Thursday, February 24, 2011

BQOTD: Gendered Sports

A 16-year old wrestler in Iowa state recently made news by defaulting a match in the state championships because he was slated to wrestle a girl (she was the one of two girls who made it to the state championships for the first time in Iowa wrestling history this year). I'm not sure how defaulting is different than forfeiting, but apparently it is. The male wrestler said, "Wrestling is a combat sport, and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner."

His father went on to say, “He’s poured his heart and soul into wrestling and into being the best in the state. He’s never won a state championship, so he’s certainly looking forward to that day. So it’s agonizing, from all the work and the effort and the hope. But it’s easy in that, he, a long time ago, drew a line and said ‘I don’t believe it’s right for a boy to wrestle a girl.’”

The girl's father said, "It’s nice to get the first win and have her be on the way to the medal round. I sincerely respect the decision of the Northrup family especially since it was made on the biggest stage in wrestling. I have heard nothing but good things about the Northrup family and hope Joel does very well the remainder of the tourney.”

Article here and here.

The article from The Blaze mentions that over 6,000 girls competed in high school wrestling in the 2009-2010 school year. In most states, the girls do wrestle against the boys, but California, Washington, Tennessee, Texas, and Hawaii sponsor girls-only wrestling tournaments.


So. What do you guys think? The boy in question (Joel) has gotten both a lot of praise and a lot of negative feedback for his decision not to wrestle the girl in question (Cassy). Some say that Joel was scared of losing to a girl. It's a sad fact, but he probably WOULD have been mercilessly harassed by his teammates and schoolmates if he had lost to Cassy. Others have praised Joel for standing firm with his personal religious beliefs, even if they don't agree themselves.

I guess this is a two part burning question of the day:

(1) Should boys and girls be allowed to play traditionally gendered sports? Should girls be allowed to wrestle? On the same token, should a boy be allowed to try out for a girl's volleyball team? What if a girl really wants to play baseball instead of softball, or a boy wants to play softball instead of baseball? 

(2) What do you think of Joel Northrup's decision not to wrestle against Cassy in the state championships?


  1. While I certainly feel that there are areas in which girls and guys should be on a totally equitable playing field, I think that in close contact sports like wrestling, some gender separation is completely warranted.

    I think its horrible that anyone would suggest that the boy from this situation refused to wrestle because he was worried that he would be beat by a girl. In my opinion, it would take a lot of confidence to place yourself in the middle of this situation - probably a level of confidence that would be able to withstand teasing and taunting if she were to win.

  2. being that he gave up a chance to win a state meet, i think it's safe to say he wasn't afraid to loose to a girl. i think the kid had good morals and didn't believe it was right for a girl and a boy to wrestle/sweat all over each other even if it is in gaming fashion. i commend him for his decision.

    and while i am all for equal rights and think girls should be allowed to wrestle, play football, baseball (all the traditional MALE sports) i do think wrestling should stay same sex!

  3. You have an award waiting at my blog ;)

  4. As a guy and somone who has wrestled in the past, I can see where it would be difficult.

    Many moves require grabs to the chest as well as between the legs.

    Wrestling requires split second timing sometimes without thinking of where your grabbing.

    I think if I was wrestling a girl it would be a disadvantage because you would have to constantly worry about where you were grabbing.....

    The only time it might be okay is if there was mud involved. :)

  5. I have no problems with gender mixing in sports. If they want to compete, they are not there for the anything but that. It baffles me how this competitor claims he chose not to wrestle the girl because it would get violent, but thinking that doing the same things to a guy is okay.

  6. I absolutely disagree with mixing genders in sports that involve contact (I also don't appreciate how they mix locker rooms). I don't think it sets good precedence at all. We allow a male to body slam or check a female into a wall under the guise of an "organized sport". I just find that unacceptable. I am all for female rights but the argument that girls need to do everything that guys can has gotten old and its simply not true, they don't "need" to do everything nor are they capable. What are these women trying to prove? Males and females are built differently and are wired for different things, although our society will do everything it can to say/prove otherwise.

  7. I think a sport with as close contact as wrestling, really there just should be a line drawn for the genders. If girls want to wrestle, great, but there should be a girls wrestling division.

    I could think of a few guys I know that in the same situation, would probably choose not to wrestle as well, or would at least give it a huge consideration.

  8. I live fairly close to where this happened, and I also work at a local newspaper. This was big news.

    I don't think this girl belonged in wrestling. I don't think any girl belongs in a wrestling "league" with males. Make a female division.

  9. The dialogue around this often annoys me. Particularly when people are quick to applaud young men like Joel for "making a choice that is right for him", but then say that there should be a blanket rule not even allowing girls to choose to participate in wrestling as a coed sport. How is one OK and not the other? So, one issue is that I wish people were less hypocritical.

    My other issue is that I am sick of hearing people argue that girls aren't capable of competing with boys on things. If girls were given the exact same opportunities, coaching, and support in sports as boys do, I think we would see a drastic difference at the top levels of competition. It's the kind of thinking that ASSUMES the girls will not be able to compete that undercuts the opportunities for us to really give girls a fair chance at trying.

  10. I think that gender separation is totally necessary in this situation.... If girls want to wrestle that's fine, but there should be a girls league for them to wrestle in. There is nothing wrong with him defaulting in this situation, and I think that those are giving him hell about it need to just stop.... I certainly do not believe he was "afraid of losing to a girl" if he made it that far in the state tourney.

    I also have to say that I wouldn't want my son wrestling a female either. Wrestling can be fast and a lot of moves require putting yourself in a situation that just isn't appropriate in a boy/girl situation...

    I'd love to hear your/Justin's take on this. I'm sure you know what Jesse's take would be ;)

  11. 1) Yes, yes, yes, and either of those sound fine to me.

    2) I feel kinda mean saying this, but I'm compelled to point out misogyny in religion. Whether it's Islamists forcing women to cover their hair or Christian males refusing to wrestle females, misogyny is misogyny. Any faith that views women and men as unequal is a faith not worth believing in, in my view. Physical contact between two persons who could theoretically be sexually attracted to each other according to their sexual preference is not always inherently sexual. A belief system that maintains this to be the case is attempting to enforce a social standard that divides, and we all know that "separate but equal" is a crock.

    I think the phenomenon wherein people commend others for their strong morals, even if they themselves might not agree with them, is bizarre. Just because someone believes strongly in something does not necessarily make it a good thing to believe, and I see no reason to praise someone for holding to beliefs I find morally reprehensible. I respect his freedom and right to hold those beliefs, but I also have the freedom and right to condemn them.

    Ugh. This obviously really bothered me. Or maybe thesis writing is just making me cranky.

  12. Further food for thought: If men and women shouldn't be allowed to participate in contact sports against one another because of the sexual component (and just to be clear, I deny that that sexual component exists inherently and is anything but socially constructed), we should, by the same logic, not allow homosexual men or women to compete with members of the same sex. But then where ought they to go? A heterosexual male can still be attracted to a homosexual female, or vice versa. If we are to prevent the sexes from competing in contact sports, where should the discrimination end?

  13. Ethan, you make good points as always. Personally, I was thinking of it from a physiological point of view--one of the inherent differences between men and women is that men produce testosterone at a much higher rate than women do. Because of those higher levels of testosterone production, men typically have a much higher percentage of muscle to weight ratio than women. I haven't studied medicine, but I've also been told that red blood cell mass and hemoglobin content are also different between men and women.

    These factors coupled together roughly translate into greater strength, due to a higher percentage of muscle to fat. These are physiological differences between men and women. Can they be overcome? Sure. But the point is that physiologically men and women simply aren't the same (The New York Times did an interesting article about the physiology of men and women in June 2010).

    So for me, since there are fundamental differences between men and women that directly affect their athletic capacity, it follows that in competitive situations, like should compete against like--men should compete against men and women should compete against women.

    Some women may desire to compete against men, and some may be able to hold their own. However, I feel like we often see that women expect to be able to compete in men's sports, but men are not nearly as often (if ever) allowed to compete in women's sports, because of the physiological differences mentioned above.

    So, unless we're truly ready to give men free reign to participate in volleyball, women's basketball, women's water polo, etc., I don't believe that women should expect to compete in men's sports either.

  14. Because of the physical differences between women and men that Mere got into, I think it's fine that sports are separated by gender. Not necessarily necessary, but totally okay. But wrestling is all about weight classes so I feel like it might be an exception?

    Also, while I understand that it might be uncomfortable for a hetero male to wrestle a hetero female, let's be honest--it's not exactly easy for her either--trying to avoid grabbing his penis. It goes both ways. So maybe equally uncomfortable for both of them.

    But this is actually what bothers me most here--the assumption that this will be sexually awkward for them. Like Ethan said, physical contact is not always sexual and also, we have no idea what these wrestlers' sexual orientations are anyways! With this kid's logic, I should have never played contact sports EVER(there has always been a lesbian\bisexual on my teams).

    But hey let's just divide the groups even farther--gay females, straight females, gay males and straight males all have their own leagues to avoid any further discomfort. Bisexuals obviously aren't allowed to play anything and transsexuals can just as well stay at home.

  15. You have a good point bringing up physiological differences, and I concede, in certain sports, namely those in which success is based upon giving the extreme maximum of which one's body is capable, it would be unfair not to have the sexes compete separately. (Track and field comes to mind as an example, but I am admittedly a layman and could not go in depth about the biological specifics, so take that with a grain of salt.) I would argue, however, that in nearly all team sports, and many individual sports (e.g., golf), physiological differences between the sexes are irrelevant.

    Every athlete has a different body, and some bodies are better suited to different positions or roles on a team. We should be viewing the matter on an individual basis, not making hugely broad distinctions. Then again, I guess I'm not a female athlete contemplating competing against men, so I suppose my opinion is an outsider's in some regard. Lisa could no doubt comment on this subject better than me.

    Mere, you point out that not nearly as many men seem to want to compete in women's leagues/sports as the other way around. I would argue that a major component of this is social. Our society generally does not view female athletes as being as skilled or capable as male athletes. Because of this, a female competing in male leagues, whether or not any physiological barrier exists, is socially prestigious, while a male competing in female leagues is looked down upon as having inferior ability.

    It's also worth remembering that science is deeply influenced by the society in which it is pursued, and that what we think we know about the differences in physiology between women and men has been revised time and again over the last century, as people realized that supposedly "scientific" differences between men and women were in reality social. Take, for example, the belief that women couldn't be fighter pilots because their bodies were less able to deal with the g-forces of maneuvering in combat (had to do with bone density or something), when later studies indicated that women were actually better suited for such activity because a smaller cardiovascular system made them less likely to black out. Socially constructed ideas about gender roles can influence the results scientists are able to see, just like anything else, which is why peer review is so important.

    (Not a sports example, I know, but I read about people killing people all day, not about sports.)

    Anyway, while I could write about this for hours, I really have to do my 5 pages of thesis for the day. Damn.

  16. While physical contact is not always sexual, you have to remember that these are high-school aged students. Think back to being 16...

    If he was uncomfortable with wrestling a girl for any reason he had every right to forego the match. If you have watched any wrestling you know that it is a very close contact sport. I don't have kids, but I can assure you that if I had a daughter that wanted to wrestle she would be doing so in a female league.

    "I deny that that sexual component exists inherently and is anything but socially constructed)"

    So what if it's socially constructed? It's still there. Our worlds revolve around social constructs. You can fight it all you want, but you're still going to be looked at funny if you get into an elevator and stand facing away from the door.

    Social constructs govern life. So, if you want to go against them fine - but it doesn't mean they don't exist.

  17. Meredith, have you noticed your argument was for physiology(sex) but you titled your post with the adjective "gendered" which is a social construct, a definition of what each sex is and can and can't do? I didn't see it in the articles.

    Just wondering if maybe there's more to your view than just physical differences without realizing it and curious if you got that phrase from somewhere and if so where? This is the kind of stuff we're talking about in school right now and it may help with some research I'm doing.

  18. Sara-- When I wrote the post, I hadn't really formed an opinion on the matter, so I don't think it's my subconscious at play :) I just gave it the most succinct title I could think of that would quickly explain to a majority of people what the question was about. It's been a long time since my Soc of Gender classes, and I'm probably just rusty in terms of the gender vs sex terminology.

  19. As a guy who competed in many sports and was a wrestler for most of my school years, I don't think that girls should compete with guys in full contact sports. My reasons are simple. We are built differently and it is unfair to the other teammates and competitors.

    I had to wrestle a girl once in middle school and it was very awkward because I was afraid of touching something on accident and getting in trouble or getting made fun of. It wasn't that I was afraid of losing, the match was over in 28 seconds when I pinned her, I was just uncomfortable having to wrestle her. And even though I won I still got made fun of.

    Throughout my wrestling career I saw many girl wrestlers and it was always uncomfortable watching the match. In fact in middle school one of the guys I wrestled with got a boner while wrestling a girl and never lived it down.

    I am only glad it wasn't me because it very well could have been me seeing as how the girl he wrestled was pretty hot and filled out the singlet very well.

    As much as women scream for equal rights. I think it is a load of bull. Women are equal to men as people, but not at a competing level in collegiate sports. You don't see men playing on a womens volleyball team or basketball team. Why? Because it's not fair, and because they are stronger, faster, and tougher then us.And even if they wanted to no one would let them. Because it's not right and would leave the girls at a disadvantage. Correct? Correct.

    And from what I've seen it's a disadvantage to guys to have girls on the team with them. We had a girl on our wrestling team at one of my high schools because the parents threatened the school. If she was a boy of the same caliber, she wouldn't have even made the team and it wouldn't have been a big deal. But she did and she whined and was always complaining that we were too rough and the other teams boys were too rough. And she was constantly complaining that she was on her period. So she always got special allowances and it was a pain in the butt. On top of that, she wasn't any good so she was more of a hassle than she was worth. So it was unfair for the rest of us to carry dead weight around.

    I know there are some studly women athletes who are great. But I don't believe that men and women should compete together in full contact sports. Because we are opposites. There is nothing wrong with being the best girl at a certain sport in a girls league.

    And if you have a problem with what I think, I'll be waiting in my singlet and wrestling shoes.;)


  20. @Danielle

    Obviously, since I brought them up in the first place, I recognize that social constructs exist. I likewise agree that our lives are almost entirely governed by them. The very arguments I am making are based on socially constructed viewpoints. My point, which you seem to have missed, is that we do not have to accept social constructs, and may instead work to actively change them. So they are not simply "still there" in an organic sense; they are, after all, constructed, and we can alter that construction by actively or passively reshaping the way we view certain issues.

    And frankly, we should be constantly challenging all our socially influenced conceptions of the world, whether we decide in the end to reject or accept them. Your elevator example is funny, but it and the following paragraph of your statement implies that any attempt to change social constructions is doomed to failure and silly besides, whereas I would argue the opposite. Some socially constructed attitudes must be challenged and changed. Racism, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia and prejudice of many other sorts are socially constructed ideas that continue to cripple our society with violence and bigotry.

    Now, whether you agree with me that this particular social construction ought to change (and obviously, you don't) is another matter entirely. You doubtlessly have compelling reasons for believing what you do. But I cannot accept that social constructions like the sexualization of all physical contact must exist organically, without the possibility for change. Because, uh, that's wrong.


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