David above — namely, it’s a discussion with us men talking about women and how they should act without actually seeking women’s input on the matter. (This is also one of the reasons why I’ve been framing my comments in the male-to-female direction instead of the female-to-male direction —- my perspective is from a man’s.)

    2. Re: your point in favor of mixed wrestling because the girl has made her own decision to live her life. It’s a good point in favor of your position. It’s something to consider, as it is obviously important to respect women as their own individuals making their own decisions as they lead their own lives. It was an important argument in the debate correcting the injustice of not permitting women to vote, for example.

    But it’s an argument that is not always compelling, because a woman can have a misguided notion about how she should act as a woman and be treated as a woman. Consider a post-modern feminist insisting that no man hold a door open for her because of her misguided notion that it is an affront to her as a woman; or consider a woman insisting that in order to respect her dignity or equality, she must be allowed to have same-sex changing rooms or college dorms. Mixed wrestling falls somewhere on this spectrum between arguing for a right to vote and arguing for a right to share male dorms rooms.

    3. re: subsidiarity. I don’t find the argument very compelling in this context. Here, the lowest level for subsidiarity purposes is arguably the local diocese running the Catholic schools (remember it’s not the “church hierarchy” in Rome making the decision), because the wrestling program is an organized program across different schools and school boards. If we were talking about an instance of a girl wanting to wrestle informally in a gym class as opposed to an inter-school competition, that might be an instance where the proper level to resolve the matter with the parents and coaches (and the local principal).

    • Frank M.

      Thales:

      I am not worried about “talking about women” because my concern over respect is not gender specific. I’m not singling women out to act more respectfully because the issue isn’t just how genders treat each other, but what goes on for all of us, men and women.

      As I’ve stated before, I’m not “in favor of mixed [gender] wrestling” at all — Allowing a girl to compete with boys is, in my opinion, a reasonable accommodation if there’s no girls’ team. Girls wrestling boys is not a “good” I want to support.

      As for the proverbial “feminist insisting that no man hold a door open for her because of her misguided notion that it is an affront to her as a woman,” I don’t believe such people exist in any meaningful numbers. I’ve lived in the notoriously progressive San Francisco Bay Area for almost 60 years, I hold doors for people all the time, and no person of either gender has ever complained. Not once. Further, I find your phrase “a woman can have a misguided notion” disturbing. If you talk like that, you will encounter some unfriendliness the next time you visit San Francisco, but not because you’re holding a door for someone.

      If you look again at the story David copied into the quote-box near the top of the page, the policy “require[s] boys on the wrestling teams of Catholic schools or youth organizations to forfeit matches against female opponents” and “bans girls from participating on Catholic school tackle football and rugby teams.” The ban does apply even to intramural sports. If there were some lower bound to the principle of subsidiarity (and I don’t accept that idea), the bishops have crossed even the bound you set!

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    LM: with regards to your response to Thales, you seem quite critical of any notion of gender essentialism. Do you regard gender as strictly an epiphenomenon, or do you think it is constitutive, at least in part, of personhood?

    • LM

      @ David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      As I have said earlier, the notion of femininity is highly dependent on the time and culture in which one lives, so I don’t believe that there is some Platonic form of the feminine – or the masculine, for that matter – hanging out there somewhere in an ideal realm. I don’t think that there’s any metaphysical meaning to being born male or female. The interplay of nurture and nature in terms of how individuals express various aspects of their personality is complex, and most people will fall somewhere on a spectrum of extremes. The extent to which one feels that their sex is essential to their personhood and sense of self also varies from person to person. I myself have always felt rather agendered, which is probably one reason why I never took to the Church’s “feminine genius” rhetoric.