Should Boys and Girls Wrestle Each Other? A Case Study in Sex and Cultural Gender Confusion
For those of you who have not read about the case I will summarize it briefly without naming names or offering information that might identify the participants. (I don’t want to add to their grief over the publicity to which they have already been subjected by the press.)
The case: A high school boy who is a member of a wrestling team is required to wrestle a girl or forfeit his match. A high school girl who is a member of the same wrestling club is required to wrestle a boy or win the match by forfeit. She wants to wrestle him; he does not want to wrestle her. He declines, on grounds of conscience, to wrestle with her. He loses the match and she wins by forfeit. Nobody is happy about this. He is being accused by many people of being sexist. He says he was raised in a religious home and church that discourages full body contact with persons of the opposite sex and especially if said full body contact might result in harm to a female. She says he caused her to win by losing the opportunity to exercise her skills and demonstrate them. Now that the case has gone viral much outrage is being expressed against the boy for not treating the girl wrestler as an equal. He says he regards females as fully equal with males and respects her very much but simply does not think it would be right for him to wrestle her. Who’s right and who’s wrong here?
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
Of course, it is impossible to make a definite judgment about right and wrong without being on the “inside” of the situation. I would have to know more about the context to judge “right” and “wrong.” I take neither side in that regard. My only intention here is to defend the boy and to call for separate boys’ and girls’/young men’s and young women’s wrestling clubs and associations/conferences. My comments here should be read as explanation, not judgment of persons.
I think it is unfair to require a boy/young man to wrestle a girl/young woman (or forfeit the match) for the following reasons. If you are at all squeamish about “talk” about bodies and sex stop reading now.
First, but not necessarily most importantly, a teenage boy making full body contact with a teenage girl, for whatever reason, might experience an arousal that would be extremely embarrassing. For teenage boys and young men this is not always under their control. In fact, it can happen absolutely spontaneously at certain ages. It is predictable (as a possibility if not a probability) in certain situations. This young male wrestler did not mention this as a reason for declining to wrestle a young female, but I am mentioning it as a reason why young males should not be expected to wrestle young females. In this, if not in anything else, males and females are different. While a female may become aroused, the physiological response is different.
Second, given the “#MeToo Movement” a boy/young man might with some justification worry that some move made in a wrestling match with a girl/young woman, however innocent in intention, might result in an accusation of sexual assault. I was a wrestler in high school. I remember well the nature of wrestling in which boys/young men must put their hands, arms, legs, in opponents’ body locations that are considered “private.” A wrestler cannot be concerned about that and also knows he might inadvertently cause his opponent some discomfort “there.” Wrestling rules get broken, often unintentionally. He (the boy/young male wrestler) might legitimately worry that something done in full body contact that is quasi-violent might cause injury or embarrassment or feelings of being invaded. If a female wrestler accused him after the match of causing her undue negative feelings, who would judge whether that constituted sexual assault or not? This may sound ridiculous, but it isn’t. These days many young men are confused about these issues and questions—understandably—as boundaries have not yet been fully defined.
Third, if the boy/young male wrestler wins the match he will be considered by his peers not to have done anything praiseworthy. If he loses the match he will be considered by his peers a wimp. He can’t win either way in terms of his peers. He will almost certainly be bullied by some of them as a result of either winning or losing.
Fourth, when I was a high school wrestler I had no doubt there were girls/young women in my weight class who could probably beat me in a wrestling match. None of them were on any wrestling team in our league (or any that I ever heard of). But I would have declined to wrestle one if it had come to that. The main reason (all of the above are minor compared to this one) would have been that I was raised in a traditional home and church where boys and girls making full body contact with each other was considered unwise if not immoral. A light hug was okay, but a tight hug was not—at least before engagement. Wrestling between boys and girls was unthinkable. There are still religious people who think that. Apparently this boys’ family and/or church teaches that. In my humble opinion this should be common sense among all people. To me, the very idea of boys and girls wrestling is evidence that our society is losing all common sense. What next? Boys and girls boxing?
These days we hear much about “toxic masculinity.” I personally think the high school male wrestler who forfeited a match rather than wrestle a girl was displaying the opposite of toxic masculinity. Call it contemporary chivalry or whatever. I applaud him. And I call for all schools to establish separate male and female wrestling programs.
*Footnote: When I wrestled in the ninth grade there was no other wrestler in my weight class in the entire city league. I weighed ninety-eight pounds. The closest wrestler to me weighed one hundred and fifteen pounds. We were obviously not a fair match. I had to wrestle him anyway and, of course, I got creamed (“defeated in a very decisive manner”). So my wrestling “career” came to an early end. I was disappointed but not angry. It was just the situation. My coach decided that wrestling with much larger and heavier boys was not right for me (I would always lose) and kept me on the sidelines without letting me wrestle except in practices. Life is like that. I moved on to drama as my extra-curricular activity and, due to my size, was even there relegated to certain roles such as “the page” to “King Creon” in “Antigone.”
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